My Best Archaeology Post – Damned if I Know

bandWe enter the third month of Doug’s Archaeology blogging carnival that leads up to the Blogging in Archaeology session at the Society for American Archaeology 2014 meetings in Austin.  To review, Doug poses a question each month to which folks respond.  Doug then summarizes the individual posts at the end of the month, and posts the set of links.  The carnival and SAA session have the hashtag #blogarch.

For January Doug posed:

reflect on what you consider your best post(s) and why that is. Also, think about what others might think is your best post however you want to measure that (views? comments? etc.).  Then share your thoughts.

My answer is not very straightforward but here goes:

  • My post with the largest number of hits is Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job.  I wrote this post in part out of frustration from reading recent graduates and professors in both museum studies and anthropology write there were no jobs out there, etc.  As I noted in the post, I recognize that, yes, times are tough, but students can be proactive to enhance employment possibilities upon graduation.  In general, I don’t think those of us in academia spend enough time mentoring students in this process.  At the same time, students often feel that with degree in hand, they are entitled to a job of their choice.  I hoped that my post could bring some productive discussion to the issue.  Given the overwhelming positive feedback I received in blog comments and in emails the post proved helpful to many.
  • My post with the next highest number of hits is the one in which I am most personally invested – End of An Era in Louisiana Archaeology.  Louisiana is where I learned what applied archaeology and cultural heritage studies were all about.  My colleagues in the Louisiana Division of Archaeology – Tom Eubanks, Nancy Hawkins, Duke Rivett, Chip McGimsey, Joe Saunders, Jeff Girard, George Avery, Chris Hays, and others were some of the finest colleagues I have ever known.  The dedication these folks poured into the cultural resources of Louisiana over the years was truly phenomenal.  The current short-sighted economic agenda of Louisiana lawmakers ushered in the dismantling of the Regional and Station Archaeology Program.  But as I noted in that post “Though the Regional Archaeology Program may be gone, the 20 years of work by Tom Eubanks, Nancy Hawkins, and all of my archaeological colleagues in the state will surely result in new and innovative directions for the preservation and presentation of the rich cultural heritage of Louisiana.”  That is the challenge for us in the 21st century and the primary reason I created this blog in the first place.
  •  Now here is where the challenge of “best post” gets interesting – my public outreach type posts do reasonably well in terms of views.  They are the bread and butter of this blog over the past three years.  Like my interview with the three co-founders of South Carolina Archaeology Public Outreach Division last week, or posts on my recent collaborative work with PIARA in Hualcayán, Peru I enjoy that blogging is a venue for sharing and learning from others in the public outreach arena.  However, the series of posts I consider the most important are the ones that are generally down in the bottom 25 percentile of hits – those that deal with open source and digital technology such as Wikipedia and Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.  They are important posts because I believe the issues are critically relevant as we move more toward open authority and user-generated content.   In archaeology, I don’t see a lot of other discussion on these points.

As I think about the challenge of determining “best” posts, I realize that in a certain respect, I evaluate blog posts in the same way I approach my “regular” peer-reviewed publications.  I write and publish about what is of interest to me or I perceive of value to others.  Some of those pieces get a reasonable circulation because they are popular and more in the mainstream of discussion.  I also try to publish in some venue the research projects where I collect data so that for even a limited number of interested folks, the information is available.   For example, if you are a fan of Warren K. Moorehead, I recently posted transcriptions I made of a set of his field notes and journals along with a portion of Jacob Walters’ journal that contains the first written account of the Poverty Point site of which I am aware.

New Opportunities with International Archaeology Day

Hualcayán, Peru

This year, the Archaeological Institute of America’s National Archaeology Day has become International Archaeology.  The event will occur this coming Saturday, October 19th.  This year’s 200 collaborating organizations are hosting an impressive array of activities ranging from special exhibitions and presentations at the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia to Family Day Activities at the Bosque Museum in Clifton Texas.  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we made an intentional decision this year to focus on what we do best for International Archaeology Day – our basic programming and activities.  If you are in the Memphis area, stop by on the 19th.

