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Thanksgiving for Kent Vickery – Public Archaeologist

November 21, 2011

This Thursday is the Thanksgiving Holiday in the United States.  Appropriately, I was thinking about a thanksgiving to an individual who influenced my approach to public archaeology – Dr. Kent Vickery, my M.A. program advisor at the University of Cincinnati.  He passed away this June, just a few years into his Colorado retirement.

Dr. Vickery and I were not always on the best of terms.  He was a serious taskmaster where no research project ever seemed completed.  In his classes, he started to lecture when he walked in the door and did not stop until the bell rang.  No pictures, all words.  One year, running behind in his lectures, he passed out 25 pages of typed notes the last day of class that would be on the final exam.  Our classroom styles are quite different.

But when it came to applying archaeology outside the lecture hall, he proved a key mentor for the  practices I try to use today:

  • His door was always open to students.  There are many archaeologists who published more than Kent, and many a good bit less, but Dr. Vickery clearly ranked in the upper 5% of professors committed to their students.  He always had time for a discussion or to offer advice. He was a walking bibliographic reference on all things related to his fields of research.
  • Outside of the classroom, Kent believed in hands-on learning.  He provided students the materials to take on a range of laboratory analysis projects.  Of importance, he also encouraged his students to present their findings at professional meetings and to publish their results.  He worked hard up until his retirement to organize and publish the field work he had done over the years.
  • Kent promoted his students in the profession.  In conversation, he was more likely to talk about the important work of his students than of his own.  He could spill a tremendous amount of red ink over any paper forcing the student to defend their assertions.  We butted heads quite a bit over my M.A. Thesis.  I was shocked to find that he had written a lengthy proposal and successfully had my M.A. Thesis nominated as one of only two from the University of Cincinnati for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Distinguished Thesis Award.  He didn’t ask me if I wanted my thesis nominated, he just did it.
  • Whether through work with Boy Scouts or avocational archaeologists Kent expended an incredible amount his time taking archaeology from the academy to the public.  He was a standard fixture at the avocational organization Central Ohio Valley Archaeological Society meetings.  Every Tuesday night in his lab an assemblage of students, professionals, and avocationals worked late in the evening on a diverse set of projects.
Kent and I kept up over the years.  The last time he “put the bite on me” was to create a composite map for the hundreds of features recorded from excavations at the State Line site.  I regularly got Christmas cards from he and Karen, including last year.

I don’t know that Kent would have considered himself a Public or Applied Archaeologist.  I have to believe that if he were starting out in the business today, he would fall right in with the best of community outreach.  Immediately after his death there was a flurry of emails among his former students and friends.  The common thread in those comments was that Kent’s fingerprints were all over the archaeology of the Greater Cincinnati area and that he had trained most of the archaeologists working in the region today.  These practitioners include museum professionals, leaders in the field of cultural resource management, and more than a few professorial types.  His former students that shared their thoughts of Kent at his passing are people today committed to public outreach in both museums and archaeology, demonstrating, that the apple does not fall too far from the tree.

Thanks Kent.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Genheimer permalink
    November 22, 2011 1:30 pm

    When you are a young student, your universe revolves around one or two professors. You don’t really know how good they are, because you haven’t experienced many others. It was only later, years down the road, that I came to realize that with Kent, I had one of the best. He was generous, engaging, demanding, and always an encyclopedia of knowledge. It was also much later that I realized that Kent had produced a vast number of of great students over his decades of tenure at U.C. And, many, many of them are now professional archaeologists working in museums, academia, and CRM firms. Accident? I don’t think so. You are what you reap. And, Kent sowed the seeds of success in dozens and dozens of students. Here’s to you, Kent

    Bob Genheimer

  2. November 23, 2011 6:50 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to recognize KDV, Ph.D., Bob. In your short post you managed to capture his spirit quite well. It seemed his understated ability to nurture and recognize others will be one of his gifts that lives on. I remember returning to a Tuesday night session after I started my M.A. program elsewhere. I was struggling with self doubt and my abilities to hack the program. I started updating my resume and was thinking about leaving graduate school. KDV gave me a good kick in the pants but he also did something much more; he pulled out the letter of recommendation he wrote to get me into my M.A. program. As I read it, I couldn’t believe the confidence he had in me and it gave me the boost I needed to continue on. Thanks, KDV, Ph.D.

  3. Kristin Appleby permalink
    November 23, 2011 8:38 pm

    I couldn’t have made it out of grad school without the help of Kent. The Tuesday Night Lab crew was without a doubt the greatest learning environment one could be a part of; a causal pool of archaeological knowledge. The description of Kent’s classroom style is spot on–no one left that classroom with any feeling left in their writing hands. Again, it was outside the lectures that he was the greatest of mentors, even meeting at his house to put the finishing touches on my thesis. I had the good fortune to talk to Kent on the phone the Feburary before he passed, and I miss him much. I wish, and hope, that he could realize just how much of his character has indeed rubbed off on those of us involved in archaeology in the Ohio Valley.

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