What Purposeful Public Engagement Means for Archaeology

The term “public outreach and engagement” is a popular, credence-lending industry buzzword, but do we know what that actually means in archaeology today? And are we as a profession committed to using these components of our work to their greatest advantage in our field? Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions, far too often, is: No.

Public outreach and engagement in archaeology should be holistic, meaningful and a primary component of our scientific research design—and this includes all projects, from the beginning.  Unfortunately, fully integrated public engagement in our collective archaeological work is a rarity.  When we do see purposeful engagement, it is often uni-directional, refusing to engage the public in an equal exchange of information. At best, the public is often an “add-on” instead of a meaningfully-planned, integral part of the process.

There are, of course, notable exceptions to learn from in our quest to meaningfully improve our public engagement.  One such example is the California Gold Rush shipwreck Frolic, lost along the rugged northern California coast in 1849.  Although known to wreck divers, the ship’s association with the history of the area was brought to the public’s attention when Chinese artifacts excavated in a Native American contact site in the coastal range led to the identification of the gold rush shipwreck on the coast.  This identification spurred local residents of Mendocino to explore the connection between the Frolic and the founding of their city.

This exploration originated from a diverse set of voices from throughout the community. A complex exhibit of the shipwreck spanned three museums, exploring many community voices and the rise of lumbering in the Redwoods.  Research on the ship’s manifest revealed a sizeable cargo of ale, leading a local microbrewery to replicate the drink.  Community interest in heritage led to a theater production about the shipwreck’s historical significance, as well as the return of many salvaged artifacts to local museums.  And all this in addition to a series of historical books by Thomas Layton, regarding the ship, the cargo, her history, the people, and the places associated with the ship’s career.  Years later, the collections and collected stories helped inform the underwater archaeologists who finally studied the submerged remains, and reconstructed the final moments of the fateful voyage.

The defining public engagement variable in this project was the community’s active participation at each stage from the start—from the research design phase all the way through public presentation, including interpretation and implementation of both the outreach and the archaeological investigation.  In other words, the “public” was not just an outreach activity. Instead, the public became an active member of the research team that impacted both design and outcomes.  The engagement was meaningful because there was a clear role for the public to be an active participant, not just an observer.

We live in an exciting age for archaeology. Technology is changing the very nature of our work, and increasing accessibility to large volumes of knowledge. More crucially, these changes allow us to actively engage the public with far less friction than ever before. It’s time to move beyond measuring public outreach and engagement only in terms of “site visits”: lectures, tours, school visits, streaming video and websites. It’s time to make meaningful engagement—in which the public is a fully contributing member of our research team—a standard for every stage of the process.

The good news is that this trend is changing – share with us your examples of the public as part of the science.

Read the other Tech Week posts, all about public archaeology and underwater archaeology!

SHA 2013: Support the Conference!

There are number of ways in which you and your organization can support the Society for Historical Archaeology’s annual conference at Leicester in January 2013.

There are several opportunities for organizations to sponsor elements of the conference; a great opportunity to showcase your work and products, and network with an international audience comprising c.1000 academics, students, field archaeologists, consultants, museum and heritage professionals, and staff and representatives from government and other agencies.

Sponsorship opportunities range from principal sponsorship of the conference, delegate bags, social events, the public archaeology session, and plenary session, to conference bag inserts and branded tea and coffee breaks. As well as the opportunity to raise awareness of your organization among the profession, your logo will also feature on the conference website and program, and those offering higher levels of conference sponsorship will receive one or two tickets to the Thursday night reception at Snibston Discovery Centre, or the Friday night SHA Awards banquet.

Further information about conference sponsorship opportunities is available in this document on the SHA 2013 conference website. This sets out the range of sponsorship packages, but if you would like to discuss any other possibilities, or combinations of packages, contact Conference Chairs Audrey Horning at a.horning@qub.ac.uk or Sarah Tarlow at sat12@leicester.ac.uk. Sponsorship commitments must be made by October 31, 2012 to include your organization in all relevant conference publications.

Workshops at Leicester

Once again, the SHA is hosting a slate of workshops at our annual conference. In Leicester, we are pleased to be able to offer five workshops that provide numerous different training opportunities. If you’re going to Leicester, take a look at these workshops, which we be held on the Wednesday preceding the start of the conference (January 9th).

