About Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is Director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network's Northeast and East Central Regions. She serves as Chair for the Public Education and Interpretation Committee of SHA and is statewide coordinator of Project Archaeology for Florida.

Archaeology Education at a Crossroads

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by Sarah E. Miller

This post began as a lesson in acronyms to explain SHA’s commitment and involvement with the AEC and NCSS.  I’ll get to those in a minute, but the post has expanded due to recent events at the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting to include discussion points on the future of public archaeology.  We seem to be at an impasse for what we can achieve as separate societies and the need to work together or form another group was echoed in every public archaeology session I attended at SAA.

For me it comes down to the age old typology debate: are we lumpers, or are we splitters?  The best answer: it depends.  And it depends on the question you’re asking.

Is there enough public archaeology offered within existing professional organizations?  The current model for public archaeology at SHA includes the active Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC- of which I am chair), professional development workshops offered as the schedule will allow before the conference, organized panels and symposiums on the topic, a public day on the Saturday during the annual meeting, and general sessions where public archaeology papers are grouped together by the conference organizers. There’s also my favorite hybrid, integrated sessions where the lines between terrestrial, underwater, and public archaeology are blurred and tackle all subjects under a common theme. The SAA as well as other profesional societies including regional conferences have similar committees and offerings.

It seems like enough, yet the SAA electronic symposium “Getting Back to Saving the Past for the Future: Heritage Education at a Professional Crossroads” brought to light that compared to other professions, after 20 years archaeology hasn’t had nearly the impact or traction that other subjects are able to garner on a national level.  Hence the crossroads.

The solution proposed at the close of the session by organizer Meg Heath was to form another organization. The Archaeology Institute of America (AIA) stepped up and offered a full day where archaeology educators could hold a conference during their annual meeting in New Orleans (January 2015). The idea came up naturally as their aia-outreach-and-education google group, which launched end of 2013, garnered hundreds of responses.  Problematic for SHA members is that our conferences are scheduled nearly each and every year for the same dates in separate locations. Ben Thomas (AIA) suggested they host the southeast portion of the conference in New Orleans and SHA could concurrently host a northwest conference within our conference in Seattle. But not being in the same room, not having the same networking opportunities, and leaving it up to technology to bridge the gap between the two factions are serious obstacles to overcome. If I’ve learned one thing about conferences over the years: physical presence matters.

What are the other options?  Here are four marinating in my mind.

Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC)

SHA, SAA, and AIA already have a partnership in place, although its loosely defined and far too few people know it exists. The three organizations created the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC) as a convenience to sponsor a booth at the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS). NCSS is the penultimate meeting for social studies teachers, district level coordinators, administrators, and researchers in instruction and design. Over 25,000 teachers and administrators belong to NCSS and thousands attend approximately 400 sessions offered each year at their annual conference.

SHA PEIC members Steve Dasovich, Sarah Miller, and Christy Wood Pritchard at NCSS.

For the past seven years SHA has participated in the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) annual conference through representation by the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC). We have the exhibitor booth and present a session on making the past come alive in classrooms using ready-made materials. This year the AEC expanded its traditional role and worked together over the year to develop handouts for educators specific to the grades and subjects they teach. While the main activity of our conference calls was organizing NCSS participation, we also discussed cross promotion of National Archaeology Day events and Boy Scout Jamboree.

The name Archaeology Education Clearinghouse is problematic. For one, most archaeologists are not aware the AEC exists. For two, the word clearinghouse implies we are a portal or an almanac for all archaeology education materials.  But the name works for educators. They recognize what a clearinghouse is and it’s a very appropriate way to market to them at the conference—one stop shopping for them to gather resources and get to their next stop. For future joint public archaeology enterprises I hope the intent and framework of the AEC holds and increases in prominence. The three organizations should be working together to maximize efficiency for all of us doing this kind of work.

Project Archaeology

Another lumping option is to consider existing programs, such as Project Archaeology.  This national program of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is housed at Montana State University and for 20 years they have researched, developed, and tested archaeology education materials for formal classroom settings that many of us have adapted for informal use. Their current flagship curriculum is Investigating Shelter, endorsed by the National Council of Social Studies. Project Archaeology is one of the only organizations with professional development opportunities for those interested in archaeology education. They have a national network of coordinators in place in 32 states.  In addition to sessions on education trends and assessment, the bi-annual meeting always includes a reading circle on a current public archaeology work, and when possible the author(s) attend. Attendance is small but the framework and expertise is there.

