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.

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/

Public Education and Interpretation at 2012 Conference

With the annual conference just a few short weeks away it’s time for me to grab a highlighter and mark up the preliminary program.  Without a strategy in place too many opportunities are lost and I find out later all the papers, posters, and panels I should not have missed.  I put together a Top 10 list for public archaeology recommendations at SHA 2012.

Pre-Conference Workshop 2011 Activity

1.  Pre-Conference Workshop   Can They Dig It? Proexcavation Techniques for Archaeologists Working with Local Communities.  Facilitators Jay Stottman and myself (Sarah Miller) are putting the final details together on exercises and activities to spark deliberation over excavating with the public.  Participants will design their own proexcavation program and report on the before, during and after activities as we highlight tips and tools along the way.  Really looking forward to it! (Wednesday, January 4)

 2.  Historic Londontown and Annapolis Tour: The tours look so great this year, but if I had to chose one as a public archaeologist, I’d pick the Historic Londontown and Archaeology of Annapolis tour.  For years I had a calendar from the Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project…pick one up for me if you go on this tour, such wonderful interpretive tools they used in showing how you can derive house structure from the postholes and features unearthed by archaeologists (and the public!).  The second stop on the same tour brings you to the front door of the Archaeology in Annapolis Program lead by the one and only Dr. Mark Leone.  (Wednesday, January 4)

 3. PUBLIC DAY!!   This year’s theme “Gallantly Streaming” will feature activity tables and exhibits from over 15 local and regional archeology programs.  The event is free and open from 11:00am-2:00pm at Fort McHenry.  Check out posters, interactive activities, and interpreters. Topics will include the struggles and triumphs of Maryland’s African American communities, Native Americans, colonial history, Civil War archaeology, historic shipwrecks, and plantations told through posters, interactive activities, and interpreters. (Saturday, January 7)

4. Solving Problems in the Public Interpretation of Maritime Cultural Heritage Symposium: I had a chance to talk to Della Scott-Ireton this week about this symposium which runs all day Thursday.  The presenters are leaders in the Maritime archaeology field and any of these papers should be well worth the public archaeologists time.  The maritimers in general have done a wonderful job integrating public archaeology into nearly everything they do, and it shows at the conference.  Proof is in this session–don’t miss!  (Thursday, January 5)

Look for PEIC Flier!

5. Public Education and Interpretation Committee Wake up, wake up!  The PEIC  meets early Friday morning from 7:45-8:45 am.  This committee welcomes new members and is eager to discuss K-12 education, displays and interpretation, social and traditional media, or just plain digging in plain sight.  Breakout session planned to brainstorm materials and topics for the Public Archaeology toolbox, blog and newsletter topics, and session ideas for 2013.  Please come, bring a friend!  (Friday, January 6, Room TBA)

6.  Roundtables:

Promo used for teacher conference.

There are two chances to join in public archaeology discussions over lunch on Saturday.  Terry Brock will facilitate discussion at his table focusing on Social Media, disseminating archaeology to diverse audiences through a variety of tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs.  Across the room pull up a chair at my Public Archaeology table where we can discuss archaeology education, particularly marketing to educators and gaining the audiences you want. (Saturday, January 7)

 

7. Toward an Archaeological Agora Revisited: Using Collaborative Approaches in Facilitating Public Participation and Creation of Archaeological Knowledge and Understanding Symposium:  I’ll admit it, last year I Googled the word agora during the session (it means meeting place, to congregate).  I loved each and every paper, particularly Pam Cressey and Douglas Appler’s paper on the City of Alexandria’s program and ways of making an unmarked African-American burial ground tangible to the public eye by placing luminaries to represent the number of known burials interred.  This year’s version is chaired by John Jameson and Harold Mytum, a definite must see with integrated terrestrial and maritime papers.  (Thursday, January 5)

Derek the Dredger Resources

8. General Outreach-Related Sessions:  Scheduled for Friday are the following two general sessions.  In the morning you’ll find me in the Maritime Heritage Management and Outreach session.  Since I learned about Derek the Dredger from Ian Oxley I make a point to see anything in which he’s taking part. In the afternoon Lessons from the Field: Public Outreach and Education session features PEIC member Laura Segna and other interesting PubArch papers.  Fresh from the PEIC meeting at 7:45 that morning there should be a good turnout.

Archaeology in Alexandria Presentation

 

9. Fifty Years of Community Archaeology on the Potomac: Lessons from Alexandria:  Alexandria is arguably the ultimate example of a community-supported city archaeology program.  I first met co-chair Doug Appler when he came to St. Augustine to do research on city permits, and of course I am in awe of the work by Pam Cressey.  Discussion is not to be missed, led by SHA outgoing President William Lees (full disclosure: also my boss!).  If you work in communities with archaeology ordinances this symposium should have a lot to offer on how to craft community involvement.  (Friday, January 6)

10. Reversing the Narrative Parts I and II:  An epic session unfolds Saturday with the who’s who of theoretical practitioners of public archaeology.  Paul Shackel and Barbara Little bookend this session, what more could you want? (Saturday, January 7)

What did I miss?  Give a plug for it below in the comments section and we’ll try and help get the word out.  Take some of my advice and have a good/bad story to tell?  Let us know what you saw and what you did in the PubArch frame of mind at SHA.

*Note: post written before program finalized.  Times and dates subject to change.  Individual papers and posters not available at the time of posting, please add below!