Tis the season for graduate school and employment applications. Therefore, I have spent a good bit of the past month writing letters of recommendation for an array of student applicants. As a university faculty member and museum employer, I offer guidelines to students on this process. The guidelines are not necessarily those I created, but rather flow from conversations with my colleagues both within and outside of higher education. Here are three relevant slideshare presentations.
- Here is a presentation I gave to graduates of the AmeriCorps NCCC Southern District Teams. The presentation includes results of my informal faculty survey on their recommendations when applying to graduate school.
- Here is a presentation I routinely give to graduate students in the Anthropology Department at the University of Memphis. The presentation is based on my question to area employers, “If you could tell graduate students about one professional standard that is routinely violated but is of critical importance as they embark on their careers – what is that standard?”
- Here is a presentation by my colleague Amy Santee on a critical career tool – developing a digital presence. Amy delivered this presentation in a recent workshop to graduate students in the Anthropology Department at the University of Memphis.
And here is a post that discusses the many aspects of asking for letters of recommendation for both graduate school and other types of applications.
Here is a link to the article below where I talk about the important role of avocational archaeologists in the recent designation of the Poverty Point site in northeast Louisiana as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I conclude that this type of engagement is critical for the future of archaeology.
At the University of Memphis, there is not a good course offering on writing skills for graduate students. In my anecdotal and formal evaluation experiences, poor written and verbal communication skills are a serious deficit for our college graduates. There are a half-dozen or so MOOC offerings that address written communication on various levels. I came across one called High Impact Business Writing reviewed the overall content and thought the offering was appropriate for one of my students in particular. I then noted that the course was part of a Career Readiness specialization of offerings that seemed to address aspects of training the student would find useful based on their career interest in museum administration.
When I reviewed the suite of nine courses in the specialization, I realized that much of the content expands on what I now cover with all of my advisees in our biweekly workshop meetings. I began meeting with my student advisees biweekly because:
- I found that I was having to repeat discussions with each of the graduate students whose committee I now chair, so we started meeting as a group to better use my time and for the students to learn from each other.
- I see my job as their advisor to not just guide them through the graduate program to get a degree but also prepare them for jobs when they graduate. Most students are poorly prepared for this part of their career. They know how to get an A in class but are less skilled at writing a cover letter for a job application. (Anecdotally, our workshop cover letter discussions have resulted in students getting paid internships at the Met in New York, solid full-time employment, scholarships, etc.)
I recommended to one student that they consider completing the Career Readiness specialization offering this past summer. At $350.00, that is about the cost of one graduate course credit at the U of M. We discussed what the specialization means on a resume. I noted that if one were applying for a job in higher education, perhaps not much. But if one were applying for a position, where the importance is less the degree and more what you can do the first day on the job, I am convinced that such micro-credentials are becoming increasingly meaningful.
In this way, I continue to consider MOOCs as a supplement but not replacement for current higher education models. In fact, perhaps MOOCs allow traditional higher education institutions to stop trying to do things they are not doing well, have MOOCs take on that role, and allow higher education to focus on what they are currently good at.
I asked the student to give me a candid blurb about their experience with the Career Readiness specialization. They responded:
The Coursera MOOC’s on the career specialization track have been very useful and enriching. Learning professional business strategies will assist me in my future career and these courses have offered a wonderful outline of the skills needed. I found the financial and leadership courses to be the most helpful.
The Career Readiness specialization seems an excellent example of how micro-credentials can work.
A new website recently launched that promotes the Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley from Iowa to Louisiana. I have been thinking about the need for such a website or piece of promotional material for several years. As the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum in Memphis, I regularly meet visitors heading north or south along the Great River Road or I-55 corridors. When I ask, “Are you interested in other prehistoric sites along your route?” most often the response is affirmative. In the past, there was no single piece of information I could provide to guide that visitor. In fact, because the various prehistoric earthwork venues are scattered across several states, and typically, state agencies do not cross-promote, there was no single website devoted to these sites of American Indian cultural heritage either.
Although intuitive, survey data confirm that cultural heritage tourists overwhelmingly select their venues for visitation via mobile/web resources and/or word of mouth. Unfortunately, today the only mobile resource that truly synthesizes museum venues is Wikipedia but not in a manner conducive for planning travel. Individual states such as Louisiana have developed, or in the case of Mississippi, are developing prehistoric mounds trail tours. However, these projects, without exception, are restricted to intra-state sites, again ignoring many cultural heritage venues that are nearby but in adjoining states.
