Public Archaeology Happenings in Seattle: What not to miss!

by Sarah E. Miller, PEIC Chair

Do I say this every year?  There seems to be more public archaeology at #SHA2015 than ever before.  Without a strategy in place, there’s a lot that can be missed.  Follow the guide below which will lead you to #PubArch happenings at the conference.  This post is organized by PEIC sponsored sessions (1-5) followed by excellent additional offerings beyond the PEIC (6-10) in order from the conference program.  I provided lots of links in headings and text, so use ‘em!

Print PubArch cheat sheet to keep in badge holder!

Join the #EnvArch discussion now on Facebook or join for panel discussion Thursday afternoon.

1. Panel: Are we missing the boat?  Archaeological Response to Disasters and the Potential for Community Engagement

THUR 1:30-3:30 pm  Redwood A Archaeologists and conservators working with the local community unite in this panel to address environmental impacts to archaeological sites including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, sea level rise mudslides and more.  To encourage discussion before and after the conference the EnvArch Facebook Group was created with introductions by panelists and case studies linked on the feed.  Come with your own case studies, best practice questions, and queries for future training.  Theater holds 125 so help up fill it up!

2.  Public Education and Interpretation Committee Meeting

FRI 8:00-9:00 AM Diamond A  Join other public education and interpretation minded archaeologists at the PEIC meeting Friday morning.  Full agenda of topics including future conference sessions and reports on National Council of Social Studies, Archaeologists for Autism, International Archaeology Day, and future collaborations with the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse (SHA, SAA, and AIA join venture).  Some sessions start at 8:30 but please come for the minutes you are able.  As always, wake up calls are free! (dm @semiller88)

Look for PEIC fliers at registration.

3.  Hit Them Where They Learn: Educational Policy and Archaeologists as Architects

SAT 10 AM-12 PM  Issaquah Room  Steve Dasovich has assembled a fine panel featuring Larry Zimmerman and PEIC members Bernard Means, SHA Board Memeber Della Scott-Ireton, and PEIC Chair Sarah Miller to tackle not just increasing K-12 archaeology education opportunities, but refining strategy by understanding policy.  This panel builds on a previous post to the blog (Archaeology Education at the Crossroads) featuring both Steve and Sarah’s experiences at the St. Louis National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) conference in 2013 and recent trends in increasing professional development of heritage educators.  What Steve noticed at NCSS was that all teachers are using archaeology in their classroom, they just misunderstand what archaeology is and need assistance labeling what they are often already doing as archaeology.

4.  Three Minute Forum: Can Lightening Strike Twice?  Thrice?  Sharing Tips and Tricks for Engaging the Public

SAT 1:30-3:30 PM Ravenna B  Ideas to take home! In rapid-fire form public archaeologists from all corners of the country will bring in their activity show-and-tell with Q&A discussion to follow the presentations.  Activities can be used in classroom but are especially useful for festival tables and other informal audience veues.

5.  Archaeology Day at the Burke

SAT 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM Burke Museum  Hosted in partnership with SHA, the Center for Wooden Boats, Edmonds Community College, the National Park Service, and the Suquamish Tribe, the Public day is always a great opportunity to learn about local sites and get new activity ideas to take home.  Post your “scuba selfie” to @SHA_org and let them know how important it is to reach out to local communities.

Public Archaeology Day at the Burke.

Click here for more information about Archaeology Day!   

***Beyond the PEIC organized sessions there are some excellent symposiums and panels with emphasis on sharing archaeology with the public.***

6.  Inspirations from Public History: Recommendations for Collaboration and Community Outreach Drawn Across Disciplinary Boundaries

THUR 9 AM-10:45 AM  Metropolitan A  Public archaeologists: don’t reinvent the wheel in terms of theory and practice!  We can look to what are colleagues are up to and borrow from them.  The “them” in this case are Public Historians.  How can we make stronger connections with these specialists (public history educators, park historican, museum managers, oral historians) and what lessons can we learn from their experience.

7. Punk Public Archaeology

THUR 10:30 AM-12 PM  Cedar A  Best. Title. Ever.  Just for the name alone, you gotta go.  Experience the cross sections between DIY aspects of punk and how public archaeology functions.  Beyond the playful title I’m intrigued by the organizers’ association with punk rock to political change and how this plays out for heritage educators.

