Tag: community service learning

Archaeological Outreach in the Mississippi Delta

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

 

Museum Practices and Co-Creation

I just returned from a quick trip to Peru to update work on a couple of projects. While in transit, I completed a paper that summarizes the past 7 years or so of co-creative work at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. The paper is part of a volume that Beth Bollwerk and I are editing for the Advances in Archaeological Practice journal based on a session we organized for the Society of American Archaeology annual meeting this past Spring. All of the above help solidify in my mind some lessons on co-creation.

My regular snippet quotes I use on co-creation include:

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

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

. . . the act of engagement with others who are trying to make decisions related to particular heritage resources. Erve Chambers 2004:194

Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. John Cotton Dana, The New Museum

That was the perspective taken by the 15 students enrolled in my Museum Practices graduate seminar this past semester at the University of Memphis as  they worked on projects for the Museo de Hualcayán, Peru that opened just this past summer. The students based their projects on the Peruvian community’s expressed needs. Some of the products included:

  • Strat plan

    SWOT and Strategic Plan

    A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis and five-year Strategic Plan created by Claudia Tullos-Leonard and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza. The plan responds directly to the community expressed need for cultural heritage, educational, and tourism opportunities in the rural Andean community. Claudia brought her considerable business expertise from the private sector and Elizabeth her five years of work in Hualcayán to create the plan.  The Peruvian community will take the next step to assess and refine the proposal.

  • A series of timeline banners for the newly opened Museum created by Christian Roesler and Mariah Selitsch. This past summer Hualcayán high school teacher Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio expressed the need for a resource that linked local, regional, and international events from prehistory to the present day. Christian and Mariah used their graphic and archaeological abilities to produce a series of six banners.
  • In a meeting this past summer, Leodan also expressed the need to document the history of the Hualcayán village.  He noted that the government issued textbooks covered national and even regional Peruvian history but contained no information on the local community. (This situation is very similar to my experience in Southwest Memphis that prompted an oral history project in that neighborhood.) For Hualcayán, Lacy Pline and Merrileigh Rutherford created a proposal to install a complete oral history program and station to both record and view collected interviews – all at a cost of under $1500.00! They drew on their research interests coupled with internships at the National Civil Rights Museum where a similar program was conceived. I have posted before about the oral history program launched this past fall in Hualcayán.
  • huarasfinal-spanish

    One of six Timeline Banners

    The website and other social media outlets for Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) were completely revamped and upgraded to reflect current best practices by Remi Chan and Brooke Garcia. Although not an expressed community need, the upgrade does allow for a more effective communication of activities in Hualcayán and prepares for anticipated internet capabilities for village residents.

  • Other completed projects by the Museum Practices students included a marketing plan for the Women of Hualcayán craft artisans, a short video on the importance of archaeology preserving cultural heritage, a follow-up to the successful quipu project from this past summer, and several school lesson plans for use in the coming year.

My takeaway on why these projects have value are several:

  • The activities foster reciprocal relationships where the needs and interests of the community/students/archaeologists/museum professionals are equally supported and valued. Creating the noted products is not possible without the full participation of all partners. All partners expressed needs benefit equally.
  • As an applied anthropologist, I seek to address real world concerns beyond the walls of the academy and present that perspective to my students. In end of the semester evaluations, Museum Practices students consistently report that creating something that lives in the real world is a highlight of the class.
  • Coupled with the above, the created products follow best practices for the rural Peruvian context. The completeness and professionalism the students brought to their projects was no different from had they created products for a major metropolitan museum in the U.S.
  • Co-creation enhances the stakeholder role of all participants for a long-term commitment to the process.

Next week I will post on the January trip to deliver the products to the community in Peru.

 

Co-creation & #MuseumsrespondtoFerguson

bl hist

Veterans of the U.S. military attending Black History Month event at the C.H. Nash Museum, 2012.

Spearheaded by Gretchen Jennings, a timely Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events has circulated on the internet over the past few weeks with follow-up Twitter discussions at #MuseumsrepondtoFerguson.  Much of the discussion on this subject addresses the disconnect between museums and the communities they are meant to serve.  (Note: I use “community” to include the spatial and other demographic dimensions of the term.)

A key component for museums to engage with communities to address issues such as Ferguson, or any issue for that matter, is to be at least perceived as a stakeholder and social asset of the affected community.  If a museum is divorced from and does not reflect the community needs, there is no reason for that community to consider proclamations around Ferguson or racial justice as anything other than a jailhouse conversion.  I suggest that the community engagement process must be in place long before the events such as Ferguson occur.

John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement is fitting: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”¹  In 2002, Ellen Herzy asked “How do we encourage museum professionals, trustees, and volunteers to engage with community in open and useful ways, as civic leaders but also as community members . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”² More recently, Nina Simon articulates that co-creative relationship in a call for museums “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.”³

My takeaway from the above include:

  • Co-creative processes are not museums functioning for the community but with the community.  The distinction necessitates having a recognized and committed stake in the community’s expressed needs.
  • The co-creative process must be part of the normative operation of the museum, not just in crisis situations.  This distinction necessitates a museum to have a long-term commitment and co-creative action plan.

