Why Archaeology Matters: A Petition

Gov Affairs

Over the past month, the Society for Historical Archaeology and the archaeological community have been actively engaged in voicing our concern for the recent op-ed published by US Representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith in the USA Today. SHA President Paul Mullins drafted a letter to Cantor and Smith, and our push to encourage people to share their thoughts about #WhyArchMatters was a surprising success. We’ve also asked for your stories and experience with NSF funding, a process that has yielded a number of responses that will aid in our efforts to further engage the federal government regarding why archaeology matters, and how public funding supports archaeological research.

We’ve also been working behind the scenes to establish a way for you and the people you serve to be even more engaged in communicating your opinion about the importance of publicly funded archaeological research. Today, we’re announcing the beginning of our first SHA Change.org petition.

By visiting the petition and adding your name, you will join us in telling Representatives Cantor and Smith that we believe archaeological research matters and should be funded by the US Government. But we need you to do more than just sign this petition: in order for this effort to be successful, we need you to take this petition into your own communities. Share it with the people who visit your museums, who you engage with through your research, or who volunteer at your labs. Post it on Facebook and Twitter and send it out through email, and let the communities you work with know how publicly funded research supports the work that you do, and how that work, in turn, benefits them.

We also want to draw your attention to a similar petition drive being led by our colleagues at the National Humanities Alliance. The National Endowment for the Humanities is also facing proposed budget cuts of 49 percent, and the National Humanities Alliance has begun a campaign to petition Congressional leaders. We encourage you to support their cause, since NEH funding has been a critical source of funding for historical archaeology projects, as well.

Your support is important to archaeology and to SHA. Thank you!

Sign the SHA Petition to encourage Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith to continue Supporting publicly funded Archaeological research

Panel Session Topic: “Training Historical Archaeologists in the 21st Century: Does Theory Matter Anymore?”

Terry Majewski and I are facilitating what will undoubtedly be a thought-provoking, highly interactive, and potentially controversial panel discussion on the training of historical archaeologists. The session, entitled “Training Historical Archaeologists in the 21st Century: Does Theory Matter Anymore?” will be held on Thursday, January 9, from 1:30 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. (Room 301A).  Panel members will include Mary Beaudry, Lu Ann De Cunzo, John Doershuk, Adrian Praetzellis, Timothy Scarlett, Teresa Singleton, and Mark Warner.  This session will include lots of time for questions and discussions among the panel members and session audience, so we hope many of you will be able to attend the session.

The panel discussion begins with the premise that historical archaeology still falls within two overarching theoretical camps:  (1) postmodern/post-processual archaeology and (2) processual archaeology. The former includes multiple approaches such as critical theory, Marxist theory, feminist or gendered archaeology, post-colonial archaeology, practice theory, etc. Processual archaeology is a continuation of the New Archaeology of the 1970s, which applies scientific methods to archaeological research.  Our panel of prominent historical archaeologists will evaluate the role and impact of these differing theoretical orientations in preparing students for careers in both academia and the world of cultural resource management (CRM)/heritage management. Our panel members, representing both academia and applied archaeology, including CRM, will be asked to consider whether or not these two differing theoretical orientations have equal applicability toward advancing a student’s career in academia vs. a career in CRM; and toward contributing to the questions that count in historical archaeology.

The panel will be asked to address the following questions:

Question 1: The majority of historical archaeology in the United States and Canada is conducted to fulfill the requirements of environmental and historic preservation laws. How can training in a postmodern approach to historical archaeology benefit a student seeking a career in CRM, when the work they will be doing:

  • will be conducted in a business or government agency context,
  • will involve the production of technical reports to be reviewed by government agencies,
  • will be used to demonstrate legal compliance with historic preservation and environmental laws, and
  • might also involve the implementation of public outreach and engagement programs, and consultation with descendent communities and other public stakeholders in the archaeological effort?

Question 2: The articles published in Historical Archaeology and recent volumes on the discipline of historical archaeology seem to suggest that postmodernism is the predominant theoretical orientation for historical archaeological endeavors in academic settings. This also seems to be the case in terms of the sessions and papers presented at SHA’s annual meetings over the last several years.  Do you believe that this is the case, and if so, what role, if any, does a processual approach to historical archaeology have in the training of university students for a career in academia?

Question 3: Do we have an ethical obligation to objectively present the realities of the job market to students pursuing a career in historical archaeology?  If we do, what are the most effective methods and approaches to present these realities to students?

Question 4: How can we ensure as a discipline that practitioners in all career tracks have the opportunity, grounding, and commitment to make a difference and contribute to answering the questions that count in historical archaeology?

Hope to see you at the session and we look forward to some lively discussions!