Meet a Member: John Littlefield

Over the coming months, we’ll be bringing you entertaining interviews with a diverse array of your fellow SHA members.  Meet a member for the first time or learn something about a colleague that you never knew before.  This blog series also offers current members an opportunity to share their thoughts on why SHA membership is important (Camaraderie? Professional service? Exchange of ideas in conference rooms and beyond?  You tell us!). If you would like to be an interviewee, please email the Membership Committee Social Media Liaisons Eleanor Breen (ebreen@mountvernon.org) or Kim Pyszka (kpyszka@aum.edu).

An Interview with John Littlefield, PhD student at Texas A&M University (Maritime Archaeology), M.A. from Texas A&M, B.S. from College of Charleston

What is the first site you worked on? What is the last one (or current one)?

The first “site” I worked on was a not a site at all, but a terrestrial survey in central Turkey, if that counts. I followed that with work at a colonial site, Charles Towne Landing, in South Carolina. Completely different environments, but both equally interesting. The last “site” I worked on was also a survey, of the waters around ancient Troy and Çanakkale, Turkey- again, if that counts. The last specific site was a potential pre-Clovis excavation in a Florida river. I was amazed at the ability to be able to cut beautiful walls in the river bed down to about 13 m. We don’t get the type of substrate to allow fine trowel work in a sea or ocean environment.

Fieldwork or labwork?

This presents a very difficult choice. Since most of my current work in done on underwater sites, I live on, and work from, a boat for weeks or even months at a time. Fieldwork has taken me from the freshwater rivers of Florida to the Mediterranean Sea to excavate Bronze Age material, Hellenistic marble, etc. I obviously love what I get to do during fieldwork. However, I also really like artifact photography and analysis, pXRF analysis of metal artifacts, and the very detailed recording ancient ship remains in the lab also.

If you could have lunch with any archaeologist (past or present) who would it be?

Wow, that is an intriguing question. So many people come to mind, past and present. As a maritime archaeologist, George Bass is a bit of a sage for me. He obviously is of great influence to the field of nautical archaeology and I am very fortunate to get to visit with George on a very regular basis. In fact, I had the opportunity to work and even dive with him at the re-visit excavation of the Bronze Age shipwreck at Cape Gelidonya in 2010. I would add that I would love to have an afternoon with to pick Lewis Binford’s brain, to have a mint julep with Basil Gildersleeve, or chat with Paul Bahn about his Bluffers guide to Archaeology.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 

That presumes that I have grown up. As a kid, I wanted to be an Olympian, but as much as I tried, I always seemed to be the second faster distance runner. After high school I moved into a blue collar career, so it took me many years to find my calling as a maritime archaeologist. I left that blue collar job, went back to school, and took a position as a diver at the South Carolina Aquarium. When I stumbled into an anthropology class and discovered archaeology, it did not take long to develop the desire to marry my new found passion with diving to that of archaeology. So if and when I do actually grow up, I would like to continue on this path.

Why are you a member of SHA?

I think it is important to support the institutions in our field. It helps in network development and I like getting up to date archaeological data through the associated journals, websites, and conferences.

At what point in your career did you first join SHA?

I joined pretty early- I was still an undergraduate at College of Charleston when I first joined.

How many years have you been a member (approximately)?

I first joined in 2006 I believe.

Which benefit of belonging to SHA do you find the most beneficial?

Definitely the up-to-date information, particularly about ethics, methods, and practices in the field.

APTC: Job Fishing in the Digital Sea

So, like many of us, I’ve been on the job market in the past year. I finished my PhD at the College of William & Mary (Hark upon the Gale!) and am trying to have that take me somewhere. To facilitate such, I have cultivated a number of online tools to notify me about job openings around the country (sorry, this is a US-oriented post).

To push the SHA’s effort, I’ll start with “our” resources. The SHA maintains a job board (click here), which I check frequently. Jobs are automatically removed after 90 days, so anything on there is fairly current. As we’re historical archaeologists, these are the most relevant to our specialties. The SAA maintains one, as well (click here). Like the SHAs, it’s a fairly standard enumeration of open positions, skewing academic, but their postings stay up there for longer. Beyond the job boards, there are some other, more sophisticated things to try.

