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Museums and Online Learning – An Interview with Debbie Morrison

June 15, 2015

DebMorrison_HeadShote_v3I have followed Debbie Morrison’s blog Online Learning Insights for the past few years.  Debbie’s blog is my ‘go to’ source on all things related to digital learning.  I particularly appreciate that while she is a strong proponent of online education, she does not give the practitioners a free pass on the problems and challenges the technology faces.  For example, although an early and consistent supporter of MOOCs, she has given even coverage to the successes and failures of this ever evolving platform.  Because of her approach and expertise, Debbie’s work is well-respected, earning her consulting positions with organizations such as the World Bank in their recent entry into MOOCs.  Debbie generously agreed to an interview where she explores the potential of online learning in cultural heritage venues.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with online learning?

I’ve been a passionate advocate for pursing higher education for well over twenty years. I see education as a means to improving life opportunities, relationships, and one’s health and well-being. My experience in education began as a Training and Development Manager for a national retailer in Toronto, Canada. I discovered a passion for creating skill development and education programs. It was rewarding to help employees develop and improve, to see the confidence they gained professionally and personally. When my family moved to the United States in 2003, I took two years off and homeschooled my children using a K-12 virtual school platform. I saw a vision for the future in online learning. After my kids went back to public school I completed a master’s degree in education and human development with a focus on educational technology, began working in K-12 and then higher education. I loved my job as Lead Curriculum Developer with a small private university. I worked with faculty to develop and transition face-to-face (F2F) courses to the online format. I now work as a consultant with higher education and K-12 helping educators develop and improve online and blended programs. I’m living my passion.

 Ten years ago many cultural heritage professionals considered the notion of a “virtual” museum or tour as a threat to the viability of cultural venues.  Today, a growing number of professionals view digital presentations more as a supplement to real-time experiences.  Where do you see the virtual vs. real-time discussion going for online learning in museums and other cultural heritage venues?

I view virtual museums and exhibits as a boon to cultural venues. Online exhibits are vehicles that can increase the public’s interest and awareness about the rich experiences museums and places of culture offer. I see the discussion of virtual vs. real-time experiences in museums mirroring the very same discussions happening now in higher education about F2F versus online education. I’ll address the questions here specifically to museums. First, the line between experiencing and appreciating art and culture online or F2F is gray. Both can provide a rich, engaging educational experience, but in different ways. Well-designed virtual exhibits provide users with an accessible and approachable experience. Virtual exhibits reach people who would never otherwise set foot in a cultural venue, whether because of distance, time or inclination.

Yet they can also supplement educational experiences. One of the most interesting and interactive online courses I developed was an undergraduate level course ‘Introduction to Music and Art’. The faculty member and I created a highly visual and interactive course using a variety of digital exhibits, videos and open art resources. In addition to the virtual exhibits, students were required to visit in-person, two cultural centers or events during the semester. The virtual tours created learning experiences that could never be achieved with cultural F2F visits and textbooks alone.

A current buzzword in cultural heritage studies is the “participatory” museum.  How do you envision that online learning can facilitate an increased participation in museums?

Student-focused education is where online learning is going, where students are participants and contributors to their learning, not just passive recipients. This is a paradigm shift for education. Students want to contribute and expect to be involved whether through social media or within the course itself. I see this same student-interest applying to museums and cultural centers. There is unlimited opportunity for encouraging public participation with the various social media platforms. Pinterst, the digital bulletin board platform, allows users to follow boards, create boards and comment. Twitter is another with hash tags that can ‘tag’ conversations and comments related to an exhibit or particular museum. Another is Instagram, a platform popular with teen and young adult set. The Getty Center here in California where I live does a good job in utilizing media and digital resources, but I see far more opportunities yet to be leveraged with museums in general.

Much as been written about the trend toward “lifelong learning” in museums.  How might that trend benefit from an online presence?

Tremendously – if museums can engage the public through social media–meet the potential visitors where they are, e.g. on Instagram, Facebook or other platform, the potential of having loyal and repeat visitors and supporters is tremendous. People want to belong and associate themselves with something special and unique—what is more unique and special than a museum or cultural center? Cultural centers will benefit by developing an online presence and building a following from there.

Online experiences such as the Google Art Project and virtual tours of archaeological sites are providing increased accessibility to cultural heritage objects.  Any predictions on future trends?