***Let me preface- I do not envy you the choice you have to make Thursday afternoon.  I’ll be in #EnvArch panel so will miss most of these, but you can be there and tweet for others who can not be present themselves***

8.  Bringing back the Community: Archaeology of an Early 19th Century Community at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County Virginia

SAT 1:30-5:00 PM Grand Ballroom A  It’s fun to follow #DigMontpelier throughout the year on FacebookTwitter, and their blog (Archaeology Department Heads to Seattle).  If you’ve never been to James Madison’s Montpelier, take advantage of this opportunity to learn from these 12 papers about five different Montpelier sites.  Multiple analysis–ceramics, labor, small finds, floral and faunal–will lead to their approach in interpretating these data sets to the public.

The Montpelier Archaeology Director Matt Reeves is also involved in symposium early Friday morning, “Building Consensus: Archaeologists and Metal Detectorists working towards a Common Goal.” This is an important session given the tension archaeologists and metal detectorists experience, particularly due to reality shows of years past.  I’m looking forward to constructive conversations and all the points of view they are bringing to the table with this forum: Doug Scott, Wade Catts, Michelle Sivilich, Linda Stine, SHA President Charlie Ewen, metal detectorist, and Montpelier’s Expedition Member Scott Clark. Look for the National Trust’s Preservation Magazine article next month to feature the Montpelier metal detecting project.  The session will be held at 8:30 am Friday morning in Ravenna A.

9. Engaging the Public: Involving People Underwater, On Land, and Online in Maritime Archaeology

THUR 1:30-4:15 PM Willow A As an archaeologist on land it’s always a good idea to check in with our colleagues from the sea.  Their unique perspective into training and working with avocationals, citizen science approach to survey, and promoting history that is too often loved to death always presents a high level of best practices, often with great humor.

10. Management Challenges, Public Relations, and  Professional Issues

THUR 1:30-4:30 PM Metropolitan B One of the most important things the public learns from #PubArch programs is often overlooked, that there are these people called archaeologists and they have jobs and they are part of a large industry.  In addition to providing stats on our profession by the numbers, this session also includes environmental issues that will be brought up during the #EnvArch panel, such as James Gibb’s paper on environmental archaeology and public policy as well as Morgan MacKenzie’s paper on Hurrican Sandy and the New Jersey Waterway Debris Removal Project. Oh to be in two sessions at once!

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Don’t see the session you are in listed?  Give it a plug below!  Don’t forget to join and contribute to #PubArch discussions on Twitter.  The Heritage Education conference hosted by the Archaeology Institute of America in New Orleans unfortunately coincides with SHA.  Let’s bring these subjects to audiences outside of Seattle and continue to develop the profession of public archaeology.

Text: Sarah E. Miller, PEIC Chair

Images: #EnvArch thumnails emergency collections, Iceland digOcklawaha flooding, Washington mudslide, Historical Ecology for Risk Management, PEIC flier by Sarah Miller, Public Day flier by staff of the Burke Museum.          

Public Service Announcements and Archaeology: Protecting WWII-Caves in Saipan

By: Jennifer McKinnon

East Carolina University and Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research

The words public service announcements (PSAs) and archaeology are rarely uttered together. In fact, a quick search finds very few examples of archaeology or cultural heritage PSAs. Yet PSAs can be an effective way of reaching out to a very large audience to promote protection and preservation of heritage. A recent project that explored community consensus building for the protection of WWII-related caves on the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands utilized radio and television PSAs for the purpose of sharing a message of protection and preservation of caves with the local island community.

In recent years, with more visitors, more development and more spelunking and exploration, natural and human-made caves that hold remnants of both ancient Chamorro culture and WWII history are being more heavily impacted. This activity was brought to the attention of the local community and archaeologists when videos and photographs of cave exploration, artifacts and rock art began appearing on blogs, Flicker and YouTube. This concerned local community members and as a result, a project was created to assess community interest in protecting these resources. Funded by an American Battlefield Protection Program grant, the project consisted of community meetings, landowner consultation and interviews, archaeological survey of caves on private and public lands, development of radio and television PSAs and ultimately the creation of a preservation plan with input from the community.

