Archaeology on a Shoe-String in the District of Columbia: An Introduction to the DC Historic Preservation Office

The District of Columbia is a strange political entity and our unique status has unexpected effects on local archaeology. But that makes it a perfect place to focus on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 and the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916, to be commemorated at the #SHA2016 conference. Why? Because Washington is a “special” federal enclave rather than a state and many District affairs are subject to federal laws. The District has a State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, that was established by, and is annually funded as a result of the NHPA regulations. The federal government owns 21.6% of the land in the District, so one-fifth of our land mass is directly subject to Section 106 of the NHPA. And 17% of District land is managed by NPS, making them a major partner in many archaeological projects.

Washington, D.C. is also a residential city with numerous historic districts and its own preservation laws, and procedures. The SHPO also serves as the “local” Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO). The District has a rich cultural history that began long before it was chosen for the nation’s capital which includes both prehistoric and colonial resources. In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of development that has led to dozens of city-funded archaeological surveys in addition to the ones conducted for federal projects. The bulk of these local projects were on city park and school properties, which comprise some of our largest non-federal open spaces. Among the sites identified are significant prehistoric camps and quarries, Civil War-era military and contraband camps, antebellum estates and tenant farms, former cemeteries, and urban row houses and alley dwellings. Archaeology offers a unique perspective – and sometimes the only material evidence — on events that were often ignored or overlooked in documentary sources. As the city’s Archaeology Team, we operate at both the federal and city levels, consulting with agencies on project concepts to ensure locations that merit survey are identified early on in the planning process, reviewing survey work plans, and commenting on draft technical reports. We are also responsible for maintaining and managing the archaeological collections, all paper and digital records, the site files, our Geographic Information System (GIS), and the archaeological survey report library. Any outreach, and education we get to conduct is pure “gravy!” Our efforts are somewhatconstrained because Chardé Reid, the assistant archaeologist, is a limited-term contract. Despite the challenges, we have forged a public outreach program on a shoestring! We have developed strategic partnerships with a variety of groups, and rely on the contributions of our graduate student interns and volunteers. Stipends are sometimes available for our interns, but the real payoff for them is the experience in a SHPO, and mentoring as they enter the job market.

Archaeology has quite a bit of community support in the District and Washingtonians turn out at our events, tune in to radio shows, and email us all the time! Mitchell Park is a great example of this. The park is located on the site of a large farm-house built by Anthony Holmead in 1795, and is a National Register-listed property. When a neighborhood group, Friends of Mitchell Park, raised funds to renovate and improve the park, they also funded an archaeological investigation of the Holmead House site. Community members now serve as site guardians and vigilantly protect the resource, which remains buried beneath their feet. Community support for archaeology may be tied to other concerns, as when groups attempt to use site preservation as a tactic to impede development even before any investigations occur. This is a tricky line for us to walk, since we promote an archaeological preservation ethic, but we also need to be sensitive to public benefits of development. We can’t short-circuit the review process to appease one constituent, because there are many competing needs and perspectives.

We do as much public outreach as possible given all our other responsibilities and limited staff. As the city grows and our demographics change, it becomes increasingly important for residents (especially young people) to understand the city’s history, diversity, and unique neighborhoods. We talk to schools, clubs, community history and heritage groups, and at neighborhood libraries, and we bring along displays and artifacts from our collections. Student interns are a big part of these outreach events and often plan and program them. We have gained the most ground by partnering with local non-profits, such as Archaeology in the Community. They have the capacity to organize annual events like Archaeology Day (in October) and Day of Archaeology (in July). Even NPS has gotten involved at the local level by starting a summer Urban Archaeology Corps program comprising District high school through college-age youth, who learn about local history, archaeology, and NPS careers. While few UAC participants plan to study archaeology, their feedback indicates they like learning about their neighborhood history and regret not getting more of it in school.

The lens of archaeology is our tool for providing alternative perspectives on the District’s long and diverse history. We have the ability to look at groups often overlooked by more traditional history. The lens, while powerful, requires that some remnants of the past remain in the ground. Therefore, continued protection and management of archaeological resources are needed. But our efforts also need support from an educated and empowered public, who embrace and advocate for archaeology because they believe it enriches historical narratives. Identification and preservation of archaeological resources is best done by concerted efforts of preservation partners at every level, including Federal, District, and neighborhood entities. We look forward to engaging more groups as we increase our outreach capacity and visibility through our limited – but successful — “shoestring” efforts.

Chardé Reid, Assistant City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Lois Berkowitz, volunteer at the DC Historic Preservation Office

Ruth Trocolli, City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Photo cred: Jason Hornick.

 


Recommended Links

http://planning.dc.gov/historicpreservation

http://planning.dc.gov/page/archaeology-district-columbia

http://planning.dc.gov/publication/2016-district-columbia-historic-preservation-plan

http://tiny.cc/ArchyTour

http://www.nps.gov/rap/

http://www.nps.gov/rap/archeology/spotlight_ROCR.htmhttp://www.mitchellparkdc.org/history.html

http://www.archaeologyincommunity.com/

http://groundworkdc.org/programs/urban-archeology-corps/

http://ncptt.nps.gov/blog/nps-archeology-program-urban-archeology-corps/

http://www.maacmidatlanticarchaeology.org/

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.