The Incluseum challenges to think of  “What “right now” actions can museums do to show solidarity?”  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, Tennessee, we are emerging from a half-century of either ignoring or having a very limited engagement with the community surrounding our museum that is 95% African-American.  Based on my admittedly limited experience, I offer the following:

  • Hosting Black History month events provide an excellent opportunity for a museum to be of service to the African-American community.  In February of 2015, such events can provide a forum for a discussion of racial justice and other issues raised by Ferguson.  Over the past five years at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we have moved from a co-creative Black History month event to one where our museum serves as a host per Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum model.
  • The C.H. Nash Museum sponsors and helps coordinate multiple community service learning projects that form a bridge between the community and museum. Our concept of community service learning aligns with Kronick et al where the museum “listens to the concerns of the group or person, lets the ‘other’ define the situation, and responds by trying to meet that need. In listening and learning, receiving and giving, the service-learning relationship is horizontal, lateral, parallel. It is not hierarchal”
  • Today is the day a museum can begin a long-term commitment to the process.  In so doing, museums will be better able to organically respond to current and future issues affecting the communities in which we serve.

A summary of our experience in community engagement at the C.H. Nash Museum is presented in this article.

¹ John Cotton Dana, The New Museum (Woodstock: Elm Tree Press, 1917), 38.

² Elizabeth Hirzy, Mastering Civic Engagement: A Report from the American Association of Museums.  In, AAM (Ed.), Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums (pp. 9-20).  Washington, DC: American Alliance of Museums.

³ Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum (Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0, 2010), 187.

4 R.F. Kronick, R.B. Cunningham, and M. Gourley, Experiencing Service Learning (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press) p. 23.

AmeriCorps, Archaeology, and Service

River-2

River 2 Team (l-r) Chassie Nix, Cindy Robertson, Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson, Katelyn Tharp, Linda Nag, and Chelsea Crinson

The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is hosting our 5th AmeriCorps Team through November 12, 2014. I have posted several times in the past about the role these exemplary youth play in cultural heritage and community engagement in Southwest Memphis.   The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program is a ten month volunteer commitment for 18-24 year olds who assist in disaster relief and other areas of community service. The River 2 AmeriCorps NCCC Team we now host is an all women construction team based at the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, MS.  The Team is made up of one team leader and five corps members.

Team Leader Chassie Nix is from Amory, Mississippi.  She has completed higher education coursework in political science with a desire to get into Mississippi politics in the future. She joined AmeriCorps to make a difference in the community and better understand the day-to-day life of people from diverse backgrounds.

Chelsea Crinson is from Sterling Heights, Michigan.  She joined Americorps after feeling the pull to do more after participating in a 2013 project that helped with ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  She joined Americorps to continue what she loves. Chelsea is a pastry school graduate, but plans to further her passion for helping people by working for a non-profit after her November AmeriCorps graduation.

Katelyn Tharp is from Knoxville,Tennessee.  She joined Americorps to gain new experiences, meet new people and see the south in a way she never had before. Katelyn is looking forward to starting at Aveda Institute Beauty School after the AmeriCorps program along with getting certified as a Zumba instructor.

Linda Nag is from Portland, Maine.  She joined Americorps to help people in low income communities and to build her resume. Linda became a Certified Nursing Assistant and Medical Assistant during her previous term in Job Corps.  After graduating from AmeriCorps Linda will continue her education by studying for a B.S. in Nursing.

Cindy Robertson is from Kings Mountain, North Carolina.  She came to AmeriCorps  to help in low income communities and be a role model for youth. Like Linda, Cindy is a Certified Nursing Assistant who plans to further her education by going to school for nursing after the AmeriCorps program.

Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson is from New York City, New York.  She joined Americorps to devote her time to volunteer work, make a difference in children’s lives, and to travel and experience people and places she had never seen. Tatyana has an Associates Degree in Education. After her term with Americorps she plans to further her studies in education to become a school teacher.

handsonlab

The River Two Team is currently performing a complete renovation of the C.H. Nash Museum Hands-On Lab

During their six-week round in Southwest Memphis, the Team will complete a diverse set of projects.  Already they have spent one-week refurbishing trails and buildings at the T.O. Fuller State Park.  In the Walker Homes neighborhood they painted and landscaped the home of a disabled Vietnam-era veteran.  At Chucalissa they completed work on a 30 square foot pergola and built a second rain shelter along our nature trail.  For the next two weeks the team will work on refurbishing our hands-on archaeology lab.

