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!

It Takes a Village to Build a Trail

by Jennifer McKinnon

When I think back on the experience of building a maritime heritage trail, probably much like others who have worked on public or community projects, I get nostalgic about all of the friends and colleagues I met during the process. The old adage about it taking a village to raise a child also rings true for community projects such as heritage trails – it really does “take a village to build a trail.”

Community projects by their very nature are incredibly complicated, but can be infinitely rewarding. In a community as diverse as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), any project leader must understand that there are multiple voices to be heard and incorporated. This can be learned the hard way or the hard way. What I mean by the hard way is that no amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible.

First training in underwater archaeology held in the CNMI.

This is the task that I set about doing six years ago when I stood in front of a crowd in a smoky little restaurant that consisted of both divers (there to see my presentation on heritage trails) and an angry group of fishers (there to see a second presentation about a national monument which was set to restrict their access to fishing and thus their livelihood). What I found that night was a community so passionate about their right/heritage of fishing and opposed to more official colonial platitudes and restrictions. What I learned that night was two things: first, that no matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth; and second, the CNMI community was one with a long history of struggling with outsiders and outside ideas, and if progress was to be made, the idea should be locally generated. To this day these two lessons have held true to form and earned friendships and collegial relationships that will last a lifetime, not to mention some great research projects.

The idea for developing a heritage trail was conceived by staff at the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and shared with me when I first visited the island in 2007.  Though originally aiming to build a Spanish colonial research agenda, I was quickly taken by the incredibly diverse and intact heritage related to the WWII Battle of Saipan. With a little friendly persuasion from the HPO, I found myself in conversations about mapping, preserving and interpreting submerged WWII sites which included planes, tanks, shipwrecks and assault vehicles of both Japanese and US forces. The idea to apply for a National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant launched a one year grant awarded to Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, which eventually turned into a four year project (and has now moved inland). After holding several public meetings and discussing the trail with various stakeholders (dive shops, boat operators, government agencies, humanities groups, visitor’s authority, etc.) the trail began to take shape. Sites were chosen based on stakeholder and public interest, the history and archaeology was researched with an inclusive approach (including Chamorro, Carolinian, US, Japanese, and Korean groups) and products were carefully researched so as to reach the widest audience possible (all ages and divers and non-divers alike). In addition, since a focus on sustainability was key, the project included both heritage awareness trainings for end users and a conservation survey and management plan (funded by a second Battlefield Grant) that collected baseline data for the HPO.

The interpretive products that make up the trail include nine waterproof dive guides and four double-sided posters in both English and Japanese; a 2D and 3D interpretive film for the National Parks on Guam and Saipan (produced in conjunction with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, and Windward Media); and a website which includes information about the Battle and submerged heritage sites.

Poster from the WWII Battle of Saipan Maritime Heritage Trail.

But let me come back to the idea of it taking a village…the entire project from concept to completion would not have been possible if it were not for the interest of the local community. At every step of the way agencies and volunteers were not just included, but critical to the work. HPO conceived of the idea and several staff members assisted with recording the sites and conducting historical research; they also participated in training, first as trainees (Underwater Archaeology Training) and then trainers (Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar). Coastal Resources Management (CRM) provided in-kind support through the use of boats, fuel and the assistance of staff (i.e. captains, enforcement officers and biologists), as well as participating in and providing instruction during the training sessions. In fact, one CRM employee was so devoted to the project, he took vacation days so that he could participate in the field work! CRM also initiated a program to place moorings on the trail sites in order to minimize impact by visitors. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided in-kind support by offering boats, captains and expertise. CNMI Council for the Humanities promoted the project to the public by sponsoring public lectures and radio programs. NPS American Memorial Park hosted events such as public lectures, trainings and film viewings. Marianas Visitors Authority provided useful visitor and diving statistics in the planning process. In addition to the government agencies, private individuals hosted barbeques, provided in-kind support for hiring vessels, volunteered to conduct field work and historical research, provided translation services, gave local tours, set up interviews with family members, lent vehicles, and generally treated us as family.

CRM employee David Benavente working underwater.

From 2007 to the present I’ve had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) of working with the community/village of Saipan to record and research their maritime history from their colonization of the island some 3500 years ago to the more recent and tragic conflict of WWII. But I suspect there will be many, many years to come because like a snowball rolling down hill, interest builds momentum and once a village gets excited, who knows what may come of it…

So what are your experiences with creating trails or working with a village (community)? In what ways was the success of your project the immediate result of community input and assistance? Do you think the rewards of working with a community outweigh the complexity of the process?