Interest in static digital resources will continue, but participatory interactive resources and digital experiences allowing users to create artifacts from cultural and art exhibits will grow significantly. Interactive and participatory platforms that allow users to creatively express themselves, and share using digital artifacts posted by museums builds on the idea of participation and contribution. Pinterest, Google Art Project, are just the beginning.

I definitely see user-generated content and open platforms such as ones offering MOOC as opening up and making knowledge and culture approachable and accessible. It’s opening up to the global public, and though there are still more people and communities to reach, this phenomenon is enriching, improving and transforming lives in many ways.

Any recommendations for the cultural heritage professional looking to begin online learning projects?

Start small, but start somewhere. Reach out to individuals outside one’s museum and cultural circle to find those that want to help and can make a contribution. Many people want to contribute their energy, expertise and time. Though critical is creating a plan first, a strategic plan that outlines what the goals are for the museum or cultural center that describes how a digital strategy and online learning projects align with the center’s values and mission. Next identify what type of projects will work with existing or future projects and create goals for digital and online learning. Then it makes sense to reach out to individuals and ask for help, and/or invest funds.

Debbie Morrison blogs at Online Learning Insights and can be contacted at debbiemorrison505(at)gmail.com

Publication of a Co-created Oral History For Hualcayán, Peru

June 8, 2015

oral-history-book-coverWe are almost there!  On July 28, Independence Day in Peru, we will deliver the first copies of the La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores (The History of Hualcayán: In the Words of Its Residents) to the people of Hualcayán.  I am particularly excited because from inception to final production, this book stands as the proverbial poster child for co-creative projects.  Although I blogged about this project before and the sponsoring organization PIARA, here is the bullet point summary:

  • Last summer the Peruvian co-director of PIARA, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, and I met with several teachers from the village school located in the rural Andes of Peru.  An “expressed need” of the teachers was a resource that documented the history of the local community.
  • We proposed and the teachers agreed that compiling an oral history project of the community leaders and elders was an important first step. We provided the teachers with video flip cameras and a laptop.  Elizabeth gave the secondary school students a crash course in oral history methods and helped them create a questionnaire.
  • Over the fall, the students carried out the oral history interviews.  This past January, Elizabeth and I returned to Hualcayán and collected the interviews.  Although we were not certain of what to expect, the students did an EXCELLENT job.  In total they collected about 20 ten-minute interviews with their parents and community leaders.
  • Back in Memphis where Elizabeth is living for two years as a graduate student at the University of Memphis and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program, she transcribed the oral histories and created the text for  La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores.  We are now selecting photos and laying out the book that will go to the printer in the next two weeks.
  • On July 26th, we will deliver a first press run to families in the village to get their feedback to assure a balanced representation of points-of-view.  Armed with that additional community input, we will print a revised and expanded edition and produce a Quechua/Spanish language DVD.  The community can then decide if they wish to use sales from the books as a source of income from trekkers and other visitors who pass through their community on their way to the Huascarán National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

We aim for this model to be replicated in other small villages throughout the region.  In fact, the school teachers who initially expressed the need for the local history have asked that we follow them on their teaching assignments to the other 30 or so small villages in the Huaylas Province to assist in similar oral history projects.

If you agree with me that the oral history project is an exciting and innovative means to inform and educate rural communities about their rich cultural heritage, I ask that you consider making a donation to PIARA to help fund this stage of the project.  We are optimistic about future funding, and have received some grant support already, but are in need of immediate contributions to complete this first stage.  Your consideration of making a donation to PIARA in any amount, large or small, is greatly appreciated.

Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City

June 1, 2015

PP-bookPoverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City by Jenny Ellerbe and Diana Greenlee (2015, Louisiana State University Press) contains a set of photographs and essays on the 3500 year old prehistoric earthwork complex in northeast Louisiana, U.S., a recently designated World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The book is a model for how to engage multiple audiences with information about an archaeological site.