Why PSAs? The idea of a public service announcement came to me while I was on the island for another project and got a catchy little jingle in my head – “Don’t give snakes a break.” I don’t know the first time I heard it on the radio, but it certainly impacted my subconscious because there I was singing it as I was driving down the road. Had I seen a snake, I probably wouldn’t have given it a “brake.” Brown Tree Snakes are an invasive snake that wiped out indigenous bird populations on Guam, and Saipan has worked hard to prevent and eradicate its presence. In fact, a PSA project raising awareness about brown tree snakes had remarkable results in eradicating them from the island. Bumper stickers, radio jingles, TV commercials, and special events were all part of the plan to raise awareness.

Sooo….when thinking of how we could get the message out to local landowners about how important the caves were to their history as well as that of the wider world, PSAs seemed the best option. Print options like brochures or mailings are limited in that they are generally viewed once and when they are distributed or out of print, they no longer exist. PSAs on the other hand can be aired and thus viewed over and over again, reinforcing the content’s message. When aired during peak time slots such as the evening news, they can become even more effective. For a Pacific island that relies on television primarily for its news, PSAs serve to reach the widest possible audience. In addition, radio PSAs can reinforce and even reach a younger generation of stakeholders.

The creation of PSAs were only one part of the larger cave heritage project but their development built upon all aspects. Landowners who came to the meetings to voice their opinions were invited to participate in the PSAs. They also opened their properties to the archaeological team who visited various caves to get a picture of what types of caves exist, what history they may hold and what is impacting them. Finally, many community members participated in interviews during which they related their and their family’s stories about caves use during WWII. Ultimately the message, “Our History, Our Stories” was chosen as the tagline for the PSAs to reflect the multiplicity of connections the community had to caves. Caves on the island of Saipan provided shelter to the ancient culture when they arrived thousands of years ago, they were the canvas on which the ancient peoples communicated  through rock art and served as their burial grounds. During the war, families used the caves for shelter from bombs and bullets and today they still serve special purposes such as places of commemoration and memorialization. As community member Fred Camacho relates, “This has become part of our family album, and we have the obligation to protect it.”

View all of the PSAs at Ships of Discovery’s YouTube Page.

Connecting with the connectionless, or: How I stopped worrying and came to terms with the Snowbirds

I happen to be a public archaeologist in a place many might envy (especially after this winter):  southwest Florida.  I have worked at the Florida Public Archaeology Network for several years and have done public archaeology and public history in a number of states across the U.S. East Coast. I was excited to take this job and apply what I’ve learned to a part of the world wholly new to me.

One of the biggest parts of public interpretation is knowing your audience and I quickly learned that that was going to be more difficult than anticipated.  Southwest Florida’s population history is inconsistent at best.  Without any real roads or rail lines, the area remained as wild as any of the west until the 1920s and 1930s. Today there are very few “native” communities.  In one of the counties in my region, the local historical advisory council reported that fifty percent of the population moves out of the county every eight years (Charlotte County Historical Advisory Council 2012).  The rest of the area residents are migrant families and snowbirds. “Snowbirds” (for those not in the know) are retirees who come south for The Season (the period between Thanksgiving and Easter) before returning to the Northeast U.S., Midwest U.S., or eastern Canada.

The question became: how do you connect people to a landscape and an archaeological past with which they had no personal connection?  A connection to one’s own community, backyard, and family history is the first and easiest way to bring together archaeology and the wider public (like these wonderful public archaeology projects: The Maritime Archaeology Trust, Ontario’s Fugitive Slave Chapel, and the WWII Maritime Heritage Trail, Battle of Saipan).

When the local population is not at all local (or permanent) and when archaeological interest stops at resources from “back home,” some public archaeology techniques just will not work. I needed a new game plan that avoided an assumption of prior common connection or knowledge.  I also needed to redefine what meaningful and successful public archaeology meant in this case.  If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are some things I’ve learned:

Sometimes Flashy is OK

As a discipline we’ve moved far past the days of the Big Men worship. There are so many more fascinating personal and wider cultural connections found in a modern archaeologist’s research. We know so much more now that it’s almost a pity to get stuck on the George Washingtons. But to an unconnected seasonal visitor these singular individuals can act as a gateway to a much more complex discussion of archaeology.