The AAA job board operates, in some ways, like the SHA and SAA counterparts, but with more features. As a job-seeker, you can construct a profile for others to review, which is nice, but I get the feeling it doesn’t get used much. More useful, however, is the ability to set up automated alerts based on certain search terms. Every time a job gets posted on the AAA board with “historical archaeology” in the description, I get an e-mail alert with a link to the posting. It’s a very helpful function, and the e-mails usually arrive in the morning, right around when I’m spoon-deep in my cereal, so it’s a nice surprise with breakfast.

Archaeologyfieldwork.com is another go-to resource. It’s particularly helpful in that it comes in so many different formats. You can go to the page and use it like a standard job board. They also have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page, both of which will pop up in your various queues. A hearty tip-of-the-hat to Jennifer Palmer for making this such a valuable resource. My favorite way to access this resource, however, is an RSS feed. I, like many, bemoaned the demise of Google Reader, as it was my go-to resource for news reading. I’ve replaced it with Feedly, and loaded the page’s RSS channel (click here) as a feed, which updates regularly. AFW carries more agency and shovel bum gigs than do the aforementioned job boards. Shovelbums also does postings on CRM jobs, but in an older interface.

Also on Twitter, keep an eye on Get Anthropology Jobs (@GetAnthropoJobs), which carries a lot of adjunct and instructor positions, the helpfully-named Archaeology Postdocs (@archpostdocs), and ArchaeoJobs (@ArchaeoJobs), which is run out of Dublin and features more European content. I don’t subscribe to them directly, but have all of these in a private archaeology jobs list, which I can call up in Twitter or maintain as a separate stream in HootSuite, which lets you view more than the one Twitter feed at a time. I use HootSuite because I maintain my own Twitter feed (@cgdrexler) as well as that of my office (@aas_sau), and HootSuite keeps me from having to log-out and log-in constantly.

Also, on Feedly, I subscribe to updates to the Academic Jobs Wiki, archaeology jobs section (click here). As the name implies, it’s focused on academic jobs, but serves two purposes. First, like the job boards, it announces positions, though rarely something that doesn’t appear on the other boards. Well, belay that. It does carry more international postings than the US-oriented job boards already mentioned. What is, perhaps, more helpful is that, as it’s a wiki, people can anonymously post information on it about the progress of the search. Did the University of South Mumblesticks ask for phone interviews? They did? OK, I didn’t get a request, so that’s probably off the table for me. It lets the job-seeker start to mentally move on, and can provide some closure in an age when a lot of places don’t actually send out rejection letters.

On that last front, a friend of mine, Linda Ziegenbein, put together an Academic Job Rejection Letter Generator to provide full closure for those who are still waiting to hear from a lost cause. Lamentably, after a story appeared about it, the Generator received 10,000 hits in three days… wow.

OK, we have to wind up on a more positive note…

I know, I’ll highlight that the Arkansas Archeological Survey currently has three positions open. Two are for station assistants (one in Monticello, one in Arkadelphia), and one for a station archaeologist (in Magnolia). Check them out!

What resources and tools do you use as part of your job hunt? Leave us a comment below with your favorite resources, tips, and tricks!

Presenting Archaeology to the Public: Obligation and Opportunity

by Joe Bagley

How many public archaeology lectures, events, or tours have you done in the past year?  If you answered “none,” you might not realize how important they are to your field and professional development, or you may not realize just how easy they are to do.

In an era where NSF funding is getting slashed, historic preservation laws are under threat, and National Geographic is celebrating metal-detecting, there is no greater time for archaeologists to get the word out that historical archaeology is valuable, important, and must be funded and protected.

That’s where we all come in.  As the City Archaeologist of Boston, I am obligated by my job description to provide archaeology events, lectures, and tours to the public.  Well before starting my job I had been giving public talks on Boston’s archaeology with beneficial results for both my career and public perceptions of archaeology.

When I talk to students of archaeology, I’m often asked how to bridge the gap between school and career, and the first thing I tell them is to put themselves “out there” and start doing public events.  It doesn’t matter if you are interested in pursuing careers in CRM, academics, museums, or writing, you will benefit from these events.

