Looking In and Reaching Out: Becoming a Public Archaeologist

As a proponent of public archaeology, I find myself propelled toward commitments, ideas, events, and people who encourage education, engagement, and awareness. As a graduate student, I’m constantly compelled to seek and develop opportunities to increase all people’s appreciation for and knowledge of archaeology. Some of the strategies I use are well-recognized and employed in a (seemingly) universal way within the profession. Other practices, I like to think, stem from facilitating public ventures concerning archaeology and an interminable awareness of what other students, professionals, and disciplines are doing to integrate the “them” into the so-called archaeological “us.”

Since enrolling in graduate school, I’ve encountered and created great opportunities to become an active public archaeologist. Using these experiences and the accumulated insights, I hope to encourage others, whether students, professors, professionals, avocational archaeologists, or individuals working in other fields, to incorporate these ideas into forthcoming plans, to reflect upon their own experiences, and to share their insights with others.

Be (pro)active and involved

This point is the master key to all public archaeology doors. All the suggestions listed below stem from this concept. Creating and promoting your presence in any archaeological community provides new opportunities and might inspire new ways of thinking.

Be inventive and encourage creativity

Don’t pressure yourself into making every idea novel, unique, or outstanding, but don’t hesitate to adapt something that already exists to meet your needs.

UWF’s Graduate Anthropology Association (GAA) wanted to celebrate bioanthropology and cultural anthropology in a way similar to National Archaeology Day. Simple research led the group to realize that no such days, weeks, or events exist nationally. What’s a group to do? Create a day for each! GAA will host two public events on the UWF campus. Bioanthropology Day occurred on February 12, Charles Darwin’s birthday. Cultural Anthropology Day will take place on April 9 in honor of Bronislaw Malinowski’s birthday.

Actively seek inspiration and search for it in multiple locations

Engaging with others interested in public archaeology facilitates ingenuity. Read a lot of everything—books, articles, newspapers, tweets, blog posts. Explore conferences or professionals not involved with archaeology. Study effective programs, training sessions, workshops, educational tactics, outreach approaches, and ideas in other disciplines and work toward integrating new inspirations into your repertoire.

A basic example: I recently became editor of the Florida Anthropological Society’s (FAS) quarterly newsletter. FAS hoped to introduce color into the newsletter and, over time, introduce new content. How did I implement changes? I looked at newsletter formats that I already liked (and didn’t like). I used Google to find other newsletters to see what works and what doesn’t. I diligently considered color schemes and asked for others input and criticisms.

Use social media and network

Twitter, Flickr, Reddit, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, blog forums and all the others—each of these sites has remarkable purpose and promise for public archaeologists. Whether used personally or professionally, these sites can serve as essential resources, forms of entertainment, providers of knowledge and inspiration, networking enablers, and modes of outreach.

Consider your interests and the need of the organization/community/public

If you’re interested in planning or formulating some type of outreach event, start with ideas, topics, or persons that attract you. From there, it becomes easier to develop an idea.

For example, I encouraged the Anthropology Department at the University of West Florida to participate in the AIA’s National Archaeology Day this year. My interest in public archaeology encouraged me to plan the event, but Governor Rick Scott’s anti-anthropology/pro-STEM remarks directed me toward its theme (the Science of Archaeology) and purpose (to demonstrate how science is and can be applied in the discipline).

Ask questions and challenge the status quo

If you have an idea, explore it! Embrace creativity and don’t refrain from asking for others’ insight, feedback, or permission. Asking questions can lead to ongoing dialogue or a more rewarding outcome.

Talk to peers or colleagues about their experiences

Engaging those around you in these discussions can provide inspiration and promote creativity. These conversations might enable you to adapt past ideas or practices into present or forthcoming plans and activities.

UWF, the City of Pensacola Code Enforcement office, and the Escambia County Property Appraisers, along with volunteers from the community, recently completed a clean-up at Magnolia Cemetery. This partnership, the immensely successful clean-up, and future plans for the cemetery, however, emerged from a conversation I had with a fellow graduate student. Although his experiences applied to different aspects of cemetery studies, his project piqued my curiosity and I began to ask professors questions and to develop, with the assistance of many, an outreach tactic designed to improve the appearance of neglected cemetery and, more importantly, encourage community dialogue regarding the state of Magnolia Cemetery in the present and in the future.

