Archaeology in the Community: Stepping up and Reaching out

This week’s #SHA2016 blog post highlights Archaeology in the Community, a nonprofit, archaeological outreach program serving the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area!  Read below to learn more about AITC, and please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages!

We are Archaeology in the Community, and we LIVE to bring archaeology to the public!

In 2006, AITC founder Dr. Alexandra Jones noticed that many of the young students in her Washington, D.C. neighborhood had never heard of archaeology, let alone met an archaeologist. As a trained archaeologist and educator, Dr. Jones was inspired to engage young people within her community and teach them the importance of archaeology. The program she created, Archaeology in the Community (AITC), allowed students in her community the unique opportunity to learn about their families’ histories and their community’s past from an archaeologist who lived around the block.

Dr. Jones began creating several customizable educational programs to teach archaeology in alignment with school curricula. These programs gained momentum across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and, in 2009, AITC became a chartered 501(c)3 nonprofit that promotes and facilitates the study and public understanding of archaeological heritage.

AITC ‘s overall goal has been for “us”—the students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, community members, curators, artists, and activists—to step up and participate in the archaeological conversation. Our voices are crucial to the health of the field. As Jennifer McKinnon writes in her own SHA blog post, “It Takes A Village to Build a Trail”:

“…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…No matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth.”

By consistently reminding our friends, our families, our community, that every artifact and site can help connect us to a particular day in history, a specific person, a local movement, a policy, and/or the global stage, we achieve our goal. Since 2009, AITC has helped increase community awareness of the benefits of archaeology and history through public events, enrichment programs, as well as provided professional development to college students interested in pursuing careers in archaeology.  At AITC, we create truly unique programs where the larger community and we can join into the conversation about archaeology through various mediums; art, food, music, written word and traditional archaeology.  All artifacts, no matter how seemingly trite, embody economic, social, political and spiritual stories. AITC has partnered with educational institutions, cultural establishments, and community organizations to bring this to fruition, and has since expanded our social media presence to reach the general public.

Students write questions for archaeologists.

Students learn the basics of excavation.

Day of Archaeology Festival 2014

Please visit our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and a look into some of our public events!

And, if you are in town July 18th, come join us for Day of Archaeology Festival, at Dumbarton Oaks!

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!

Critical Heritage, African Diaspora Archaeology and the Moment When My Eyes Were Opened.

I am a blogger. Blogging has become an extension of how I process complex thoughts and ideas. Composing a blog entry is like creating a work of art, allowing me to release myself from the constraints of academic boundaries and just write my inner thoughts and feelings in ways that are liberating and therapeutic.

So, this entry is about a recent shift in the way I think about the archaeology that I do, the methods I employ to engage with multiple stakeholders, and the ability to compare my experiences across time and space. This all started when I began to notice that many of the archaeologists around me were starting to talk about this thing called heritage.  I presented a paper at an annual conference sponsored by the UMass Amherst Center for Heritage and Society (CHS) about the recent trends in African Diaspora archaeology. I had incredible exchanges with heritage professionals, archaeologists from around the globe who were using unfamiliar language like tangible and intangible heritage, polylogues (as opposed to monologues), and concepts like sites as extensions of public value. I was shocked to learn how different this new heritage differed from my archaic understanding of what heritage was. It was no longer simply the idea of preservation, the built environment, or a tool for nation building, it was about all people, even those who were often marginalized, neglected and underrepresented.

My formal relationship with CHS began when I became a part of a larger project on Eleuthera, an outer island in the Bahamas. Initiated by a local organization, One Eleuthera Foundation (http://oneeleuthera.org/), CHS became a partner in an effort to identify projects and opportunities to “strengthen Eleuthera’s communities and further the economic, environmental and social development of the island” (http://oneeleuthera.org/). This partnership, already going on for a year, involved community engagement, focus groups with a variety of stakeholders, and historical research. There were several viable components to the project, one of which was the possibility for some archaeology of an abandoned 500 acre plantation on the southern tip of the island. I was drawn by the lure of plantation archaeology outside of the Southern United States. However, I quickly discovered that this trip was not about me initiating excavations at Millars plantation, this thing I now know as critical heritage opened my eyes to see realities of lived experience that had to be addressed before a single shovel or trowel ever touched the dirt.