(W1) Public Archaeology Toolbox: Project Archaeology Investigation Shelter

Hosted by Sarah Miller and Amber Grafft-Weiss

Full Day Workshop

Project Archaeology is a national heritage education program of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Montana State University.  Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter, a curriculum guide for teachers, was endorsed by the National Council of Social Studies in the U.S.  Professional development workshops are conducted by facilitators who provide training and mentoring to local educators who wish to incorporate archaeology into their classroom teaching.  This full day workshop will introduce SHA members to Investigating Shelter and model classroom activities.  Workshop participants will receive the curriculum guide and “Investigating a Tabby Slave Cabin,” which was developed through a partnership with national Project Archaeology, National Park Service, and the Florida Public Archaeology Network.  Plan to share experience from other public archaeology programs and discuss affordances and constraints of Project Archaeology materials for international partners.

(W2) An Introduction to Cultural Property Protection of Historical and Post-Medieval Archaeological Sites during Military Operations

Hosted by Christopher McDaid and Duane Quates

Full Day Workshop

This workshop will introduce the international framework for cultural property protection during military operations, the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict.  We will then address the ways in which the system is challenged by sites from the last 500 years.   Cultural properties such as Leptis Magna, an ancient Roman city in Libya, are granted protection due to their listing on the World Heritage list.  However few of the properties on that list are the types that are the focus of the research of the members of the SHA who desire to study the rise of the modern world.  This focus of SHA means that sites of importance to SHA members are explicitly associated with the expansion of global capitalism, or were associated with the expansion of the European powers, or with the forced relocation of people.  Sites associated with these challenging and controversial topics are not the types of sites that often receive official heritage recognition.  Unless the researchers and their community partners make the importance of these sites known, the international heritage framework will continue to overlook these significant aspects of our shared human heritage.

Topics addressed will an overview of the militaries’ own heritage management programs, the international framework for cultural property protection, how scholars can communicate information to military planners effectively, and reviews of several case studies involving military operations and cultural property protection.

(W3a and W3b) Fundamentals of Archaeological Curation

Hosted by Kelly Abbott

Two half-day workshops, register for either morning or afternoon session

This course is for those with site experience who are looking to refresh their knowledge or for people who are unfamiliar with archaeological conservation. We cover materials and how they deteriorate and practical exercises for protecting and storing finds. There is an opportunity to share your experiences and solve current issues.

(W4) Excavating the Image: The MUA Photoshop Workshop

Hosted by T. Kurt Knoerl

Full Day Workshop

This Photoshop workshop covers basic photo processing techniques useful to historians and archaeologists. We will cover correcting basic problems in photos taken underwater and on land, restoring detail to historic images, and preparation of images for publications. We will also cover the recovery of data from microfilm images such as hand written letters. No previous Photoshop experience is needed but you must bring your own laptop with Photoshop already installed on it (version 7 or newer). While images used for the workshop are provided by me, feel free to bring an image you’re interested in working on. Warning…restoring historic images can be addictive!

(W5) Submerged Cultural Resources Awareness Workshop

Hosted by Whitney Anderson, Dave Ball, Barry Bleichner, Amanda Evans, Kim Faulk, Connie Kelleher, and Sarah Watkins-Kenney

Full Day Workshop

Cultural resource managers, land managers, and archaeologists are often tasked with managing and reviewing assessments for submerged cultural resources.  This workshop is designed to introduce non-specialists to issues specific to underwater archaeology.  Participants will learn about different types of underwater cultural heritage sites, and the techniques used to mitigate impacts at pre-development/pre-planning archaeological assessment stage and subsequent survey, excavation and recording of sites of archaeological significance (also referred to as Phase I and II surveys).  This workshop is not intended to teach participants how to do underwater archaeology, but will introduce different investigative techniques, international Best Practices, and existing legislation (specific examples will focus on archaeological management and protection measures employed in Ireland and the United Kingdom).  The purpose of this workshop is to assist non-specialists in recognizing the potential for submerged cultural resources in their areas of impact, budgeting for submerged cultural resource investigations, reviewing submerged cultural resource assessments, and providing sufficient background information to assist in making informed decisions regarding the underwater archaeological heritage.  This full-day workshop will consist of a series of interactive lectures and demonstrations.  All participants will receive an informational CD with presentation notes, supporting legislation and contacts, and referrals related to the workshop lectures.