Develop a community of like-minded individuals

Whether accessible in person or via the web, such a community provides much of what has been discussed already: inspiration, ideas, novelty, constructive criticism, advice and other forms of feedback. Seek support and be supportive of others.

A note for for students: Apathy is your worst enemy!

  • Read your e-mails on a regular basis
  • Respond to e-mails on a regular basis
  • Join organizations, both professional and within your community
  • Attend conferences, network, and present
  • Join organizational committees
  • Volunteer
  • Avoid excuses
  • Never permit yourself to rely on the “I’m too busy” or “I’ll be too busy” mentality; though it may be true, it’s true for everyone and it will not change.

Do you work with or engage the public in some capacity? If so, what insight(s) would you impart to others?

Navigating the Field: Education and Employment in a Changing Job Market

This year the Student Subcommittee of the Academic and Professional Training Committee (APTC) and the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA) Student Council are cosponsoring a forum dedicated to helping students navigate the current job market in archaeology. Thanks to the efforts of my co-organizer, Barry Bleichner, the forum will host six engaging panelists, and it will be held on Thursday, January 10, 2013. For location, time and a list of panelists, click here.

The global economic downturn has shifted government funding priorities away from cultural and historic resource preservation, and jobs have been lost. However, the enthusiasm and dedication of archaeologists across the world has allowed public programming and archaeology education initiatives to grow with exceptional speed and direction (see list of organizations at the bottom of this blog).

Image from the Archaeological Institute of America’s website for the second annual National Archaeology Day [NAD] held on October 20, 2012; each blue marker represents a separate event organized in honor of the day (image courtesy of American Anthropological Association).

This image exhibits the passion and devotion of the professional archaeological community and their beloved volunteers who engendered over 280 archaeology themed events on National Archaeology Day 2012. Without the work of volunteers and interns, many of these events may have been understaffed or inadequately prepared for the hundreds of visitors who participated in the day of celebration and education. Many of the volunteers were students who are being trained as the next generation of archaeologists.

I conducted a small informal survey to gain a better understanding of student perspectives about the current job market. According to the results, the insecurities that archaeology students have about the pressure to find work in a depressed economy are abundant, but with a network of support, students will find jobs! Remember, the insights to follow serve only as an introduction; the forum in January will host several professionals who are prepared to tackle these topics in-depth.

“Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!”
Fewer paid positions at archaeological venues has meant an increase in the skill requirements of new hires as well as an increase in the amount and type of work produced by volunteers and interns. The anxiety of making yourself the ideal candidate for a job can seem overwhelming, but it is important to stay calm and work on acquiring new, resume-bolstering skills.

I asked respondents of my survey, “Beyond acing exams and essays, what can students do to prepare themselves to be great candidates for jobs in archaeology?” The overwhelming answer from students and professionals, alike? VOLUNTEER. One participant responded with fervor, “Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Entry level jobs can be hard to come by for students looking to gain experience. Volunteering allows you to not only fill up your CV and gain skills, but also make professional connections that could help you land that job.”

Employers are looking for people who are able to engage the community and solve problems with creativity and innovation. Volunteering can help you practice your skills while showing potential employers what you have to offer.

As a graduate student at the University of South Florida’s Applied Anthropology program, Becky O’Sullivan began her career by volunteering with Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN). Soon, this volunteer position became a paid graduate assistantship. This experience gave O’Sullivan an opportunity to practice what might not have seemed natural to her, “Presenting at a professional conference can be nerve-wracking, I’m naturally adverse to getting up to talk in front of large groups, but the benefits of sharing your work with others and in turn learning from their work far outweigh those drawbacks. A good presentation can make you rethink even your most basic assumptions about what archaeology is and should be and make you a stronger researcher as a result!” This excerpt, written by Ms. O’Sullivan in January 2012, is taken from FPAN West Central Region’s blog. Ms. O’Sullivan is now the outreach coordinator for FPAN’s West Central Region office.