A single regional, or even national resource to promote prehistoric venues is a first step in addressing the problem. An ideal organizational form is based not on geopolitical boundaries but on natural or cultural parameters. For example, recent Civil War and Civil Rights trails follow sets of historic events that cross state borders. Given the north/south travel along the I-55 corridor and proximity to the Great River Road, coupled with extant prehistoric earthwork sites, the Mississippi River drainage is a useful natural and cultural feature on which to organize an interstate prehistoric mounds trail.
To put the idea into practice I involved students in courses I teach at the University of Memphis in applied anthropology and museum studies. Students in my classes always create some product that will live real-time in an area museum or digital space. For several years I suggested a student take up the task of creating a brochure that promoted the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River. In my Applied Archaeology and Museums class in the Spring of 2014, a graduate student, Allison Hennie, took up the challenge and created the brochure. This past year, we applied for and received the Southeastern Archaeological Conference Public Outreach Grant to expand the brochure, print and distribute copies to the venues listed, and create a digital presence for the information. The Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley website and linked brochure are a result of that process. The hard copy of the brochure is an 11 x 17 front and back six-fold that will be available at all the listed venues within the next two weeks. (If you are a venue or cultural heritage agency that would like copies of the brochure, please drop me a note.)
In the coming months we will evaluate the traffic on the website, visitor comments, and check-in with the museums and prehistoric sites included in the brochure to get their feedback. We will then incorporate their recommendations into the website and a further revision of the brochure.
I will appreciate your comments on this project. Note that the website is specifically designed for viewing on mobile devices. What works? What does not work? What suggestions do you have to make the website or brochure a more effective resource for information about the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River?
In August of this year my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I published a special thematic issue of the Society for American Archaeology’s Advances in Archaeological Practice titled Co-Creation and Public Archaeology. The practice of co-creation has proven a guiding force in my professional practice over the past few years. I initially came across the concept in Nina Simon’s synthesis and elaboration of an ongoing discussion in the museum community over the past couple of decades. Since that time I have developed my own understanding of the co-creative practice that prioritizes addressing the community’s expressed needs. In 2012, along with Natalye Tate, Elizabeth and I co-edited a volume of Museums and Social Issues on the co-creative theme. As someone who has worked as an archaeologist for the better part of my professional career, I am very pleased with the publication of this new peer-reviewed volume on the subject of co-creation by a leading organization of professional archaeologists in the United States. I believe an application of the co-creative practice will be key to the future of the discipline.
Below is the abstract to the Introduction Elizabeth and I co-authored with a true leader in the field of public archaeology, Carol McDavid.
This paper serves a dual purpose. First it is an introduction that aims to frame a set of papers that describe and discuss the process of co-creation in a variety of archaeological projects. We discuss the challenge of community engagement in public archaeology and offer co-creative practice as a method for improving our relationships with descendant communities and the general public. We begin by providing a definition of public archaeology and a brief overview of its evolution over the last few decades. Second, we discuss co-creation’s origins and utilization in the museum and business sectors, where the process is applied to address challenges similar to those archaeologists face. We then demonstrate how co-creation fits into the public/applied archaeological framework. We argue that co-creation must be both co (that is, share power in some way) and creative (that is, not just do the same things better, but do something new). Within this framework, we discuss how co-creation aligns with and informs current trends in public archaeology practice drawing from the case studies included in this issue. We conclude that co-creation has an important place on the collaborative continuum and can help our discipline become more responsive to the needs of our many publics.
And here is the table of contents for the volume that includes studies from throughout the Americas. I hope that you will find these articles helpful as you go about your professional practice.
- Co-Creation as a Twenty-First Century Archaeology Museum Practice
pp. 188-197. Robert Connolly.
- Survivance Stories, Co-Creation, and a Participatory Model at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center pp. 198-207. Kimberly Kasper and Russell G. Handsman.
- Making the Past Relevant Co-Creative Approaches to Heritage Preservation and Community Development at Hualcayán, Ancash, Peru pp. 208-222. Rebecca E. Bria and Elizabeth K. Cruzado Carranza.
- Co-Creation’s Role in Digital Public Archaeology pp. 223-234. Elizabeth Bollwerk.
- Promoting a More Interactive Public Archaeology Archaeological Visualization and Reflexivity through Virtual Artifact Curation pp. 235-248. Bernard K. Means.
- Co-Creation of Knowledge by the Hopi Tribe and Archaeologists pp. 249-262. T. J. Ferguson, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, and Maren P. Hopkins.
- Sleeping with the “Enemy” Metal Detecting Hobbyists and Archaeologists pp. 263-274. Matthew Reeves.
- Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida pp. 275-290. Sarah E. Miller.
- Building Capacity for Co-Created Digital Moviemaking through Youth Programs pp. 291-300. Teresa S. Moyer.