Here is what you get in the 132 page volume:

  • About 100 photographs of the earthworks and artifacts taken over the last three years by northeast Louisiana native Jenny Ellerbe.  As a fine art photographer, her images are creative, technically superb, and convey a strong sense of place.  The total corpus of photographs provides a striking and comprehensive presentation of the physical site.  Ms. Ellerbe is an accomplished artist.
  • Nearly 20 maps and figures that both contextualize the Ellerbe photographs and provide LIDAR, topographic, and other locational information for the site complex.  These images include site location, intra-site organization, mound form, and prehistoric raw material resources.
  • In addition to images, each of the nearly 20 chapters contains essays by Ellerbe and Greenlee.  Ms. Ellerbe writes from the perspective of a local resident fascinated with the prehistory of the region.  As a lifelong resident of the region, she provides a critically important narrative about the place of Poverty Point that cannot be told and is simply not known by the archaeological community.  Her perspective reflects a cultural heritage value that if adopted by Louisiana’s elected officials will lead to investing the necessary resources to preserve and present the Poverty Point earthworks in a manner appropriate to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The essays by Diana Greenlee complete the presentation in a rather unique way.   Dr. Greenlee is the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point who has accomplished considerable scholarly research at the site over the past decade, including the World Heritage Site designation.  For this book, her writing style is not that of a peer-reviewed journal, but is precisely the tone and content appropriate for a broader audience.  Dr. Greenlee provides an ideal model for engaging the public in the science of her discipline.  For example, she gives a complete and understandable account of the remote sensing investigations of the large circular features in the plaza of the earthwork.  She details the physical difference between a posthole and a postmold and explains the interpretive significance of the distinction.  A two-page glossary includes entries for artifact, LIDAR, radiocarbon dating, pump drill and more.  Perhaps most refreshing is that Dr. Greenlee speaks with the authority of her position, but also leaves room for speculation and further questions.  For example, she notes that many refer to the large Mound A as the Bird Mound, though she sees a mushroom (which I agree) but concludes “There is no way to know, though, if that’s what the builders of Mound A intended.  We can only speculate” (p. 59).  Or consider her reporting on recent research that suggests Mound A was built in 90 days.  She fairly presents the researchers’ claims, but notes she remains skeptical.  She writes “I think that additional research, looking at more or different samples, could shed light on the issue.  This is how science works and knowledge advances.  You have a question, you collect the data necessary to answer the question . . . Often, answering one question raises other questions” (p. 60).  How incredibly refreshing and such an instructive and inviting representation of archaeological research!

I thoroughly enjoyed Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City.  The photos are beautiful and instructive.  The text illustrates the value of the earthwork from multiple perspectives in a manner that will be enjoyed and appreciated by the general public and the archaeological community.  Jenny Ellerbe and Diana Greenlee do not talk to separate audiences but to all audiences – an impressive accomplishment and a true model for how archaeological research can be presented to maximize its value.

The $39.95 LSU Press price ($28.45 at amazon.com) is the only drawback from a wide distribution of the volume.  Hopefully, a less expensive paperback will be forthcoming.

Also, as full disclosure, I served as the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point from 1996 – 2003, but I don’t get anything from the sale of the books. :)

 

Bob Dylan, 2015

May 29, 2015

FullSizeRenderA few weeks ago, on April 30 to be exact, I went to a Bob Dylan concert here in Memphis.  Over the years I have seen Dylan 4 times, and will use about any good excuse to go – this time – a birthday present for a friend, and for another friend from Peru, well she had never seen or really even heard of Dylan before her current graduate school gig here in the States.

The last time I saw Dylan was also here in Memphis a couple of years ago.  That concert was absolutely magic.  His back-up band was fantastic.  Dylan was quite animated and engaged, singing the old and new.  I still have the image of him singing Ballad of a Thin Man, standing alone center stage with only a harmonica, gesturing and swaying as he told that story.

So, of course this time I was looking for a similar experience.  I had listened enough to his newest release Shadows in the Night to realize this was as different as his earlier Christmas album from a few years back.  Seems there are plenty of naysayers about Bob Dylan these days.  On the ticket website for the concert one person commented that they were not going to pay big bucks to hear Dylan sing Frank Sinatra – a position one could compare perhaps to Dylan’s electric controversy in 1965.

The April 30 concert was again magic, but different.  With the exception of Blowing in the Wind, the oldest song he played was Tangled Up in Blue that only goes back to 1975.  Most of the material was far more recent, such as multiple cuts from the recent Tempest album.  There was no Maggie’s Farm or the like this time around.

Perhaps most striking about the performance was that once again Dylan was completely engaged in the storytelling.  And I have commented to anyone who wanted to listen – I could not believe how strong and full his voice was that night and at the age of 74!  He closed the concert with Autumn Leaves from the Shadows in the Night album.  Incredible cover of this classic song.