What I found was an island that did not benefit from constantly docking cruise ships or “all inclusive” resorts scattered across the landscape. I found an island impacted by severe un/underemployment, the invisibility of a Haitian labor class, the negative imprint of failed tourism, steady outward migration, and the political and social involvement of second-home owners. I arrived thinking I was there to help the “community,” without knowing what that really meant. Eleutherans were easy to talk to, I learned a great deal about history, family, connection, in many ways I felt like I was returning to a home I had longed for, but never knew existed. The people looked like me, I could relate to the frustrations of the empty promise of tourism and how it fostered apathy in the minds of young people. I was not the archaeological expert, standing in the center of town as an empty vessel to be used to recuperate the buried past. My role was seeing myself as a facilitator between the elder and the youth, the Eleutheran and the Haitian laborer, the community organizer and the second-home owner. The fading history of the island was held close by those who stayed, those who looked to heritage as the means for a sustainable collective memory. Archaeology could tell a story that chronicles the history of an abandoned plantation, the experiences of post-emancipation life, and possibly provide a narrative that can be powerful enough to reclaim a fading Eleutheran identity, but this project was more about dialogue, about reaching a larger audience on and off of the island. As one informant said plainly, “we need you to help remind us all that we have, because we are sitting on it and take it for granted” (Roderick Pindar, personal communication, 2012). And then I went back home, to Western Massachusetts.

On my return I was invigorated and confused. I had to process the trip, knowing that Eleuthera was forever in my system. I had just scratched the surface on my first trip and I continued to delve, very slowly, into this thing called heritage. It was some months later as we were conceptualizing the 2012 UMass Amherst Heritage Archaeology Field School (http://umassheritagearchaeology.com/), that it struck me. I was starting to see my current site, the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite, differently. I began to think critically about how I had been defining “community” in Great Barrington. Who were we trying to reach through our interpretation and archaeology? I wanted to employ the idea of local and associated stakeholders, mark the contrast and follow where it took us. I was reminded of how Anna Agbe-Davies articulated the reality that many historical archaeologists enter into engagement with very weak theoretical understandings of community (Agbe-Davies, 2010). And then I had one conversation that would again shift the very foundation of my thinking.

That “local” community I was searching for was not as distant as I had imagined. They were witnesses to a transformed landscape that no longer reflected their generational memories. There was a sense of disconnect from what Great Barrington had become and there was a sense of loss and apathy. Although, it does not involve an African descendant community, in the traditional sense, the Du Bois Homesite is surrounded by a rural, descendant group of people that are not invested in the site that occupies a space in their neighborhood. This local community has experienced a steady outward migration of young people, a politically and socially active second-home owner community, the effects of New England seasonal tourism, and massive un/underemployment. The needs of this local community are different than I initially expected or even considered. This community did not look like me, we didn’t share a collective past, but there is a need for their voices to be a part of the dialogue of how we understand the Du Bois Homesite. Therefore, I am beginning to see the possibility of facilitating a conversation, developing a longer relationship to the site and its surroundings and expanding the story/narrative of life in Great Barrington, in the past, present and future.

From critical heritage I have learned that I am no longer just the expert. I have learned that I can serve as a facilitator for the needs of local and associated communities, use an archaeology that includes dialogues that exposes students to the complications of human interaction and conflict. And how these messy situations can become teaching moments, the means to create sustainable relationships between communities and sites, and how, for the first time in my career, my ability to put those lofty theoretical ideas I have about engagement into practice. Whether it is on an outer island in the Bahamas or a small, plot of land on the South Egremont Plain in rural Western Massachusetts, critical heritage has opened my eyes wide enough to see a lasting value in the work that I to do.

  • Agbe-Davies, Anna
    • 2010 “Concepts of community in the pursuit of an inclusive archaeology,” In International Journal of Heritage Studies 16(6):373-389.
  • Pindar, Roderick
    • 2012 Personal Communication, Governor’s Harbor, Eleuthera, Bahamas.