- Turning Privies into Class Projects pp. 301-312. Kimberley Popetz
Fleur Shinning from Leiden University in the Netherlands is conducting graduate research focused on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology. Her intended result of the project is to make archaeology more accessible to a wider public. She is soliciting input for her research in the form of a survey from readers of several blogs in the UK and USA. The survey is well-organized, reasonably painless, and can be completed in less than 10 minutes. I encourage you to click on this link and complete the survey, with the possible payoff of winning a subscription to Archaeology magazine and knowing that you are contributing to a project that focuses on expanding public access to archaeology.
For a Spanish language version of this post, click here
July 28th is Independence Day in Peru – and the day we presented the community copies of La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores the volume written by Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza based on oral histories collected by Hualcayán high school students in late 2014. I have blogged before about the project origins. In preparation for the event, Elizabeth and I thoroughly cleaned the courtyard area of the archaeology research complex and set out a long row of tables and chairs. The night before we peeled 72 kilos of potatoes and Sheyla Nuñuvero and her assistants prepared 15 chickens, salad and quite a few gallons of chicha morado.
The event was a success. Eli and I were particularly happy that Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio, who was responsible for launching the project, was able to attend and preside over the celebration. Consistent with being an outstanding educator, Leodan spoke eloquently and passionately about why such projects are important. He particularly focused on the educational role for the student oral historians in developing a sense of identity and pride in their community in both the Spanish and Quechua languages.
I spoke about the co-creative process. I noted that although Elizabeth and I had performed the technical publishing tasks and secured donations to fund the project, the essence of the volume was locally produced. That is, without the history verbally passed down over the years from community members, and passing that along to the student interviewers, the book would not have been possible. I also noted the uniqueness of the project – there is no other book of which we were aware in the Ancash region that tells a community’s history “contada por sus poladores.” The Hualcayán project is already viewed as model in one U.S. and two other Peruvian communities.
Elizabeth discussed her experience writing the book and presented a copy to every family in attendance. She noted that most of the copies would be placed in the school library consistent with Leodan’s expressed need for a classroom educational resource for students on their community history.
Several community residents spoke and expressed their thanks to the Hualcayán students who created the project and to Leodan for the original concept. Elizabeth and Rebecca Bria’s (Co-Directors of PIARA) friendship and long-term commitment to the community was also recognized by all of the residents who spoke. For example, even though pressed for time as she gathers data for her M.S. Thesis on a set of Hualcayán excavations, Elizabeth welcomes community children into the research complex every afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00 PM to watch videos on a laptop, draw, or other activities. She has spent many days, weeks and months over the past several years working in Hualcayán on archaeological and community based projects.
Here are some of my takeaways from the oral history book experience:
- The process worked. In a rural agricultural community like Hualcayán, where everyone works 7 days per week to sustain their existence (including on Independence Day) the oral history project is a small, but important contribution. “Importante” was the word most commonly used by the residents who spoke at the Independence Day event. They followed that statement up with examples on why knowing a community history is of value.
- We had a great discussion with Professor Abanto after the event and confirmed plans and responsibilities for completing another volume by next summer for the community where he is now assigned to teach – Huallanco. Leodan is one of several Ancash residents we encountered in the last year who collect oral histories – in some cases for many years. We view the Hualcayán volume not as a completed project, but as an example of the ongoing logistical support we can provide if a community has that expressed need. We have informally discussed with cultural heritage professionals and educators in the region the possibility of establishing something like an Ancash Region Oral History Program. That may happen one day, but the impetus for moving on the project will come from the Ancash communities.
- Oral history is something we are prepared to support at the museums Elizabeth and I visited in both Nivín and Caraz this summer. However, an expressed need in both of these museums was for Spanish language documents on collections management – not part of our initial plan. Within 48 hours we were able to use our resources and networks to acquire an abundance of these materials.
- As cultural heritage professionals, in this way we can create value in a co-created relationship. At the museum and site at Nivín, Professor Valencia’s interest is less in our organizing field crews to excavate the Nivín site and find cool stuff for the museum. Rather the need Professor Valencia clearly stated was to train the Nivín students in the proper methods for curating materials and preserving a site that is of little apparent interest to the professional archaeological community but is being impacted by both agricultural and looting activities.
The above lead me to my “go to” snippets for what I mean by co-creation and applied archaeology:
Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. John Cotton Dana, The New Museum, 1917
. . . the act of engagement with others who are trying to make decisions related to particular heritage resources. Erve Chambers 2004:194
Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations. Elizabeth Hirzy 2002
To give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals. – Nina Simon 2010:187
To this end, our field season this year in Peru is going quite well.