Historical Archaeology, the NSF, and Why Archaeology Matters

As many of you know, last week the SHA responded to Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith’s USA Today letter advocating NSF funding regulations.  There was a rush of tweets on the issue, many tagged #WhyArchMatters; SHA’s social media sounded our collective anxieties; and a host of bloggers including the SHA Blog, AAA Archaeology Division President Rosemary Joyce, and the Society for American Archaeology echoed many of our collective concerns about the ways archaeology is being characterized in these public discussions.

The issue of NSF funding is certain to re-emerge with the end of the government shutdown, and it raises bigger questions about how we articulate the value of historical archaeology beyond our scholarly circles.  The SHA needs your help on both counts documenting the value of NSF-funded historical archaeology research.  We want to underscore specific social and economic values of historical archaeology that need to be articulated to members of Congress and the general public.

Today a form is posted on the SHA Blog that asks you to provide us some specific examples of the value of NSF-funded historical archaeological research. The form asks for

  1. a description of your project;
  2. a description of the specific thing your project taught us about the past; and
  3. how your project directly benefited your career, your institution, and most importantly, the community or communities associated with your project – socially and economically.

Instead of providing talking points to legislators and people who are interested in archaeology, we would prefer to provide them concrete examples of the benefits of what historical archaeologists do, especially with the taxpayers’ money.  If we do not make stronger cases for all the ways historical archaeology shapes communities financially and socially we risk having others misrepresent the discipline.

We will have a Saturday lunchtime session at the January SHA Conference that will identify an action plan for engaging the US Congress and the public on why archaeology matters and the importance of NSF and other federal funding.  I will report back on that on the SHA Blog in the next couple of weeks, but I certainly hope all of you who can make it to the meeting will join us.

These are simply first steps toward effectively sharing our scholarship beyond historical archaeology circles.  Some of this communication needs to be with legislators and their staffs, many of whom have never met a historical archaeologist and simply need to know what we do.  Some of this discussion also needs to be for our public constituents who support heritage preservation and are interested in sharing the research their taxes made possible.  The SHA has been firmly committed to public archaeology for much of the past half-century, so we have laid a solid foundation.

 

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About Paul Mullins

I am Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI), President of the Society for Historical Archaeology (2012-2013), and Docent in American Historical Archaeology at the University of Oulu (Finland). I'm the author of Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture (1999) and The Archaeology of Consumer Culture (2011). All opinions are mine alone and do not represent the Society for Historical Archaeology or IUPUI.