Race and the SHA

It is common for us to feel invigorated by the annual conference, after hearing great papers, discussing innovative ideas, renewing relationships, and embracing a new resolve to do the work of making SHA a better organization that we all be proud of. Although our poster wasn’t officially sponsored by the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) (they helped to inspire it), Cheryl LaRoche and I presented on “Race and the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA): Steps Toward Claiming an Anti-Racist Institutional Identity.” It generated considerable interest, raised important issues, and will serve to support the board’s decision to embark on anti-racism training, for which they should be commended. The board’s commitment to doing this work is a bold step in an important direction that can truly transform our organization and make it more inclusive.

What follows is the text of our poster, a considerably condensed version of an essay we contributed to the Winter 2012 issue of the Newsletter.

Archaeology and Racial Hierarchy

Archaeologists know that racial hierarchy structures the material world, yet we have seldom considered how white privilege influences our practice.

The Whiteness of the SHA

White men created the SHA and structured it to meet their needs as members of white society. This is reflected in its personnel, programs, constituency, and mission, and the ways historical archaeologists are trained in the academy.

Racial Socialization

We all have been socialized in a racist society and consequently carry and perpetuate attitudes of either internalized racial oppression or internalized racial superiority. This socialization process serves to maintain racial hierarchy.

Transforming the Discipline

We can effectively address the racial disparities in our profession and begin to claim and put into practice an anti-racist organizational identity by examining the way we recruit students, foster their development, and inculcate academic values. In order to transform the SHA into a truly diverse and welcoming organization we must address the barriers to access that continue to maintain our organization’s white, male, heterosexual, and middle class membership and principles.

Our Collective Responsibility

The mission of seeking diversity involves all historical archaeologists and should be our collective goal as we work to transform our field and our organization in an effort to claim an anti-racist institutional identity.

Fort McHenry Public Archaeology Day at SHA 2012

 For the last two years, I have been lucky enough to bring my family along on our cross-country trips to the SHAs.  My husband and daughters get to visit with family and do some sight-seeing while Mom is off doing conference-y things, and we all meet up on Saturday to enjoy public archaeology day together. Each year at the SHA Conference, the conference committee organizes a day for the public, to offer local archaeologists an opportunity to interact with the public, and the public a chance to learn about the archaeology that happens in their communities. This year, it was held at the Fort McHenry National Monument.

Ellie: “I think that archaeology makes you learn a lot, and I like it a lot!”

Now, given the fact that I LOVE this kind of thing (education + archaeology = awesome), my husband and children have visited many, many public archaeology events.  They have been to sites, helped wash artifacts, helped screen excavated dirt, and they have just about every “Archaeology for Kids” book in publication.  The girls are, in essence, experts in engaging public archaeology exhibits.

There were several booths set up in a side room in the visitor’s center at Fort McHenry, and several more were located in a heated tent outside (which turned out to be completely unnecessary, as the weather was sunny and warm and absolutely perfect). Among those displays we were able to visit were The Lost Towns Project of Anne Arundel County, NPS American Battlefield Preservation Program, the Prince George’s County and the Montgomery County Departments of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Archaeology in the Community, The District of Columbia Historic Preservation Office, Monocacy National Battlefield, the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (representing both the State Museum of Archaeology and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory), and the George Washington Foundation. Let me apologize in advance if I have missed any presenters, as I was there with my children and did not have much chance to linger and fully appreciate all the displays. Please drop your links below if you’re not represented in this list!

Abbie: “I liked the artifacts you could touch and the puzzles.”

In going back through the many flyers and brochures I picked up from the presenters, I noticed a few different flyers discussing “How to Report an Archaeological Find” with contact information for state archaeologists in Maryland and additional information on teacher training and children’s archaeology programs.  What a great venue in which to communicate such important information! There was also a free archaeology tour for SHA members, but I was unable to attend. If any readers participated in the tour and would like to comment below, I would love to hear more about it.

Almost every exhibit had a professional display describing their site and/or agency, and a few of the exhibitors had hands-on activities.  For the most part, my girls went immediately to the tables with some sort of interactive display.  The Lost Towns Project of Anne Arundel County and the Prince George’s County Department of Parks (part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) had excellent artifact assemblages for the kids to handle, and the latter had both artifact photos and feature photos that had been turned into puzzles for the kids. 

The girls got so into the spirit of it all that they couldn’t wait to show me a brick they had discovered outside the visitor’s center!

The girls also enjoyed the display by the DC Historic Preservation Office.  The artifacts displayed were off-limits for handling, but the display incorporated questions on large cards that acted as a guessing game for the kids.  Ellie told me later “I like guessing the artifacts!”

When I asked them afterwards what their favorite part of the day was they both gave me the same answer: “I liked being able to dig with a spoon and find artifacts in a can!”  Montgomery County Department of Parks (part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) had really wonderful interactive activities.  Both girls LOVED their “Archaeology Site in a Can” activities, and their ‘excavations’ revealed fascinating artifacts including projectile points and historic-period ceramic sherds.

The girls get their hands dirty.

I was super-impressed when the girls figured out (on their own, with no help from Mom!) that their sherds from each can would cross-mend.  Like I mentioned, these girls have become real experts at kid-friendly archaeological activities!

The other big hit of the day with my girls was a seed identification activity, also presented by the Montgomery County group.  The girls had to sort through a mix of sand and seeds to find and identify six different types from the ten listed with examples on the display.

Identifying Seeds.

Now, as a mom, I am totally thrilled when I see my girls really excited and interested in such educational activities.   As a member of the Public Education and Interpretation Committee, I would also be interested in hearing from other attendees about what they thought about the day.  Did you attend the Fort McHenry Public Archaeology Day?  What did you best enjoy?  What would you like to see more of as a member of the public? As an archaeologist, what more can we do to make these days as accessible and educational as possible?  Please leave your feedback, insights, and opinions in the comment space below!

Author note: See some more photos of our day at our flickr site.

 

The Gender and Minority Affairs Committee

It’s hard to believe that only a year ago the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee (GMAC) reconvened in Austin. Much came out of that collaboration, fueled by the active participation of SHA members in the committee organized forum, “Where do we go from here? GMAC at the crossroads.” Panelists and attendees raised key issues and discussion focused priorities for the committee going forward. One question consistently raised was: how do we create diversity within our organizations? Since Austin, a number of initiatives were started to work towards this effort. The new GMAC Student Travel Award is one such effort. This award facilitates student efforts to build and maintain networks as well as participate professionally in annual conferences. The committee also felt that, in the same vein, mentors for underrepresented students would support organizational diversity.

This is why the GMAC, in collaboration with the Academic and Professional Training Committee, is developing a mentoring program and seeks to connect students with SHA members who share research and other interests. Mentoring serves to build relationships over both long and short term as well as foster career growth. It is through these types of engagements that underrepresented students can obtain advice about critical skills and confront problems or issues specific to their experience. To learn more and share ideas about mentoring, attend the GMAC sponsored forum, “Mentorship in Historical Archaeology” on Thursday, January 5 at 1 PM.

The only way we can create a more equitable and diverse SHA is to get involved. Join us for the Gender and Minority Affairs Committee meeting on Thursday, January 5 at 7:45 AM or join the Student-Subcommittee of GMAC on Friday, January 6 at 7:45 AM.