Flexibility can be useful when you are looking for a paid job, but whether you are in a small town or a big city, there is a cultural organization willing to train you as a volunteer. Start by donating two hours a week; this allows you to keep your “after-college bill-paying job” while you start to build professional connections in your field. Once your schedule opens up, you can invest more time in a project to which you already contribute.

Keep an Open Mind
In response to my questionnaire, one student reports about her experience using her degree outside of archaeology, “As far as alternate job routes go, I am looking at teaching positions from a wide range of disciplines. I find that my type of scholarship will probably fit in better in an American Studies department, so I am looking at jobs in American Studies, history, and American Indian studies departments along with anthropology.”

Try reexamining your own career goals and consider different ways to use your educational background in archaeology. This exercise invites you to think about ways to make archaeology skills useful to employers outside the discipline. See the list at the bottom of this blog for ideas about where to find jobs.

When you are working on your CV or preparing for an interview, mention your special skills. Sometimes your “hobbies” (theater, photography, painting, archery, singing, film-making, poetry, basketball, etc.) can be a great asset to employers. Many successful archaeologists and anthropologists use such hobbies to enhance their projects and outreach programs.

The following excerpt comes from a book edited by John H. Jameson Jr. and Sherene Baugher called Past Meets Present: Archaeologists Partnering with Museum Curators, Teachers, and Community Groups,“In the face of an increasing public interest and demand for information, archaeologists are collaborating with historians, educators, interpreters, museum curators, exhibit designers, landscape architects, and other cultural resource specialists to devise the best strategies for translating an explosion of archaeological information for the public.” This book (and many others) provides examples of how archaeologists collaborate with people from other disciplines or work within other disciplines to help protect and share the cultural resources of our nation.

Communicate, Stay Involved and Believe in Yourself
Consider how large your support network is when you are looking for work. University students have many resources, but as a professor once told me, “Your most valuable tool is the connections you make with the people around you.” When you graduate, many other students will be at your side, and it is invaluable to keep in touch with friends and colleagues who may one day be able to help you land a new job.

You can acquaint yourself with people who are working as professionals in archaeology by attending and presenting at conferences. I am amazed by the kindness of professors and other professionals who I have met at various conferences. Reaching out to the people I admire has given me the confidence to continue working towards my goal of being a paid employee in the field. Social-networking sites like LinkedIn, Academia.edu, or Facebook can be great tools for keeping up with people you have met.

Becky O’Sullivan, Rita Elliott, and Roz Crews (author) at SEAC (South Eastern Archaeology Conference) Public Day 2011; thanks to Jeff Moates, director at FPAN WC,  for taking the photo

I met Becky O’Sullivan and Rita Elliott as an intern working on my undergraduate honors thesis about archaeology education and outreach. Talking with them gave me the courage to present my ideas to a wider audience. Rita Elliott and her team from the Society for Georgia Archaeology created ArchaeoBUS, a mobile learning classroom, and they have since shared Georgia archaeology with people across the state.

If you would like to reach me directly, my e-mail is rozalyn.crews@ncf.edu.

Archaeology outreach programs:
Project Archaeology, Florida Public Archaeology Network, Arkansas Archaeological Survey, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Northwest Cultural Resources Institute, Hawai`i Junior Archaeology Outreach Program

Job opportunities:
National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, your local Sate Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) or Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THIPO), a local museum or visitor center, a local university lab or ethnography department, or a state archaeology or history society. Don’t forget to check USAJobs for archaeology jobs around the country.

Works Cited

  • Jameson, John H. and Sherene Baugher (eds.)
    • 2007 Past Meets Present: Archaeologists Partnering with Museum Curators, Teachers and Community Groups. Springer.

Archaeology and the Community

Over the past two years, I have been responsible for creating a wide variety of educational outreach programs for the Exploring Joara Foundation, a small public archaeology organization in western North Carolina.  This summer has been particularly scorching, and as we slowly stew in the thick heat of summer it is easy to forget that our role as archaeology educators goes well beyond our responsibility to stress the need for the preservation of archaeological resources and the understanding and appreciation of past cultures.  We may be the only real face of archaeology that the public sees, and it is our responsibility to not only make an impression that breaks the stereotype of treasure hunter, but to also inspire children and adults to ask more questions about the past and to become directly involved with its preservation.  This is the only way the public will not just know the importance of preservation, but leave with the belief that it is their responsibility to make that a reality.