Education Conferences

If we continue with lumping the societies together and we recognize that what we’re currently doing isn’t working, why not try a new model? What if those dedicated to archaeology education who generally meet before an archaeological conference met before an education conference: National Council of Social Studies (NCSS), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), or North American Association for Environmental Educators (NAAEE)? Putting on a standalone conference is difficult work, but piggy backing on an existing one independent of when the big three meet seems a viable option.  Rather than trying to bring educators to us, we go to them.

A New Society for Public Archaeology

This is the ultimate splitting option. We at SHA, more so than SAA or AIA, understand the reasons for needing to create a new society to further our own discipline. Coming up on the 50th anniversary of the founding of SHA, some of the very reasons for the formation of the society are being echoed within public archaeology circles. However, adding another meeting adds a financial constraint not many public archaeologists can manage. For myself, I rely on conferences to keep me current on archaeological issues and trends that is essential to my outreach work It would be difficult to have to pick one over another.

SHA: A Home for Public Archaeology

Whatever solutions are offered or new society put in place, I implore SHA members doing public archaeology to continue attending the annual meeting and keep infusing the creative work you are doing into the places provided by the society. Get involved with the PEIC, we are always open to new members and new ideas. Request professional development workshops you need to take your archaeology education programs to the next level.  Share with colleagues successes and challenges, that’s the only way we’ll make progress on our long term goals. When you hit a an obstacle you can’t overcome yourself, organize a panel discussion to tackle the obstacle and foster growth within the society. Take advantage of the Public Day as an expo for the specialized work we do.  And if you live near a host city for future NCSS (New Orleans 2015, Washington DC 2016, San Francisco 2017, Chicago 2018) come experience firsthand how important it is that we show up.  It’s frightening- if it were not for us and our presence through the AEC, there would be no archaeology represented for our nation’s social studies educators.

So…are you a lumper or a splitter? Let us know what your thoughts are about the future of Public Archaeology in our discipline!

Top 10 Public Archaeology opportunities at SHA 2014

Interested in Public Education and Interpretation?  The 2014 conference is chock-full of opportunities to learn, share, and experience Public Archaeology firsthand.  Here’s my top 10 recommendations for sessions to join or meetings to catch.

1.  Attend JOIN SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee!

Committee meetings are scheduled for Friday morning at 8 am.  The PEIC will be meeting in the Courville Room at the Hilton Quebec.  On the agenda: introductions and what projects SHA members initiated over the past year, recap of SHA’s participation in the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse and attendance at National Council of Social Studies in St. Louis, and an update on the Public Archaeology Toolbox.

If you can’t make it for the meeting, join the conversation on Twitter @FPANlive that morning or email me at semiller@flagler.edu for future committee updates.

2.  Municipal Archaeology (Thursday 8:30 Room 301B)

All municipal archaeology programs owe their existence to public engagement.  The session includes overview of several municipal programs from the US (St. Augustine, Phoenix, New York City) and multiple cities in Quebec and Ontario.  Tours, exhibits, heritage tourism, and public excavation are just some of the many public benefits of these programs.

3. PechaKucha!  (Friday 1:30 Room 207)

One of the things I’m most excited to see is “My Research in a Nutshell.” PechaKucha is a presentation style where the speaker selects 20 slides and must confine comment to only 20 per slide.  PechaKucha Nights have popped up all over the country as a fun, informal way to communicate ideas, projects, or creative works.  I’m curious to see the different ways the students are successful in interpreting their findings for the conference but will keep my potential public audiences in mind.  Come observe, then challenge yourself to sign up for your local group.  For example, St. Augustine just started a PechaKucha Night series last year (check out their webpage) and I’m looking to get on the 2014 roster.

PechaKecha in action!

4.  Community Archaeology for the 21st C (Friday 3:30 Room 205B)

Joe Hoyt of NOAA organized this session to highlight collaboration between professional archaeologists and avocational divers to study WWI and WWII shipwrecks off North Carolina’s coast. The session culminates with a roundtable discussion between Hoyt, John Bright of the National Park Service, Fred Engle of Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group, and Brandi Carries of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  I’ll be listening especially to the outreach products that resulted from the survey, particularly creation of a documentary and integration of cultural resources into scuba training as mentioned in the abstracts.

