5 Archaeological Things to See and Do in Washington D.C.

Remember, the last day to submit your #SHA2016 conference abstract is June 30th, 2015. See our previous blog post with the Call for Papers: http://www.sha.org/blog/index.php/2015/05/sha2016-call-for-papers/

As we have seen in the last several posts, Washington D.C. and it’s surrounding area is a thriving place for history and archaeology. Archaeologists are doing important work engaging the public and interpreting the past of the nation’s capital. When we all travel to D.C. for #SHA2016 there are plenty of places to explore that capture the essence of this area’s heritage. Below, are five places to visit:

The National Museum of the American Indian

A new exhibit entitled “Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World” opens at the Museum of the American Indian this September. What looks to be an incredible exhibit focuses on indigenous cosmologies, introducing the worldviews and cultural philosophies of eight communities all over the western hemisphere. This exhibit will run until October 2017 and along with the many other feature collections at the Museum, is a must see during our stay in Washington D.C.

Check it out: http://americanindian.si.edu/          Free of Charge

Alexandria Archaeology Museum

Located just a metro ride away, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum features exhibits highlighting their excavations of The Lee Street Site, the Green Furniture Factory, and the Ashby household. The museum also features hands-on-activities for adults and children alike, and the space also doubles as a public laboratory. You can also get information to walk the Alexandria Heritage Trail, which is a 23-mile walking and bike tour that takes you through 110 historical and archaeological sites representing the history of Alexandria.

Check it out: http://alexandriava.gov/Archaeology       Free of Charge

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress houses millions of artifacts and archives that, as archaeologists, we know are important resources. The Museum features exhibits commemorating the history of the Library, the architecture of the Thomas Jefferson building, and its celebrated holdings, including the Gutenberg Bible. You can join a one-hour walking tour of the historic building or enjoy a self-guided tour. Definitely take time to explore the reading rooms, and even take an extra day to use the research centers to examine the Library’s archival materials for your own research.

Check it out: https://www.loc.gov/          Free of Charge

 

The National Geographic Museum

If you decide to make a longer trip to Washington D.C., make sure to stop by the National Geographic Museum. Ending January 3rd, the “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology” exhibit juxtaposes real archaeological artifacts with a collection of film materials from the movie. How many of us get asked if archaeologists are like Indiana Jones, well this seems like an exhibit that explores the difference! If you can’t make this exhibit, the National Geographic Museum showcases their stunning photography from all over the world.

Check it out: http://events.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic-museum/Ticketed

Dumbarton Oaks

Located in Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks is a research institution with collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art. The House collection showcases the historic interiors with Asian, European, and American artworks and interior furnishings donated by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss between 1940 and 1969. Docent-led tours take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 3:00 pm, but the Museum is open from 11:30 to 5:30 for self-guided tours.

Check it out: http://www.doaks.org/        Free of Charge

Throughout the summer we will be linking to more “archaeological” sightseeing opportunities in Washington D.C.

SHA at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference

Last November the SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee (PEIC) participated in the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference.  This large, well-attended annual conference was held in Boston this year at the Hynes Convention Center.  The target audience is composed of teachers, superintendents, principals, and curriculum developers.  Like previous years, the SHA has participated as a collaborative effort as part of the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (AEC).  This year, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) joined the SHA at the exhibitor booth, and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sent support materials.  The SHA sent local Boston members to participate in the conference, and we provided support through our local group, the Massachusetts Archaeology Education Consortium (MAECON).

The NCSS supports many facets of social studies, and specifically includes archaeology as part of their mission, seen in this image of their branding materials in the exhibitor hall.

Large sign promoting archaeology as a facet of social studies at NCSS 2014.

As part of SHA’s PEIC, we should be thinking of ways to support the mission of national groups like NCSS who are trying to facilitate the teaching of archaeology to educators.  This top down approach of teaching teachers to teach archaeology is an economical use of our time.  Yet, despite a warm welcome, archaeology was only subtly sprinkled throughout this conference.

Our AEC booth had pamphlets about our various organizations (SHA, SAA, AIA, and MAECON).  We had targeted information for teachers in the form of handouts with resources they could check out on their own time.  We also had CDs with curriculum plan ideas.  Finally, since a majority of the participants were local to New England, we had handouts explaining local Massachusetts resources.

At the SHA annual conference in Seattle we discussed ways to improve our NCSS exhibitor booth.  We are specifically working to improve our own branding to send a clearer, more coherent message to educators at this conference.  Sometimes our message, “Teach with Archaeology,” gets lost.  Though the idea of improving branding and marketing seems abstract and complex, it can easily be tweaked with a few modest changes.  Some that we discussed include the production of AEC business cards, an updated website, and clearer, unified signage.

Where we seemed to really hit the mark at NCSS is having an emphasis on hand outs and deliverables that teachers can reference later.  It is important to make incorporating archaeology into teaching as easy as possible, suggesting strategies that can immediately be implemented into classes. Prompts such as “things you can do tomorrow…” or “things you can do next semester…” will help turn our “teach with archaeology” message into clear action items for teachers.