If Bob Dylan is rolling through your town, and you are interested in experiencing the most recent incarnation of the music legend, you will not be disappointed.

 

Autumn Leaves

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hand I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hand I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Written by Jacques Prévert

 

AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service

May 26, 2015
Delta5

Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa (R.Connolly on right)

Anyone who has follows this blog knows that as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I am a big fan of AmeriCorps NCCC.  Over the past few years we hosted four eight-week teams.  AmeriCorps NCCC is integral to the C.H. Nash Museum’s outreach to the Southwest Memphis community.  Besides writing about the Teams on this blog, I recently published an article on the experience with Ana Rea, a former NCCC Team leader.

This past month the C.H. Nash Museum worked with the City of Memphis in hosting the Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  We are currently discussing with the city administrators future partnerships to sponsor AmeriCorps Teams.  I am excited that this new partnership will expand the Museum’s collaboration with the City of Memphis and result in increased service opportunities to the underserved in our neighborhood.

The Delta 5 Team was in Memphis just a short five weeks this past spring but accomplished a great deal.  In work coordinated through the City of Memphis, the Team:

  • built four community gardens in city “food deserts” and hosted engagement days at the locations
  • worked with members from the community at Ruth Tate senior center to build a garden
  • cleaned 13 public pools in preparation for summer
  • power washed 40 pavilions in public parks
  • refurbished a wrought iron fence around the Ed Rice community center pool.

Team member Falicia Forward noted that:

The community engagement aspects of the work we’ve done have been the most rewarding. In particular, it was very gratifying to work alongside the seniors at Ruth Tate Senior Center. They really took ownership of the garden, almost before it was even built. In other areas, we interacted with the community as individuals approached the team to inquire about our work. From day one, I felt very connected to the communities we were serving.

delta5-atlatl

Team member Sarah Raposa throwing darts with an atlatl

In the short one week at the C.H. Nash Museum the Team:

  • prepared our Urban and Three Sisters Gardens for spring planting and performed maintenance tasks on the sweetgrass bed, herb garden and nature trail.
  • built several cabinets and tables for our upgraded hands-on archaeology lab
  • processed several thousand prehistoric artifacts curated from past excavations at the Chucalissa site
  • and of course, tried their hand at throwing darts with an atlatl.

AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are well-suited for  a diverse set of cultural heritage projects, particularly those that involve the local community.  For more information on the application process – whether to host a Team or joining if you are between 18 – 24 – contact AmeriCorps NCCC.

Archaeological Outreach in the Mississippi Delta

May 18, 2015

Mehta headshotThis week’s post features an interview with Jayur Mehta who is completing his doctoral studies at Tulane University in New Orleans.  His dissertation work focuses on the Carson Mound group near Clarksdale, Mississippi.  I first met Jayur several years ago when he was employed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  I have followed his blog for the past several years and found his most recent post on community outreach  and service learning in his field work to be quite interesting.  Jayur’s work is an excellent example of using the college classroom as an opportunity for students to employ an applied archaeology approach to community and cultural heritage development.  Below is an interview with Jayur where he touches on these issues.

 Please tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in community outreach?

My entire archaeological career was born out of community outreach. When I was 16 years old, I was fortunate enough to participate in an East Carolina University sponsored summer camp, and during that camp, we spent 2 weeks digging at Fort Neoheroka, a Tuscarora village and stronghold built in the early 18th century. This experience fundamentally played a role in my life and career, and I would not be an archaeologist today if it were not for the East Carolina University archaeology summer program. I did not get the opportunity to engage in any community outreach until I was in my mid-20s and working for Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). It started with short public lectures at small, rural libraries, and my outreach efforts culminated at MDAH in a day-long archaeology fair/expo I helped to organize.

How do you integrate community outreach in your archeological or cultural heritage projects?

I work with community partners who are local to where I do my research. In trying to figure out how best to “do” community outreach, I realized I needed to know people in the community and what their needs actually were. I was introduced to some of the leaders of the Griot Youth Program, a non-profit dedicated to arts education, and we quickly developed a rapport that allowed us to collaborative decide how best to bring their high-school aged students together with my college students to not only learn archaeology, but also to make garden boxes and assist with the Griot summer programming.

What is the reaction to your University students who participate in public outreach projects as part of their field season.