The Exploring Joara Foundation is a perfect example of what results from putting the past in the public’s hands. The non-profit was formed in 2007 by members of the Morganton community with assistance from head archaeologists at the Berry Site.  The foundation’s goal was to help support professional archaeological research at the site. It has since grown to incorporate a public education program dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of archaeological resources. This has put the organization in a fairly unique position. It is not tied to any specific school, institution, or state. Instead, the foundation was born from the local community’s desire to share the archaeology of their hometown and to preserve its history. Though we are over an hour away from any metropolis, our wide variety of outreach has provided us with a steady stream of students, scouts, teachers, homeschool groups, campers, and community members that are eager to learn more about the region’s archaeology. The foundation now functions as a year round resource for the community, offering free and paid programming to the public, while still helping to support professional archaeological research at the Berry site.

Public Field Day at the Berry Site.

Before 2010, the foundation only funded one public open house at the Berry Site each year. During those public days we heard numerous suggestions and requests from the community on what they felt we should offer. By building our outreach around their requests, we have been able to accommodate a broad range of ages and interests. The foundation now supports talks at local schools and organizations, teacher workshops, summer camps, and field and lab experiences for all ages. We added each of these programs only after listening carefully to the public on what they wanted or felt was needed for the community. This is essential to creating a public archaeology program that really works. It’s certainly a trial and error process, but knowing what the public wants is crucial.

Middle school campers learning to screen at the Berry Site.

One of the requests we heard most was for archaeology experiences for kids too young to participate in the Berry Site Field School. With direction from Dr. Theresa McReynolds Shebalin, the foundation is now able to offer camps for both middle school and high school students in July and August. The campers have a similar experience to field school students at the Berry Site as they work alongside professional archaeologists to uncover the remains of a 16th-century Catawba town and Spanish fort. Campers revel in knowing that they are contributing to research and that their interpretations may find their way into the professional archaeologists’ dialogue. During the hotter part of the day, campers take part in experimental archaeology projects, artifact analysis, archaeology games, and crafts. The camps are designed to be discussion based in order to give kids the opportunity to ask questions and pose hypotheses so that they can feel directly involved with the research. This year those discussions led the middle school students to ask questions such as: can you tell the difference between carbonized corn that has been cut or eaten off the cob? The question resulted in a blind experiment to determine if the campers could tell the difference with corn from the store burned behind the field house. At the end of the week, students leave the camp with the feeling that archaeology is a field that is accessible and possible to pursue as a career. It is necessary to make sure each person leaves not only with a better understanding of the past and an appreciation for preservation, but with a feeling that they participated in adding to ongoing academic research.

Caldwell County Public School group celebrates after a day in the field.

Since we can’t reach a large number of students through camps, the foundation also runs workshops geared toward 4th-8th grade teachers. On the first day, teachers learn about North Carolina prehistory and the science of archaeology through hands-on activities that they can adapt for use in their own classrooms. During a make-and-take session, teachers are encouraged to come up with their own practical applications with guidance from Exploring Joara staff. Over the past three years, we have observed that this flexible approach results in a better success rate of the material being used in the classroom than when teachers are simply introduced to standard lesson plans. On the second day, the teachers go out into the field to work at the Berry Site. This hands-on time is critical and even resulted in one teacher bringing her high school class to the site for an excavation workshop the following fall. To me, this is a perfect example of community action resulting in a more educated public.

Exploring Joara is a relatively young foundation, with an even younger public archaeology program. It was built by the community and therefore has strong public support and interest. This support is evident in the continued respect and protection of the Berry Site. The well-known site’s only security is the watchful eye of neighbors and community members who are proud of their local history and the site’s significance. I continue to be thankful for that support and know that without the public, the foundation and its unique programming would not exist. I hope to see programs like this continue to form out of the public’s desire and encouragement. If the small town of Morganton, North Carolina can garner enough interest to create a year round educational program, could this be the future of public archaeology? Have you seen a shift in public interest and concern in other areas of the country? Are there other avenues that we could pursue as archaeology educators that would reach a broader population or have a greater impact on the community?