For example, last year Florida began a state-wide initiative called Viva Florida 500 which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Ponce de León’s arrival to Florida shores.

Dr. Annette Snapp, Florida State Park staff, and visitors on Mound Key

Including the Southwest Florida leg of León’s 1513 expedition helped me broach the topics of proto-historic and historic native populations (primarily the Calusa) and their cultural adaptations in the face of the Spanish, the Calusas’ ties to Cuba, Spanish ships and shipwrecks in Florida waters, and the archaeological evidence of Florida’s role as a northern borderland to their New World colonies through lectures and children’s programming.  I not only placed an emphasis on broader archaeological principles and the preservation thereof, but directed them to actual physical sites and museums where they could learn more.  We even offered kayak paddles to Mound Key Archaeological State Park which was the Calusa capital at the time of contact and the site visited by León. Participants could connect the Big Man to the very people and environment he visited 500 years ago in a very tangible way.

Additionally, unusual and personal topics find niche audiences. I’ve spoken about the Florida archaeology of pets, beauty and hygiene, tourism, gambling, and toys.  By far, my most popular and oft requested talk for the snowbirds is the archaeology of bootlegging and rumrunning in Southwest Florida. You might be surprised what goes over well.

Sometimes Digital and Social Media Sources are Not Always Your Friends

It is almost hard to keep up with all of the innovative ways archaeologists are using social media and digital resources to share their work with the public (for example, IUP’s Archaeology Island and VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory, to name a few).  Unfortunately, in an area with residents (and even historical organizations) that have absolutely no online presence, all the Facebook posts, Twitter announcements, Reddit threads, and digital collections will go unrecognized and unutilized.  I have had to balance my accustomed social media presence with other traditional methods like good old fashion newsprint, TV, and radio, printed and posted flyers, and a great deal of pavement pounding. In my case, old standbys have been vital.

Find the Interpretive Gaps

There seems to be a great deal of focus on a very narrow range of historical and archaeological topics in southwest Florida: the Calusa, the Seminole, and snowbirds Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Since those were heavily represented topics, I sought out new pastures.

Fort Myers is named after a Seminole War and Civil War fort that once stood on the site.  Surprisingly, this era is of little focus in the town’s historic interpretation and preservation endeavors, leaving the door wide open for new efforts. I was genuinely surprised to learn how many people didn’t know Fort Myers was named after a fort, and an unusual fort at that. Interestingly, most of the Union troops stationed there during the Civil War were from the 2nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.

Attendees listen to local history professor, Dr. Irvin Winsboro, talk about the Battle of Fort Myers

Together with the Lee County Black History Society, FPAN initiated a community celebration commemorating the USCT in the historically African American neighborhood of Dunbar.  Reenactors, community organizations, historians, archaeologists, and two American Legion posts participated in the inaugural event in which more than 150 visitors attended.  2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Myers and we plan to host an even bigger celebration to engage this underserved population.

Patience is Everything

My only companion was the comforting sound of crickets.

This was (and is) the hardest lesson I’ve learned in such an attendance numbers-focused field.  Constant pressure has been the key to success.  My first year in Southwest Florida, well-advertised, community-requested events went completely unattended.  No one.  Not a seat filled.

Year two, my usual audience had two to 12 people.  I have never been more elated to see two people in my whole pubarch life. At last, progress!  My “success meter” has mentally shifted from attendance counts to number of programming invitations.  I began to receive more speaking programming invitations to unusual locations like yacht clubs, Sugar Festivals, Swamp Heritage days, and DAR meetings.  In these early stages, unsolicited invitations are markers of an accepted message and spread of legitimacy.

Year three has brought audiences of 12 to 150+ people.  Seasonally rotating populations mean timing and scheduling are key.  Adapting my pace to “Florida time” and re-imagining what successful public archaeology looks like in southwest Florida has given me a whole new outlook and direction for my future work. Hopefully they day will soon come when the snowbirds and other temporary and connectionless residents of southwest Florida will feel a little more connected to their home-away- from-home thanks in part to FPAN’s work.

So tell me, how do you engage connectionless populations? How have you been able to successfully connect with tourists?

Works Cited

Charlotte County Historical Advisory Committee
2012    Introductory notes. Historical Connections Conference, Port Charlotte, Florida.