5.  Public Archaeology Panel (Saturday 1:30 Room 207)

Public archaeology issues are best expressed by deliberation.  An international panel organized by grad students Nicole Bucchino (FPAN-UWF), Jennifer Jones (ECU) and Jenna Copin (CUNY) brings together PubArch veterans to discuss their experiences for grad students.  Lively debate is ensured with the participation of incoming SHA President Charles Ewen (ECU) on the panel, as well as representatives from Thunder Bay (NOAA), NPS, Cayman Islands, and consulting firms.

6.  Posters! (Friday 12:20 Room 200)

Poster abstracts recently became available and I can see several public archaeology offerings in the hall.

  •  “Sharing the Sweet Life: Public Archaeology in Practice at a historic Louisiana sugar mill” poster by Matt McGraw, Rebecca McLain and Veberal Clement of LSU promises to highlight Facebook page, student blog, site tours, displays and media coverage.
  • “Black Experiences within the Field of Archaeology” by Ayana Flewellen (UT at Austin) and Justin Dunnavant (UF), will highlight progress from the Society of Black Archaeologists Oral History Project and touch on themes that arose through the interview process.  What a great resource to consult for upcoming talks, including but not limited to those requested during Black History Month.
  • Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail poster by Benhamin Wells (UWF) will focus on a heritage tourism approach to interpretation.  Focus on maritime resources and how to overcome the challenge of sharing these sites with the public.

7.  New Acadia Project (Friday 4:15 Room  302B)

Mark Rees’ paper on Public Archaeology and Mythistory caught my eye.  The role of the archaeologist in exploring mythistory of Cajuns intrigues me, as well as use of crowdsourcing to fund the project.  This paper is part of a larger session on Archaeologies of Acadia: From Homeland to Diaspora.

8. Archaeologies of Memory and Identity (Friday 1:15 Room 206A)

Cross-cultural meanings of place and places of meaning will be presented with the intention of challenging us to use ethnographic approach in our work.   Patty Jeppson and Jed Levin are two of my PubArch favorites who always bend my brain to think in new ways.  Outside the US and Canada, this session will include papers from Australia, England, Portugal, Japan and the Canary Islands.

9. Community Education and Public Engagement (Saturday 3:30 Room 206A)

After you’ve had a chance to experience #10 (don’t peek!) come over to Room 206A and hear a variety of papers representing multiple approaches to public archaeology: social media, success of swag, hands-on excavation, avocational programs and archaeology months.  I’m particularly excited to hear from Archaeo-Quebec, an organization that looks similar to my own network.  Reading their abstract led me to looking up their website to learn more.    

10.  Last but not least….PUBLIC DAY!!!  Pleins Feux sur l’archaeology!!

Come see archaeology interpreted for the public Quebec style!  Each SHA public day is truly unique and I never lack for ideas to share (okay steal) after perusing the exhibit hall.  For a flavor of public day you can check out my blog last year from Leicester.  Full description of events available on the conference website.

Event Flier

Didn’t see your paper or poster?  Add it in the comments below!  And don’t forget to follow conference happenings on Twitter using the #SHA2014 and #PubArch hashtags.

Unless stated, all events take place in the Convention Center.  Refer to program for end times and full session descriptions.  While I took French for 9 years (yes, 9!) I’m obviously limited in my review of the abstracts submitted en francais.

Mes excuses à nos colleages francophones!  Si vous donnez un document de l’archéologie publique et je manqué, s’il vous plaît envoyer ci-dessous et je vais vous acheter une bière!

Ten Take-Aways from SHA Public Day 2013

Every year on the last Saturday of the Society’s annual meeting we open our doors to the public, in one form or another.  Since the 1996 annual meeting in Cincinnati some Public Days have taken place at historical sites, museums, or ballroom of the conference venue.  For the 2013 Public Day the University of Leicester opened its student union, lecture hall, and common grounds for the benefit of the community.  And come they did!  Hundreds of people swarmed in the disco-turned-expo hall on two floors—people upstairs in period dress and info tables, activities for all ages celebrating all the senses down below—while others participated in a metal detector demonstration on the lawn, and others still attended lectures in the auditorium.