Most of my students have really enjoyed doing service projects, whether for archaeology or environmental studies. In our post-service reflection sessions, I have noticed that students like talking and collaborating with other students who are older or younger, and they enjoy sharing information they have learned. Occasionally I’ll get the recalcitrant student but, in general, they are eager to participate in activities that are outside of the classroom and relevant to the content of the course. I think this is the most important element of outreach and service learning – any and all activities should be related to the mission statement of the course.

 How has your public outreach evolved over the past few years?

My public outreach was initially formulated while working for a state agency, not as a college professor, so my early outreach efforts entailed speaking with an incredibly broad public audience. Whether in lectures, artifact “show and tells”, or in archaeology fairs, archaeology was the focus. Now however, I teach archaeology and environmental studies to students, and my outreach efforts are focused on bringing students into contact with communities and community partners. It has been an exciting shift in focus – I like working with a specific and captive population and tailoring my pedagogy to their needs, which I can predictably anticipate because of our daily classroom interactions.

 What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach or community engagement?

I can think one very successful and recent outreach event. Last summer, one of my students from the field school became particularly enamored of the Griot Youth Program and wanted to do something good for them. Given they are an arts focused non-profit, he wanted to help them with their programming infrastructure. When he approached me after the class and said he wanted to do something for them, I helped with identifying grants he could write for the Griot Youth Program. Unfortunately, these proved to be too time consuming. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise – instead, my student and I organized a fund-raising concert that provided enough funds for the Griot Youth Program to buy a new PA system. While this service work was not directly related to the course, my student met these partners through the course and he identified his own path to helping my community partners. I think he did a lot of good here, and I’m very proud of his efforts!

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned from your educational and outreach program?

In general, I think it is that small groups work the best, regardless of the kinds of activities taking place. I like giving one on one attention to folks or at the least, engaging with them in small groups. Lecture is a great way to target a large group of individuals but lectures are only so stimulating. This brings me to my other point, which is that outreach, education, and service do not happen in a vacuum. You need people at your side helping with outreach and service and you need partners to participate and help guide your outreach work. Ideally, outreach and service are reciprocal between community and educator – for this collaboration to be effective, good working friendships are important.

What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle in developing effective educational outreach?

At the end of the day, outreach and service learning should not just be an “extension” of the fields in which we operate. Instead, service should be a fundamental component by which lessons are taught. This is very difficult to implement and requires a fair bit of planning and hard work. Sometimes, and I feel this often, it is easier to lecture or to teach concepts outside of a community-oriented context. The challenge is to make yourself, and your students, care about the well-being of communities in which they living.

The idea of working on development projects with the host community that are not related to immediate research interests seems somewhat of a recent development for archaeologists. What got you interested in adding this component?

While the arts programming that is the focus of the Griot Youth Program is not necessarily related to archaeology, I think it is related to the overall mission of academia and of the liberal arts, which is to provide individuals with the necessary tools to build a future, to help others, and to have a complex and historical understanding of human society. By working with underprivileged youth in the Mississippi Delta, my students learn about another sector of society and become familiar with the needs and wants of humans they may never otherwise encounter. These meetings and relationships are important if scholars and academics are going to effectively work towards building a more verdant and equitable future for all of society. I do service and outreach in my classes because I want students and communities-in-need to get together and to collaboratively find solutions to problems, whatever they may be. In the end, I want my students to know that the world and its problems are in their hands and that they have to find ways to address them. I want them to be citizens and active agents of equity. I believe through service and outreach, I am helping to put them on this path.

Do you have any words of wisdom for archaeological and museum professionals to enhance their outreach work?

Talk! Always engage with strangers about your work and make friends in your community. I decided that service learning and outreach would be important in Clarksdale because I was tired of going there every summer and making random friends in bars, only to forget them by next summer. If archaeological heritage is to be preserved and cared for, it is up to us not only to do the research, but also to help others understand why a mound, creek bed, or field are important cultural resources that should be preserved.