Engaging the Community in Local Archaeology through a Friends Group

Since 1997 I have been a member of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA) in Connecticut. I actually found out about the group on a flyer posted in an elementary school where my mom worked. I was in high school at the time. I knew I would be an archaeologist since I was a kid, and through high school and college I was a member of my local archaeological groups, including FOSA.  Upon entering graduate school and having worked in cultural resource management for a few years I took to heart the growing movement of the need for more public involvement and outreach in archaeology. I dove head first into working with FOSA, and am currently the Vice President, Volunteer Coordinator, and I serve on the Newsletter and Archaeology Awareness Month Committees. I have found that a Friends group can be a great public benefit and can make substantive contributions to archaeological research.

The Connecticut Office of State Archaeology (OSA) has only one position, the State Archaeologist, who has no additional staff. In Connecticut the State Archaeologist is a position within the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History/Connecticut Archaeology Center at the University of Connecticut. State legislation in 1987 charged the State Archaeologist with identifying, managing, and preserving Connecticut’s archaeological resources. This is a position outside the state and federal compliance responsibilities of the State Historic Preservation Office. The State Archaeologist reviews municipal and privately funded development projects and makes recommendations that encourage the preservation of archaeological resources. The State Archaeologist is the public face of Connecticut archaeology. Talks are given throughout the state on a variety of topics to a diversity of audiences.

FOSA was established to support and assist the work of the Office of State Archaeology. Connecticut may be a small state, but it’s hard for the State Archaeologist to cover the entire state when there are projects going on and public outreach to do. The group was founded by individuals who had championed the establishment of the OSA, and who realized the OSA would still benefit from their support.

When preservation of an archaeological site is not an option in the face of development the State Archaeologist must rely on volunteer labor to complete archaeological investigations on private and town lands (with permission from the land owners). FOSA has a committee of experienced volunteers, some of them professional archaeologists by trade or training, who organize the dig, set up the grid, and maintain the site paperwork. The Volunteer Coordinator sends excavation announcements to the dig volunteers who then work on the site as available. There are several digs a year, and this season there has been at least one day of fieldwork per week.

Nick Bellantoni and FOSA Volunteers at the Strong-Howard House excavation in Windsor, 2013
Photo by FOSA

When a site excavation is complete artifacts and paperwork are returned to the OSA Lab where volunteers spend the fall through spring washing, identifying, and cataloging artifacts. This past year the lab was often at capacity, and a great deal of work was completed.

FOSA not only assists the State Archaeologist with excavation and laboratory work, but also has a very active Outreach Committee that attends fairs, festivals, farmers markets, and talks. Displays on the latest OSA work share new information about local archaeology and history with the public. Artifacts are displayed for the public to handle. Knowledgeable volunteers are on-hand to answer questions and tell people where to find more information and even how to join in the fun! FOSA has sponsored and co-sponsored public events, the largest of which is the Archaeology Fair in October (CT Archaeology Awareness Month). FOSA has an Annual Meeting that is consistently well attended by the public and has brought speakers such as James Adovasio, Douglas Owsley, and Stephen Houston to Connecticut.

FOSA Outreach Booth at the Westbrook Historical Society, 2013
Photo by Westbrook Historical Society

Currently FOSA has over 200 members who pay annual dues to support the OSA and FOSA. FOSA has most recently donated funds to the University of Connecticut for the hire of a temporary assistant for the State Archaeologist to manage and organize the state’s archaeological site files with the goal of digitizing them and making them more accessible to researchers and professionals. FOSA also pays for the State Archaeologist’s mobile phone, as work often takes place outside the office.

FOSA provides opportunities for the public to be involved in archaeology in many different capacities even if they’re unable to dig themselves. Volunteers maintain the OSA library, and FOSA has a semiannual newsletter with member contributed articles which is edited by a Newsletter Committee. FOSA has volunteers who maintain our group’s general housekeeping like membership, nominations, and the website. Members can choose their level of activity in the group, and in the last two years we have noticed a great increase in our volunteer hours. FOSA volunteers are recognized for their hard work and have been requested on excavations for other organizations including the Joshua’s Trust, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and Wesleyan University.
FOSA provides not only the support for the work of the State Archaeologist and a way to raise awareness of archaeology, but it also provides its members with a community for like-minded people. The social benefits of working together for a cause are immeasurable, and personally I have built strong friendships with many fellow volunteers. FOSA also provides a forum for professionals, students, retirees, and other members of the public to share their passion for archaeology.

FOSA Volunteers at the Connecticut Gravestone Network Symposium, 2013
Photo by Bonnie Beatrice

It has been my experience that with a group of devoted and enthusiastic people we can raise awareness of archaeology to more people with a stronger voice. The public is looking for ways to be involved in archaeology. What I would like you all to consider is how can you organize interested members in the public to support an archaeology cause? Could a Friends group help you preserve, protect, or explore an archaeological resource that’s important to you and your community?