Archaeological Personalities and the Profession’s Future

We live in a moment in which the profession of historical archaeology seems characterized by an odd divide.  On the one hand, material things and archaeology are staples of popular culture: a vast range of people seem to be enchanted by material things and everyday histories, and nearly all of us can tell stories of communities and students whose lives have been shaped by historical archaeology in modest and consequential ways alike.  On the other hand, though, the discipline is under fire in the face of a withering economy, a government shutdown, a wave of political critics, and a steady flow of well-trained archaeologists growing desperate for employment.  The very things we and many of our constituencies are so interested in may be simultaneously receiving their professional death rites.

Perhaps an “archaeological personality” of sorts is emerging outside our modest scholarly circles; that is, the things historical archaeologists value are fascinating (if not important) to many people:  the allure of material culture, the compelling stories of everyday people, and the importance of community heritage all seem to find receptive constituencies.  Yet at the same moment the profession in its present form is radically transforming.  CRM firms are forced to manage modest budgets while they treat employees fairly; museums and preservation organizations have been gutted; politicians routinely criticize anthropology and archaeology; and even insulated university faculty are soberly advising students about the future of archaeological employment both within and outside the walls of the academy.  Just as we seem to be turning everybody into an archaeologist, the profession of scholars doing archaeology for a wage seems under risk.

We may need point no further than the television set to confirm that an archaeological engagement with things and everyday heritage has captured public imagination.  That broadly defined archaeological personality is reflected in forms that are sometimes clumsy, shallow, or unethical.  For instance, Antiques Roadshow, Storage Wars, and American Pickers are among a host of shows that revolve around pillaging things from attics and storage sheds; a wave of genealogy series illuminate our mass quest for heritage harbored in the lives of anonymous ancestors; cable is littered with alien fantasies and concocted historical mysteries revisiting the builders of the pyramids or Stonehenge; and a wave of metal detecting shows has staked a populist claim on archaeological resources. Continue reading

Workshops in Quebec City, Part I

This year’s conference has a large slate of workshops; something to answer any interest. In preparation for the conference, and to inspire your interest in coming and participating, the Academic and Professional Training Committee offers three posts introducing these workshops. This is the first of those three postings.

We hope you find something here that piques your interest, and we hope to see you in Quebec City!

Workshop 1: Analyzing Glass Beads: When Archaeology and History Meet Archaeology
Hosted by Karlis Karklins, Jean-Francois Moreau, Adelphine Bonneau, and Ron Hancock
The aim of this workshop is to offer a large spectrum of key concepts on glass beads studies from different points of view and using multidisciplinary approaches. Markers of exchanges, glass beads are often abundant on archaeological sites. Their study provides both important information and underlines questions to be considered. In this workshop, we investigate the use of methods from archaeology, art history and Archaeometry. We will discuss both the limits and the complimentary aspects of these approaches.

Workshop 2: French Faience: Fabrication, Techniques, and History
Hosted by Laetitia Métreau
The raw materials used, as well as the shapes and decorations of tin-glazed earthenwares or faience, reflect the societies that produced used them. These productions are considered both a historical document and a socio‐economic marker. The aim of this workshop is to provide a comprehensive study of French faience, combining written sources, archaeological and archaeometric data. The theoretical part of the day will focus on technical, historical and stylistic aspects of these wares. It will be followed by a practicum consisting of case studies and identification exercises. The workshop will end with a guided tour of the Musée de la place Royale (Québec).

Workshop 3: Principles of Clay Pipe Analysis (Or, What to Do with a Pile of Clay Pipe Fragments)
Hosted by Barry C. Gaulton and Françoise Duguay
The proper identification and dating of clay tobacco pipes is essential for site interpretation; however many archaeologists still rely on outdated and problematic methods in their analyses. The goal of this workshop is to provide participants with the basic techniques used to identify, date and quantify clay pipes, with a focus on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century assemblages. It is designed for those without a strong background in clay pipe research. Topics include bowl typologies, pipe stem dating techniques, dating by makers’ mark and decoration, pipe provenance, quantifying assemblages, clay pipe reuse and modification, as well as approaches in trace element analysis.

Workshop 4: French Glass Tableware, from Production to Consumption
Hosted by Agnès Gelé
Glass tableware is an excellent example of the juxtaposition of different meanings conveyed by an artifact or objet. The purpose of this workshop is to provide participants with a synthesis of up to date research on French glass tableware. The theoretical section of the day examines the production of glass tableware, via a literature review and a discussion of the production processes and vocabulary in use. This will be followed by a discussion of the typological and stylistic evolution of glass tableware. Identification exercises will use the collections from the Maisons Estèbe and Perthuis, which were part of Place Royale in Quebec City. The workshop will conclude with a guided tour of the Musée de la place Royale (Québec).

If you have an idea for a workshop to be held at a later conference, or if you would like to organize one yourself, please contact Carl Drexler at cdrexler@uark.edu.

From the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Governmental Affairs Counsel

SHA Members’ Congressional Visits

Thanks to those of you who participated in Cultural Heritage Partners’ July webinar, “Making Our Voices Heard During August Recess.” An even bigger thanks to members who followed through and visited with members of Congress and their staffers, as well as members of state and local government! If you met with, called or had contact with your Representative or Senator in August, please share your results with Cultural Heritage Partners’ so we can keep track of results and any needed follow-up.

Congress Update

Possible Shutdown?

As tonight’s September 30 end-of-fiscal-year approaches, the House and Senate continue their arguing over the budget and Obamacare. A short-term spending bill (a continuing resolution, or CR) has to pass by midnight to avoid a government shutdown. The shutdown would affect a broad range of services, including forcing a closure of national parks and museums. Seemingly desperate to reach an agreement, Senate Republicans today floated the idea of a 1-week stopgap measure, which their Democrat colleagues seemed unwilling to support. Should a shutdown happen, it is likely to go no more than a few days. The longest shutdown in history lasted 21 days, from December 16, 1995 through January 5, 1996.

A related issue looming on the horizon is the debt: Congress will have to vote to raise the ceiling in mid-October, when Treasury estimates the U.S. will hit the permissible limit.

Syria

Taking most of members’ time until recently was deciding whether to authorize action against Syria, in light of Assad’s use of chemical weapons. After seeing low public and Congressional support, President Obama asked the Senate not to vote on air strikes, and is instead pursuing a diplomatic solution with Russia.

Inside Syria, the war is having a serious adverse effect on archaeology. As the New York Times reported in April, “the country’s archaeological heritage is imperiled by war, facing threats ranging from outright destruction by bombs and bullets to opportunistic digging by treasure hunters who take advantage of the power vacuum to prowl the country with spades and shovels.”

NPS Kicks Off Centennial Website

To celebrate its 100th anniversary coming up in 2016, the National Park Service is inviting the submission of ideas through its “Next Century For Parks” website. Designed to be the home of the parks community, the public is asked to share ideas, successes and solutions for America’s national parks, today and for the next one hundred years, through the new website. NPS is looking for big, creative ideas that can become signature centennial programs. The deadline for consideration is October 20, 2013. You can check out the site here.