International Archaeology Day is also an opportunity to reflect on the state of the discipline in 2013.  Today, archaeologists often face an uphill battle to convince elected officials in the United States of the discipline’s worth.  Popular media such as Antiques RoadshowAmerican Digger, and American Pickers continue to focus on commodification of cultural heritage – how old is it? is it real? and how much is it worth?  In typical “What is Archaeology” classroom presentations, presenters often need to clarify that archaeologists do not dig up dinosaurs nor are the missions of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft typical job descriptions in our profession.  And, as I posted recently about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, we see effective programs on the chopping block for public funding.

Are we winning or losing the battle for the presentation and preservation of cultural heritage?

Consider that two of the better known state archaeology programs that appear to be thriving, at least relatively speaking, are those of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  One of the things that these two organizations do exceptionally well is public outreach.  The Survey in conjunction with the Arkansas Archeological Society  holds an annual certification program for avocational archaeologists, where the public have the opportunity to be trained in a range of field and other research methods by the professional community.  Although I am confident that many professionals will scoff at or be outright offended at such practices, a review of the program points to the very real contribution the certification has made in Arkansas.  In Florida, FPAN also offers several programs for the public such as the Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) that actively engage communities in the process of preservation.

These programs go beyond passive lectures or hands on activities to fully engage the public in an active learning and participatory process.  This trend of an active or participatory engagement is particularly strong in the museum   The Paul Hamlyn Foundation in the United Kingdom has developed excellent models for direct engagement in museums and working with collections.  The Connecting to Collections Online Community here in the United States  archives several webinars that explore involving the public in preservation tasks through direct collections work, oral history interviews and other methods.

A distinct difference in the above programs and what I have considered community outreach for much of my career is the direct engagement of the public in the process.  That is, instead of a lecture, the above programs engage in a dialogue where the public become a true part of a participatory process.  The participation is not simply for the sake of a hands-on experience, but one where the public become stakeholders in the process of presenting and preserving their cultural heritage.  In this way, museum exhibits and other cultural heritage presentations move from being about the community to being of the community.

Consider how such an engagement might work based on a recent article about a five-year process at the C.H. Nash Museum:

Finally, we consider the relevance of our cultural institution to the community of prime importance. We believe that if in 2007 we had asked the residents of Southwest Memphis what the C.H. Nash Museum meant to them, in all likelihood, their response would have focused on how some of “our children visit for school field trips and Chucalissa is where the Indian Mounds are located.”  If we ask that question today, we hope the response will include “Chucalissa is the place where there is an exhibit on the cultural heritage of our community; where there is a resource center on our community history; the place where we hold our Black History Month celebrations; where our traditional foods garden was planted last year; where the AmeriCorps Teams that work in our community live; and also where the Indian Mounds are located.”

I will add that all of those products were co-created by the Westwood Community and the C.H. Nash Museum.  We hope to use International Archaeology Day on October 19 to explore more possibilities for being relevant and engaging with the public to whom our museum serves.

Two years I posted about the opportunity of using National Archaeology Day as a response to shows like American Digger.  This year’s International Archaeology Day is again an excellent opportunity to actively engage with the public who will ultimately decide the fate of the world’s cultural heritage presentation and preservation.

A Simple Yet Effective Advocacy Opportunity

walker art

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has designated August 10 – 17 as Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week.  The AAM notes that this “work period” is an excellent opportunity to have legislators visit museums to see the role of U.S. cultural heritage institutions as a public resource for education and engagement.  This year, the AAM posted a 12-step guide for arranging the visits from the initial invite to thanking the official for their participation.  This advocacy event is a simple yet effective means for communicating with the individuals who vote on the funding for many of the programs that support our work.

For example, at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we benefit directly from the Institute of Museum an Library Service (IMLS) programs, an agency that in the past few years has been considered by some as providing services that are not “core” to the Federal Government.  However, for Chucalissa the IMLS services are essential to our operation.

Three years ago we received a Connecting to Collections Bookshelf Award that provided over $500.00 worth of best practices literature on a range of museum operations.  Our staff regularly consult these books for everything from determining pest control standards to digitizing photos.