As SHA’s Public Education and Information Committee (PEIC) chair, I feel a duty to attend and support the local chairs. But let’s be honest, I also attend to beg/borrow/steal outreach ideas.  It was painful to narrow to a manageable amount, but here are my top ten take-aways:

  1.  Clanging of the coins.  The activity that demanded the most attention was the percussive minting of a Richard III coin.  I heard banging across the expo room and fought against the current to find the origin: people invited to pound etched stamps together using a sledge hammer and make their own Richard III coin.  Brilliant!  I often shy away from coins at outreach events, afraid I may inspire harmful habits to root out coins on archaeological sites.  But this activity focused instead on the symbolism of the coin.  It also satisfied one of the hardest customer wants, the desire of the public to take something home.  The aluminum blank inserted between the engraved steel plates was a 2013 artifact okay to take home.  They let me take home three!  I came home and did a bit of research.  If you want to adapt this activity to coinage found near you, get in touch with an engraver and have them design two steel plates for your event.
  2. Planview tiles.  I took two ideas from the English Heritage table.  First was the birdseye planview of Stonehenge affixed on square tiles.  The focus of the site shifted from the megalithic center to the pathways and greater landscape.  I can think of a whole host of sites in my area that can be adapted to this activity.
  3. Stereoscopes.  I’m no stranger to stereoscopes at historic sites, the difference at the English Heritage table was the scale of the scope.  The viewer was huge and the 3-dimensional image enlarged.  Like the companion tile activity, I can image the elevation view of the same sites being really useful.  I’m not sure where they ordered theirs from, but I found something similar, Geoscope Pro on the ASCS webpage.
  4. Touch tables.  Ten years ago we had artifacts on the table for the public to touch.  The pendulum has swung to the other extreme, for our events at least, where we rely on replicas and put original artifacts out in cases behind glass.  There was no end to the artifacts you could touch: Roman tiles, Stafforshire pottery sherds, lithics and animal bones.  While many artifacts require careful handling and are fragile, many are victims of lost provenience and can stand up to public affection.  I’m inspired to get more creative about packaging objexts the public can touch- it gives them that immediate, personal connection to the past.  A powerful tool too often ignored. 
  5. Music to my ears.  Throughout the day musicians played on the front stage.  The music spanned several different eras and types of instruments.  As archaeologists we often think of the past as something people can see or maybe touch, but it was delightful to my ears to hear music brought to life centuries later through living musicians today.
  6. Let them eat cake!  On a similar sensory theme, one table featured chronology of different foods the public could taste.  Health code in the states may not allow for such a station, but it was a great activity to connect food and foodways with the different cultures over time that consumed them. 
  7. Toys!  I never thought to invite toy merchants to an event, but it makes sense for the little ones that they would want an appropriate souvenir to take home.  These Play Mobile figures are inexpensive and allowed some to carry the magic home.
  8. Books!  Beyond merchandizing for kids, several tables offered books, posters, and resources for adults.  Too often I rely on a site’s gift shop or book store to provide economic opportunities to support the vendors.  I really liked the idea the if certain tables encouraged you to learn more, you could immediately act on that impulse and take a book home that very day.
  9. Dressing the part.  While some public days are specific to a certain time or site, in Leicester any time period was fair game: Roman, Plantagenets, Elizabethan, even up to WWII.  To visually survey the expo hall and see such a range of first person interpreters or re-enactors was also very inspiring.  There was a Richard III near the stage, a man in armor near the entrance, a whole corridor of WWII soldiers.  And it extended to the children’s area where they could play dress up across different time periods.  As an archaeologist at outreach events I feel living history is often far afield from what I’m trying to do.  But it was marvelous to see walking, talking representations of the time period and no doubt drew the audience further into the expo fray.  The hall of kids activities also featured a dress up station that was busy every time I walked by.
  10. Activities, Activities, Activities.  In talking with the organizers before the big day, one thing that seemed important to them was to make sure there was enough for little hands to do.  They accomplished this throughout the expo hall, but also had an entire hallway at the entrance full of hands-on activities.  Tables included making pottery, zooarch analysis, artifact drawing, the dress up station mentioned above.  One thing I’d heard of others doing but had yet to try was a metal detector demonstration.  The sound of it drew passerbyers over and added excitement I never considered in only reading about the demonstration on paper.  It sounded like trying to tune in distant radios from the other side of the world!  The crowd became instantly engaged when the youth hit a hot spot.

The day was a success, both from the quantitative measure of public served (2,000+ estimated) and from a professional development measure.  In fact, we already “stole” the seed activity and put it to practice at a recent science activity day in northeast Florida!  Congratulations to the Public Chairs and local committee.  And thank you to the University of Leicester that did an excellent job in cross promoting the conference and public day to visitors of all walks.

For more pictures and comments from the actual day, check out the Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/403052999760928/