 

Jayur Mehta can be contacted at jmehta(at)tulane.edu

 

The Importance of Amateur Archaeologists

May 4, 2015

ClaiborneLast week I participated in a forum about professional archaeologists working with “amateur” or “avocational” archaeologists. The session, “Cons or Pros: Should Archaeologists Collaborate with Responsible Collectors?” was organized by Michael Shott and Bonnie Pitblado at the Society for American Archaeology meetings held in San Francisco. In their introductory comments at the session both organizers emphasized the need for a cordial and respectful discussion, perhaps anticipating a polarized response to the question. This concern reflects a comment made by a professor of mine in graduate school who stated “There is no such thing as an amateur archaeologist. Would you go to an amateur brain surgeon?” To which my immediate response at the time and today is something like – Give me a break!

The session organized by Michael and Bonnie went off without a hitch. Solid and important questions were raised such as the ethics of working with collectors who obtained their materials through legal but less than desirable circumstances and the problem of repositories bursting at the seams with cultural materials mitigating against taking on more artifacts, regardless of context (see excellent comments by Robert Janes on this issue). But all participants in the session noted the important role that “amateur” archaeologists played over the years and recognized the need to fully embrace and acknowledge that contribution today.

The discussion caused me to reflect on several points:

  • A quote I have referenced several times over the years in this blog was from my first field school instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why they should be funding this site museum and excavations, then you might as well go home.” Pat’s comment flowed from her belief in the need for accountability in research on public lands and in recognition that almost all archaeology, whether through CRM, private foundation, or outright public financing, ultimately is funded through tax dollars paid, or not paid in the case of charitable contributions.
  • I published an article a couple of years ago on the surface collections from the Poverty Point site. The majority of the collection was made by Carl Alexander, an avocational/amateur archaeologist. Carl recorded the ridge and sector of the artifacts he collected over a 30-year period when the site remained in row crop, prior to purchase by the State of Louisiana in the early 1970s.  In 2014 Poverty Point was designated a World Heritage Site.  Today, Carl Alexander’s surface collections account for at least half of what we know about the material culture of the site. Interpretations based on his collections continue to be instrumental in guiding today’s professional research efforts.
  • During my tenure as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site I gave archaeology month presentations at the public library in Belzoni, Mississippi, just down the road from the Poverty Point culture Jaketown site. The first year I spoke in Belzoni I talked about the spatial distribution of artifact types noted by Carl Alexander at the Poverty Point site. I asked the farmers in attendance if they noted similar patterns where different types of artifacts were recovered at Jaketown. Heads nodded. The second year I spoke in Belzoni, the same farmers talked about the artifact distributions they noted over the previous year. Today, there is a small museum in Belzoni composed of collections donated by those farmers.
  • I first ran into Jerry Pankow sometime in the early 2000s. He had come to the Poverty Point site to discuss his “amateur” archaeology excavations at the Poverty Point culture Claiborne site in Hancock County Mississippi. Jerry and members of the Mississippi Archaeological Association diligently conducted excavations at this major Poverty Point culture site as bulldozers destroyed the site for a construction project. Jerry showed me his detailed field notes of 5 x 5 ft. units excavated through midden deposits at the site. He recorded cultural materials in arbitrary 5-inch levels, providing an excellent stratigraphic profile on stylistic and material culture change through time – a point of critical importance interpretively for the Poverty Point culture.  In fact, these temporal markers were first documented by another avocational archaeologist, Clarence Webb, a pediatrician from Shreveport, Louisiana. When I first met Jerry he wanted to publish his notes. Jerry was quite insistent on how the material should be published and could not come to an agreement with any of the regional journals. He self-published a brief 35 page xeroxed pamphlet. While preparing my comments for the 2015 SAA meeting session, I discovered that in 2014, Jerry had expanded the original publication to double the length, again self-published but now available through amazon.com. I got a copy and am impressed. I am hopeful of getting hold of Jerry to convince him to publish his tabular data.

My experiences with avocational/amateur archaeologists lead me to several conclusions:

  • First, the contributions of avocational/amateur archaeologists for understanding the Poverty Point culture of the Southeast is a critically important part of the total corpus of knowledge that exists about that prehistoric culture today.
  • Second, concerns over looting of archaeological resources, the commodification of this country’s cultural heritage, and a lack of public funding for archaeological research are all concerns expressed by the professional archaeological community. We are well-served to embrace the avocational community who have a proven track record and can develop the grass-roots support to address these issues.
  • Third, the premier professional archaeological organization in the U.S. is the SAA – the Society for American Archaeology, not the Society for Americana Archaeologists. In noting this distinction we are reminded that the interests of the discipline are appropriately placed before the self-interest of the practitioners.
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