Over the past three years we participated in both the Institutional and Collections Stewardship components of the Museum Assessment Program (MAP).   We applied to take part this fall in the Community Outreach component.  Our participation in MAP is essential to our development as an institution.  Again, based in the best practice expertise of the IMLS and the AAM, for the MAP process we complete a self-assessment in the component area and are matched with an expert who completes an on-site peer review and evaluation.  At Chucalissa, the recommendations of our MAP reviewer proved crucial for the policies and standards we ultimately developed.  Our governing board has taken the MAP evaluations very seriously and provided the resources for implementation of key recommendations.  Today, our stakeholders recognize the C.H. Nash Museum for the renewed and essential role that we play in our community.  Without a doubt, the two federally funded programs noted above are critical to that success.

The above discussion leads me to ask: Is it the federal government’s responsibility to fund the administration of these types of projects, such as MAP and the Bookshelf award?  Are these truly essential services contrary to the House Budget Committee statements in the past year?   I argue emphatically yes.  Here is why:

First, museums by definition are nonprofit institutions, charged with presenting and preserving the cultural heritage of a community or interest.  That is, like schools and other government agencies, they operate for the community good.  For the MAP and Bookshelf examples I note above, organization and dissemination on the national level simply makes sense from both logistical and economic considerations.  The expertise that the national organizations such as the IMLS and AAM bring to the local community cannot and would not effectively be replicated locally.

Second, the MAP and Bookshelf programs provided our Museum with information and direction to run more efficiently from both mission and economic perspectives.  For example, our Institutional MAP provided insights to stream-line and focus the application of our mission.  In no small part because of our participation in the MAP program, our annual revenues have increased and we reduced our expenses.  We are now more “grant ready” to seek and receive added outside funding.  We have set a goal of creating an institution that going forward will be sustainable.

This leads to perhaps the most critical point for cultural heritage institutions today – the need to be relevant to the public we serve.  I do not believe the purpose for going to Museum Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. or inviting our elected officials to museums this August is just so we can ask for increased funding or protecting our economic self-interests.  Rather, these processes are first about building relationships so that our relevance to the public as cultural heritage institutions is understood.  The way I think this works is summarized in an article recently published about C.H. Nash Museum in the Museums and Social Issues journal:

We consider the relevance of our cultural institution to the community of prime importance. We believe that if in 2007 we had asked the residents of Southwest Memphis what the C.H. Nash Museum meant to them, in all likelihood, their response would have focused on how some of “our children visit for school field trips and Chucalissa is where the Indian Mounds are located.” If we ask that question today, we hope the response will include “Chucalissa is the place where there is an exhibit on the cultural heritage of our community; where there is a resource center on our community history; the place where we hold our Black History Month celebrations; where our traditional foods garden was planted last year; where the AmeriCorps Teams that work in our community live; and also where the Indian Mounds are located.”

So, if we ask ‘is the community more likely to vote for public funding and find relevance in our institution in 2007 or today,’ the answer is obvious.  Federally funded programs have helped us develop that relevance.  Telling that story of relevance to our elected officials allows them to have a complete picture not just to impact their funding decisions, but to become a part of the story they tell and highlight from their districts.

How will your cultural heritage institution take part in Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week? 

National Archaeology Day Celebration Activity Ideas

In preparation for National Archaeology Day at the C.H. Nash Museum we discussed the activities we wanted to make available to our visitors. In particular, we wanted to have effective programming for the young kindergarten through 8th grade (K-8) school age visitors.  Here we consider effective as those programs that will engage, educate, and entertain our young visitors about the importance of cultural heritage presentation and preservation.  The internet has a myriad of resources that meet this need, ranging from the simple to complex.  Here are a few:

  • One of my favorites, ArchaeologyLand, I experienced for the first time this past year at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting.  Drawing on skills of several educators, ArchaeologyLand was pulled together as a unit by Carol Ellick.  ArchaeologyLand focuses on themes of preservation and interpretation.  The program requires no high-tech equipment or skills.  All of the activities can be adapted to specific cultural regions.  In fact, this fall a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis will adapt ArchaeologyLand for a community outreach program in Peru about which I previously posted.
  • Another excellent resource is Poverty Point Expeditions by Debbie Buco, (though I might be biased as I consulted on the project).  Contextually based on the material culture of the Poverty Point site, Expeditions uses archaeology to teach a range of humanities, natural and social science skills.  Although some of the activities are more complex than ArchaeologyLand, none rely on highly technical skills or equipment.  Classroom Archaeology by Nancy Hawkins is also available as a pdf download from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology website.
  • The 2011 edition of Beyond Artifacts is available as a pdf download on the resource page of the Florida Public Archaeology Network. Besides a plethora of activities from simple to complex, Beyond Artifacts also has an extensive list of electronic resources on education in archaeology.
  • . . . and for a broad listing of possibilities, be certain to visit the Archaeology for the Public page of the Society for American Archaeology.
  • Finally, if you are looking for activities for the higher education or adult level, check out the book Archaeology to Delight and Instruct: Active Learning in the University Classroom edited by Heather Burke and Claire Smith.  “This collection of imaginative exercises designed by 20 master instructors on three continents, include role-playing, games, simulations, activities, and performance, all designed to teach archaeological concepts in interesting and engaging ways.”  I routinely use exercises from this book in my undergraduate and graduate level classrooms.  And I have one that we will give a try with the older crowd on National Archaeology Day at Chucalissa!

So  . . . if you are looking for a last-minute addition to your National Archaeology Day program, there is certainly something in the above links to suit your needs.

What are your favorite activities for effective public outreach in archaeology?

Before National Archaeology Day & the Day After

National Archaeology Day (NAD), October 20, 2012, is one month away.  Initiated by the Archaeological Institute of America, there are over 100 Collaborating Organizations for the 2012 events including the Society for American Archaeology, the 400 units of the National Park Service, many state agencies such as the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, along with a host of museums, universities and local archaeological societies.   Events are scheduled across North America with a few also planned in Europe and Australia.

I have posted before on the potential of National Archaeology Day as a tool for our discipline to educate and serve the public whose cultural heritage we present and preserve.  Advocacy and media specialists all will point to the importance of not just the event held on October 20th, but what we do before and after that day.  These experts will argue we must weave public outreach into the very fabric of the daily life of all cultural heritage professionals, not just something to be done at annual events.  Here are some ideas for public outreach based on projects we carried out at the C.H. Nash Museum:

  • Add your public officials and news media to your e-mail/newsletter list.  At Chucalissa, with every e-newsletter we send out, we receive requests from different news media for more information on an item they wish to promote.  Also, last week we received a voice mail from a state office holder to tell us he was retiring from office at the end of the year.  He wanted to give us his private email address to be certain he remained on our email list.  He noted he could still advocate for us through his contacts.  Interestingly, we added the official from a list we found on a web site the year before.  He had never contacted us before leaving the voice mail.  By being proactive, we developed an advocate we did not even know existed!
  • Prepare economic and educational impact statements for your cultural institution.  Here a is template for an educational impact statement and samples of economic impact statements available through the American Alliance of Museums that can be adapted for use by cultural heritage institutions.  These statements are invaluable not just for elected officials and funders but to let the general public know of the important role of an institution in the community.
  • Consider at least one public volunteer or participatory event per month.  I am always impressed by the programming at the Sunwatch Indian Village & Archaeological Park in Dayton Ohio.  Even with a small staff, they have made a long-term commitment to public events such as a monthly speaker series and Native American flute circles along with a vigorous volunteer program.  Here is an interview with Museum Director Andy Sawyer from a couple of years ago.  The lesson from Sunwatch and elsewhere is that successful and sustainable public programming must be grown over an extended period.
  • With National Archaeology Day coming up, commit to writing an op-ed piece for the local daily or weekly newspaper. NAD is an excellent opportunity to present to the public the important role of archaeology in the surrounding community.  As I discussed in a Labor Day blog post, having to explain the significance of that role allows us to better justify the public resources necessary to protect and present the cultural heritage of our communities.
  • Consider your public profile.  What do the public get if they Google the name of your museum or organization?  Is the information up-to-date?  Does the information tell the story and reflect the opportunities you want the public to know?  In the summer of 2009 at Chucalissa, we Googled our name and contacted the web sites of the first 40 hits to be certain all the information was correct.  We created a small press kit to send to them.  We were pleased that at the end of the summer, the top 20 search hits on our name contained complete up-to-date information about our Museum.  Now, in 2012, we find that we must redo the process.  Because internet contact is the first impression most of the public have with our institutions, accurate information is essential.
  • Finally, I am certain that many individuals who work at small institutions with a limited staff, or perhaps they are the only staff person, feel the simply do not have the time to take on any of the above tasks.  Last year our small staff of 4 logged around 8000 work hours at Chucalissa.  Another 8000 work hours came from students, volunteers, and community service learning projects.  An integral part of our museum are internships and applied class work from students at the University of Memphis.  Our Museum Studies graduate students complete two 150-hour internships at area museums where a mutually beneficial relationship takes place.   Consider contacting your local university to arrange internships or applied student projects for everything from website development, museum staffing, social media work, language translation of guides for non-English speakers, exhibit design and more.  Student support is an excellent mutually beneficial opportunity for all cultural heritage institutions to more effectively live into their educational mission and receive needed expertise.