We can start with personal benefits:  First, you will become more relaxed about giving public talks. I was terrified the first few times I gave lectures, but you will get over it, I promise.  Second, you will learn through experience what does and does not resonate with the public.  If you think something is important but the audience is asleep you either need to sell it better or drop the topic entirely from your public talk repertoire.  Finally, you will give yourself and the public an opportunity to present the reality of archaeology and gain support for the various laws or institutions that support what we do.

If you want to pursue CRM, you will one day need to be able to convince a town or group that additional data-recovery archaeology is necessary before destruction or a site should be preserved rather than developed.  If you don’t have experience with speaking to the public, your inabilities may result in the destruction of history.  Academic relevancy should be obvious: speaking before an audience and keeping it interesting will only improve your abilities to run a classroom and publish that book you have been working on in your head.  Museums are constantly in need of public support, how better to convince the public that your institution is important? And all of you writers, how about finding out if people actually give a hoot about your topic in an hour-long talk before dedicating a year (or more) of your life to a book that might not sell.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “well yeah, it’s easy for YOU to do public events, you’re the City Archaeologist!”  True, that does grease skids and open doors, but it is shockingly easy to get public speaking gigs.  For several years between undergraduate school and grad school I was struggling to find work in archaeology.  While pursuing alternative job opportunities, I realized I was quickly losing any momentum in archaeology that I had gained as an undergrad.

I had been studying Boston archaeology for several years and had developed a small mountain of research and data.  On a whim, I started emailing various local library directors with an offer to give a free (emphasize FREE) public lecture on the “Archaeology of Boston” that will cover both the Native American and Colonial history of the city.  I soon had four bookings for talks at various libraries in the Boston area.  One of these was the main branch of the Boston Public Library.  Naturally, I wrote the lecture after securing the gigs.

I want to emphasize here: I had a BA in archaeology with no active job in archaeology or affiliation.  Libraries are very interested in public talks on topics not normally covered, and it frankly doesn’t matter if you get 5 or 50 attendants, you will learn from every last one of these events.  I did a talk at the Boston Public Library that did not make it into their online calendar (there’s a lesson right there: insist you are included in the library’s calendar and double check!).  At the time the talk started I was in a room with chairs for 100 people and NOBODY was there.  Eventually I had three people arrive 10 minutes late and gave one of my best talks to that tiny crowd.  One of those in attendance is the leader of a local events coordination group in Boston. I now see him at almost all of my talks and he regularly brings 5-15 other people from his group.  It’s always worth it, and I learned a great deal about publicity that day.

I know, because I asked, that these public talks during my “gap years” in school/jobs helped reassure my current employer of my commitment to archaeology and also demonstrated my public speaking abilities prior to getting a job where they were a regular occurrence.

If libraries are not your style or you’ve conquered them all, approach local museums and historical societies or organize a walking tour.  Email the local organizer of your state’s Archaeology or Preservation Month/week and asks them for connections to institutions looking for speakers/events.  You would be surprised how people are to relevant archaeology talks and hands-on events or activities, especially if they are free.  Don’t forget: Archaeology is innately interesting and 50% of your pitch is saying the word “archaeology.”  The connections you can make at these locations are invaluable too.  Who knows, perhaps you may realize that public work at a museum is what you are truly passionate about?

Joe Bagley giving a Preservation Month walking tour in Boston

Want publicity? Write your own press releases.  Why not?  “Local archaeologist presents recent archaeological discoveries at (insert site/country here) in library talk.” Google “how to write a press release” and send them to local papers. They don’t get much opportunity to write about archaeology and will be happy to do so.

To wrap up, you can only benefit from public events, even if nobody comes. Flop sweat is the greatest motivator for personal improvement.  Public events are great opportunities to refine your presentation style and determine what topics resonate with the public. They are also your greatest opportunity to promote archaeological laws and funding to the public, who have the ability to vote them out of existence. Whether they be the local library or a major speaking event, the connections you can and do make and the experience you gain are invaluable to your own career. You do not need formal associations with particular programs or institutions, but you DO need to be your own advocate and represent yourself in the best possible terminology. Opportunities will not be handed to you, sometimes you need to go out there and take them for yourself. What have YOU done to promote yourself and archaeology to the public?