This approach goes hand in hand with the importance of demonstrating an understanding of the standards that are in place for curriculum development in schools.  To be relevant to educators, we must demonstrate how archaeology supports Core Curriculum; how it can be integrated into classrooms to support requirements teachers already have to meet.  It is especially helpful for us to suggest ways to teach WITH archaeology, not suggesting that it be taught as a separate unit.

While the AEC booth was the only group explicitly presenting archaeology at the exhibitor hall, a few other groups were interpreting history that we know was influenced by archaeological discoveries, but did not necessarily connect the dots back to archaeology itself. Colonial Williamsburg, for example sold kits for artifact interpretation.  A group called Art in History sold paintable ceramics with associated lesson plans.  And other historical sites such as Mount Vernon, and Plimoth Plantation presented history but did not directly tie it back to the supporting archaeology.

Besides the booths at the exhibit hall, the conference also had one and two hour long workshops.  Only a small handful of workshops this year included archaeology, and some of these were cancelled.  Topics included the archaeology of China, the archaeology of Boston, teaching with objects, and starting your own dig.  I anticipate that additional workshops on archaeology would be well received at this conference.  The workshop I presented had roughly 50 engaged participants, many of whom were interested in finding more information about archaeology to bring back to their classes.

Moving forward, I think one way for archaeologists to engage with teachers and curriculum directors more thoroughly is to try to speak their “language.”  Staying up to date on new ideas and trends in teaching philosophies will help us gain this access.  For example, concepts like inquiry, problem-based learning, and teaching with objects, are great ways for archaeologists to tap into what is going on in teachers’ worlds and begin to access classrooms.

Maryland Historical Trust and the “Archeological Synthesis” Project

As part of our #SHA2016 series on Washington D.C. archaeology, below we repost a wonderful archaeological project undertaken at the Maryland Historical Trust by Research Archaeologist Matthew D. McKnight. The mission of the Maryland Historical Trust is to preserve and interpret the legacy of Maryland’s past through research, conservation, and education of their historical and cultural heritage. The  “Archeological Synthesis” Project is an important online resource for anyone interested in Maryland archaeology, and it shows the great work being done by archaeologists in the D.C. area:

Maryland’s “Archeological Synthesis” Project

by Matthew D. McKnight, Research Archeologist, Maryland Historical Trust

Are you a student, weekend researcher, or preservation professional with an interest in Maryland archeology? Are you a professional archeologist looking to conduct some background research on a specific artifact or site type? Have you been confounded in the past by lack of access to so much of the CRM “gray literature”? If so, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) has a new online resource that may be of interest to you.

On Maryland Day (Wednesday, March 25th, 2015) the MHT’s Office of Archeology launched a new online tool to provide members of the public with greater access to data obtained through tax-payer funded and publically mandated archeological research. Funded by generous support from the MHT Board of Trustees and the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Transportation Enhancement Program, the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project has been underway since late 2007, reviewing the nearly 50 years of archeological site reports generated in compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and similar state and local legislation. The overall goal of the project has been to characterize this data for as wide an audience as possible and produce a number of online and print products to make the information more accessible. Two volumes on Maryland archeology (one on prehistory and one on Colonial archeology) are still in the works, but the first major public offering of the Synthesis Project is now available on the web at https://webapps.mdp.state.md.us/apps/synthesis/.

This Archeological Synthesis Database is a first-of-its-kind online catalog of archeological sites within the state where Phase II and Phase III test excavations have taken place. Focusing on compliance-driven research, the database is linked to MHT’s Site Survey files, but is also tied to synopsis reports and cover sheets generated by reviewing larger excavation reports. The synopsis reports contain capsule summaries of the overall site reports, organized so researchers can quickly pull out the most relevant information needed for determining if a particular site is of interest. Cover sheets deal with the history of archeological activity at a site, specifically the justifications for fieldwork, research objectives, and potential for future research. Best of all, the entire database is keyword searchable. Simply type in your research topic or an artifact type and get back a list of sites that may be of interest. More robust searches can even be carried out on variables like soil type, archeological research unit, county, etc.

Two versions of the database are available online. One portal is open to the general public; the other is available to professional archeologists who meet the US Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Professional Qualifications. Search functionality and the universe of sites within the database are identical in both versions. However, geographic locations and site setting information within the Public Access version of the database are intentionally vague to protect site locations. The Professional Access version of the database includes detailed site location information and is only available to authorized archeologists who have obtained a Medusa account with archeological data privileges.

After considerable public expense to undertake archeological work, test results should not be buried on a library shelf. The only way to advance archeological research is to build upon past experience, but the data from past work needs to be readily available. This project begins to rectify both long-standing problems while giving back to the public a view of the State’s rich archeological heritage. You can read more about the Maryland Archeological Synthesis Project at http://mht.maryland.gov/archeology_synthesis.shtml.

Check out the Maryland Historical Trust blog post on the “Archeological Synthesis” Project at: https://mdhistoricaltrust.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/archeological-synthesis/