How will you celebrate National Archaeology Day both before and after October 20th?

Recognizing the Role of Avocational Archaeologists

Carl Alexander circa 1960s sorting Poverty Point Objects

This week I am finishing up writing a long overdue article on surface collections from the Poverty Point site in northeast Louisiana that Louisiana Archaeology will publish this fall.  Poverty Point, nominated for a World Heritage Site listing, is one of the earliest examples of monumental architecture in the Americas.  The Louisiana Archaeology article will interpret the provenience of artifacts from surface collections on the six C-shaped concentric ridges that at their ends extend 1200 meters along the Bayou Macon.  The gist of the article is further demonstrating the socio-economic organizational complexity of the earthwork complex at 1800 B.C.  The material basis for the project comes from the surface collections of Carl Alexander, an avocational archaeologist who collected artifacts at Poverty Point over a 25-year period when the site remained in private hands prior to public ownership in the 1970s.  Alexander labeled the artifacts he collected with basic provenience information.  The article I am completing this week would not be possible without the more than 100,000 artifacts collected and provenienced by Alexander.

I discussed with the editor of Louisiana Archaeology that I wanted to highlight Carl’s role in the project more than in an acknowledgment at the end of the paper.  We agreed to place the paragraphs below in the article’s Introduction:

Before beginning the discussion of the artifact types, I wish to acknowledge the role of Carl Alexander in this article.  Simply put, were it not for his work at Poverty Point in the 1950s and 60s the data on which this article is based would not be available.  I don’t know Carl’s life details or his long-term passion for Poverty Point that kept him walking cotton fields year after year, picking up artifacts, and labeling where they came from by ridge and sector.  What I do know is that his persistence allows us today to provenience in excess of 100,000 artifacts he surface collected in order to interpret the organization of prehistoric activities across the ridge system at the site.  I believe the significance of Alexander’s contribution is equal to that of any other individual’s work or research project conducted at the site to date.  Were Mr. Alexander alive, I would list him as a co-author on this article.

I believe acknowledging the role of Alexander is of particular importance today.  In the era of television programs such as American Digger and Antique Roadshow where cultural heritage is first and foremost measured by economic value, Alexander reflects a different measure.  I found the same measure in conversation with Jerry Pankow, an avocational archaeologist who maintained meticulous field records and labeled artifacts from his salvage excavations at the Poverty Point culture Claiborne site in Hancock County Mississippi.  I find the same measure in my current employment as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa with the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society (MAGS).  Despite professional archaeological excavations in the late 1930s, the first published report on the Chucalissa site was written by an avocational archaeologist, William Beaudin.  He reported the first house excavation at the site conducted by MAGS, an avocational organization that formed in 1952 specifically based on interest in the Chucalissa site.  Today, MAGS continues to provide critical support for the operation of the C.H. Nash Museum.

Too often the role of nonprofessionals is selectively considered, focusing on poorly documented excavations, selling of artifacts, and other less than desirable activities.  For Alexander, I don’t know the details of how his collections were divided into the three components in the 1968, but I assume that there was some exchange of money.  I would not doubt that Alexander also sold other portions of his collections through time.  I suspect that is how the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa Oklahoma ended up with such a fine collection of Poverty Point materials labeled with Alexander’s ridge and sector designations.

