Welcome, and thank you for reading Archaeology in the Community’s debut blog post!* I’m Leah, and I am the outreach coordinator here at AITC. AITC is an education nonprofit in Washington, DC and we LIVE to bring archaeology to the public. I use the word “we” specifically, because the primary goal of this blog is to incorporate all of our readership into the very fabric of our community.
In the academic world, “we” doesn’t get used too often in our ongoing conversation about archaeology. “We” often refers the voiceless majority who might lack formal education and experience, or who are limited by time and location. As a result, formal study in archaeology risks being stripped of the local, the communal, the ancestral and the other personal aspects that make it an integral part of our everyday lives.
Our GOAL: It’s time for “we”—students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, community members, curators, artists, activists—to step up and participate in the archaeological conversation. Our voices are crucial to the health of the field. As Jennifer McKinnon writes in her post, It Takes A Village to Build a Trail, on the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) blog:
“…No amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible…No matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth.”
Now more than ever, our voices must be heard. A recent push from Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Lamar Smith to cut National Science Foundation grant funding is a potentially devastating blow to archaeological research. In response to this affront, SHA created the #WhyArchMatters campaign, a web-based conversation aimed to galvanize supporters of archaeology. But there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that archaeology has a fruitful future.
We can start by consistently reminding ourselves and our friends and family that every artifact or public site can connect us simultaneously to a particular day in history, a specific person, a local movement, a policy, and a global stage. All artifacts, no matter how seemingly trite, embody economic, social, political and spiritual stories. As a modern culture, Americans are increasingly materialistic. There is no reason why we cannot share the same enthusiasm for our shared belongings of the past that we do our banal personal possessions.
We must be responsible for making archaeology both personal and universal by assessing it from many different points and perspectives. We must acknowledge ancestral perspectives, community perspectives and diasporal perspectives. We must commit to addressing inherent power structures and injustice. But more than anything, we must resolve to continue the dialogue, encouraging voices from across the spectrum of stakeholders, with varying degrees of expertise and experience.
We must celebrate public archaeology, as difficult to define as it is. In, From Real Space to Cyberspace, Carol McDavid defines it as, “engaging the public in order to share archaeological findings and/or promote stewardship of cultural resources or to otherwise make archaeology relevant to society by providing the public with the means for constructing their own past.” In this blog, we’re trying to create a space for students, teachers, archaeologists, field techs, interested and inspired community members, curators and everyone else to voice their thoughts, concerns, and experiences. We also encourage spirited, positive, and well-meaning dialogue.
To speak to the broadest audience, we need a universal space to have these conversations— outside of academic journals and field sites. It’s often difficult to express our complex thoughts on this topic, so AITC seeks to create many different forums for us to participate in the conversation. So, this is OUR spot and we welcome YOU, we celebrate your VOICE and invite you to share with you as we navigate our first public archaeology blog.
*We’re new to blogging so enjoy giggling at our assorted internet party fouls/faux-pas.
Written By: Leah Weissburg
Leah is a Masters in Public Administration student at George Washington University, studying nonprofit management and education policy. In addition to her work with AITC, Leah is a project manager and program evaluator at a public school district in Washington, DC. She holds a BA in Anthropology from Vassar College.