I raise acknowledging avocational work in these introductory comments for two reasons.  First, I believe it is important to acknowledge those on whom one’s research is built.  Second, the three examples of avocational archaeology I note above are outstanding examples of making the discipline of archaeology relevant to the public who pay the salaries and fund the facilities that curate our nation’s archaeological collections.  Professionals must embrace these interests in a mutual collaboration, drawing on the strengths of all parties to further the preservation and presentation of our nation’s cultural heritage.  Carl Alexander’s dedication to and knowledge of the Poverty Point site and his willingness to share with the professional community continues to benefit us to this day, and beyond.

Today, many states in the U.S. have active programs where professional archaeologists work in concert with avocationals in training and research.    The Society for American Archaeology presents the Crabtree Award each year “to an outstanding avocational archaeologist  . . . (who) made significant contributions to advance understandings of local, regional, or national archaeology.”  As we move toward organizing events for National Archaeology Day on October 20th, we must be certain to include the contributions of the many Carl Alexanders to our discipline.

What positive avocational archaeology experiences do you have to share?

National Archaeology Day & Advocacy

A bunch of opportunities are in the air to conduct effective community outreach for both archaeology and museums. The Archaeology Institute of America’s  Second National Archaeology Day (NAD), October 20, 2012 is just four months away.  With over 50 collaborating organizations to date, including that 400 locations of the U.S. National Park Service, state agencies such as the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, the Alabama Archaeological Society, the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and professional organizations such as the Society for American Archaeology, the national scope of the celebration is an excellent opportunity to highlight the relevance of cultural heritage preservation and presentation in our country today.  The NAD blog has a list of all the events planned across the country to date for the October celebration.  The list is impressive and includes special tours of research labs, conferences, festivals, presentations and much more.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we are firming up our plans for NAD.  Thus far, we scheduled the opening of a newly constructed replica prehistoric residential house.  Along with tours, including our new Medicinal Plant Sanctuary, we will also have flintknapping, hide tanning, atlatl dart throwing demonstrations and hands-on activities for the entire family.

Beyond just hosting events, NAD is an opportunity to take part in a community awareness and outreach campaign over the next several months.  Those of us who work in small to medium-sized museums with limited budgets are often overwhelmed when trying to compete with the larger venues.  NAD is an opportunity to participate as equal partners in a national consortium of collaborating agencies.  In building for the event, here are some opportunities to consider:

Op-ed and News Media Articles – The American Association of Museums (AAM) celebrates a Museum Advocacy Day each year.  In building awareness for the event, the AAM encourages individual museums to write op-ed pieces for local news media.  The C.H. Nash Museum is not the biggest museum in Memphis by a long shot, but we are the only museum to take up this AAM challenge.  As a result in both 2011 and 2012 our staff wrote op-ed pieces published in Memphis’ daily newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, highlighting the important work of museums in our community.  Of course, we will submit an op-ed piece for National Archaeology Day, and use the national scope to promote cultural heritage awareness and our event.  The NAD’s national scope allows such media coverage not to be viewed as paid advertising but as feature stories that explore the important role our museum plays in archaeological research and preservation.

Elected Public Officials – This week, AAM President Ford Bell sent an email to all members announcing August 11 – 18 as Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum week.  Given the epidemic of budget cuts occurring in our country, President Bell wrote:

What will influence Congress the most as they make these tough budget choices?“According to a recent study, constituent visits have more influence than any other influence group or strategy. This ‘Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum’ event is the perfect opportunity for Congress to learn first-hand how museums provide essential community services. I urge every museum to participate in this event.

Our experience at Chucalissa shows that when we ask our elected officials to visit our museum, they respond with a very real interest in seeing how we are relevant to the electorate they represent.  NAD is an excellent opportunity to showcase that relevance in a nationally organized forum.  Consider using the summer recess period to connect with your public officials on both the national and local levels to talk about how you will tie into NAD activities and why archaeology is meaningful to the community they represent.

Word of Mouth – I am fond of saying all of this type of work is a process not an event.  I recollect from the movie What About Bob it’s all about taking baby steps.  I had an experience this past Friday that reflects this understanding.  First, especially when we are slow at the Museum, I am a sucker for taking any visiting young boy or girl outside to let them throw darts with an atlatl.  They always enjoy this activity. This past Friday I moderated two break-out sessions on prehistory at the Delta – Everything Southern Conference that featured my friend Sam Brookes.  Sam has forgotten more about the archaeology of the Mississippi Delta than I will ever know.  Each breakout session was attended by about 50 folks.  After the sessions, four separate individuals came up and thanked me for taking their children out to throw darts during their visit to the Museum.  Each person raved that their child/grandchild was thrilled with the opportunity and wanted to come back to the Museum for another session.  Here is the punch line on this.  I only recognized one of the four adults (granddaughter pictured above) but graciously acknowledged to all that providing the opportunity is what we are all about at the Museum – which is true.  The resulting word-of-mouth advertising from such encounters is often built one person at a time but is more effective than op-ed pieces or paid advertising.  Check a recent post in Colleen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone blog to explore the evolving priority of such word-of-mouth interactions over other forms of marketing.

National Archaeology Day is an incredible opportunity in our ongoing process of demonstrating the relevance of  our work in cultural heritage preservation and presentation.  We can tap into this national event to introduce new communities to the archaeological venues their tax dollars support.  After this introduction, these visitors can become our word-of-mouth ambassadors to their neighbors, and so on, and so on, and so on . . . it is truly a never ending process!

Education and Outreach at the Society for American Archaeology

This past week the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) held their Annual Conference here in Memphis, Tennessee.  The meeting provided a lot of great public education and community outreach discussions and resources.  Here are a few of those offerings:

On Wednesday, I attended the Project Archaeology Coordinators and Friends meeting.  Project Archaeology has created a series of curriculum guides that use archaeological inquiry to instruct on past and present cultures in social studies and science education.  A particularly intriguing discussion took place on Common Core Standards that are moving into the educational curriculum gap left by No Child Left Behind.  Project Archaeology curriculums are ideal for Common Core Standards that foster critical thinking skills.  The Project Archaeology webpage has information about training workshops for their curriculums.

On Saturday morning I attended the always enjoyable Archaeologyland hands-on activity.  The session consists of a series of both time-tested and new fun activities for youth that teach principles of archaeology research, preservation, and craft production.  The activities are easily transferred to the classroom or museum setting and require no prerequisite knowledge of archaeological methods.  The ArchaeologyLand link has pdf files for many of these innovative activities.

The Public Archaeology Interest Group (PAIG) of the SAA sponsored a symposium Public Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century.  In line with their goal to “serve all of those interested in public archaeology” the group intends to publish the session papers over the next several months in a blog form.  Given the success of this year’s symposium, at the PAIG meeting this past Saturday evening, members discussed for hosting an e-symposium/forum or possibly a poster session at next year’s SAA annual meeting.  Future session topics considered included the role of avocational archaeology and creating methods for evaluating the impact of public education programs.

The Public Education Committee (PEC) of the SAA also met and established several priorities for work in the coming year.  First, a subcommittee will begin working to update the Archaeology for the Public webpages.  Second, in a recent survey of the 50 state coordinators for public education in the SAA, respondents overwhelmingly expressed a desire to receive more regular communication on outreach and educational opportunities.  One tool the coordinators considered for disseminating such information was to revive the Archaeology and Public Education Newsletter.  Although popular, the Newsletter was discontinued several years ago because of increased production and mailing costs.  Today, newsletter distribution as pdf files is considered an economically feasible alternative.  The PEC also noted the need to review experiences with the 15-year old Boy Scout Archaeology Merit Badge and to consider recommending possible modifications to the Boy Scouts.

Finally, at the Annual Meeting the SAA formerly voted to support the Second Annual National Archaeology Day scheduled for October 20, 2012.  Initiated by the Archaeological Institute of America, and with five months to go before the actual event, the list of sponsoring organizations for 2012 is already double that of 2011.  Supporters include the National Park Service, thus allowing its 400 parks across the United States to feature special archaeology programs on October 20 through lectures, special exhibits, and other events.  National Archaeology Day is a perfect opportunity to highlight cultural heritage preservation issues.  You can register as a supporting organization and start planning to hold special activities.  The National Archaeology Day website has more information about the event.

Do you have an additional public education or outreach experience from the SAA meetings to share?