The AmeriCorps NCCC motto of “We get things done” is true in many capacities.  Chucalissa’s AmeriCorps Teams have proven a key component in our Museum’s ability to play a role in the Southwest Memphis community.  In addition to hosting the Teams who contribute their work skills in a variety of community construction and renovation projects,  the young men and women of AmeriCorps participate in volunteer, youth mentoring, and other service projects.  Work with veterans organizations is of particular importance to team members.  Not just in Memphis, but throughout the U.S., AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are increasingly taking part in cultural heritage projects.

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC Teams visit their website.

Applied Archaeology: Two More Student Projects

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

I recently posted about my course Applied Archaeology and Museums and some of the student projects from the class.  Below are two more student projects of a different type.

Rachel Clark created a Wikispace page for the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  The purpose of the page is to serve as a place to post about internships, jobs, and general information related to the Program – all areas that students expressed a need for more information.  The Wikispace page will rely on student input for added information and maintenance.  This makes sense as the information is primarily intended to support student interests and needs.  Area museums seeking interns or job applicants can also post to the Wikispace.

The idea for the project floated around for a couple of years until a student took the responsibility to act.  Rachel conducted a series of interviews and surveys with her peers in the Program to decide appropriate content.  She also met with each faculty member in the Program to get their buy-in.  The page Rachael created is typical for Wikispace in being stylistically simple but with much data content.

The WikiSpace page will be promoted on the Museum Studies Program homepage as a student based project.  The WikiSpace page is also an experiment in user-generated content for the Program.  If the page is truly relevant to faculty, students, alumni, museum professionals, they will use, edit, and support the page.  If not, the page will go the way of the original Friendster.  Rachel has performed the first step in creating the framework based on peer and faculty survey and interview results.

Jordan Goss, a sophomore in History, conducted a survey and wrote a report on the public support and interest for a cultural heritage venue in her hometown of Marion, Arkansas.  Jordan did a particularly impressive job with the project.

She started the semester proposing to create an exhibit in the town high school on the cultural heritage of the area. Jordan was challenged with questions such as: Does anyone besides you want the exhibit?  Is the high school the best place for such an exhibit?  What will be the content of the exhibit?  She then decided to shift the focus of her project from creating an exhibit to determining the interest and feasibility for such an exhibit.

With guidance from Bernard’s Research Methods in Anthropology she created a survey.  She loaded the survey on Qualtrics (think Survey Monkey on steroids) for which she has free access as a University of Memphis student.  She promoted the survey through social media, mailed copies, and in person.  She also conducted semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Marion.  Finally she submitted and completed an Institutional Review Board proposal to conduct the surveys.

Jordan received over 200 responses that appear to reflect the demographics of Marion, Arkansas.  In her analysis of the survey data she determined:

  • that the majority of residents wanted a cultural heritage center of some sort
  • the demographics of those who support and do not support a center
  • the recommended site and type of exhibit/presentation.
  • the topics of greatest interest  to the respondents
  • how the respondents envision funding a center.

An impressive set of initial of data!  Jordan is currently administering the survey to a broader audience.  In the fall semester, Jordan will create a formal proposal based on her survey results.  Jordan’s survey work is a an excellent first step to determine the feasibility of a cultural heritage center in Marion, Arkansas.

Katie and Jordan’s projects provide important takeaway points:

  • As with all the other student projects from this semester, Katie and Jordan’s were able to make real-time contributions to area cultural heritage venues.  At this point 10 of the 12 projects are actively in place for use in area institutions.
  • Katie and Jordan’s projects each relied extensively on survey results from the intended users of their products.  We stress this point often in the class – the need for project relevance for the intended users.  In both cases, the feedback and buy-in of the anticipated users markedly changed the initial direction of the project.
  • As Katie and Jordan developed their projects, they were aware of the distinct possibility that their end products might not be used.  The WikiSpace page might be ignored by the intended audience.  Marion, Arkansas may never have a cultural heritage center or museum.  However, both students believe that they have taken the correct first steps toward creating a viable finished product.  I agree.

So ends another year of student projects that result in products with real-time applications in area museums!

 

Applied Archaeology and Museums – The Course.

treetangle2aThis past semester I was the instructor for my favorite course – Applied Archaeology and Museums – a joint undergraduate and graduate class that usually enrolls 15-20 students. I developed the course a few years ago as pretty much an amalgam of what I enjoy and am most passionate about in archaeology – community engagement and empowerment through cultural heritage studies.

There are no in-class exams. Instead, students complete a series of essays, reading journals and projects where they directly apply the course content to real-time situations.

For example, students write a brief essay on repatriation, as applied to the Elgin Marbles. In the past I used a brief article by Jarrett Lobell from the 2006 edited volume Archaeological Ethics. Now as the lead resource I use the Wikipedia article on the Elgin Marbles, a 5000-word piece based on over 70 references. I am not aware of a more up-to-date and comprehensive starting point for the single class Elgin Marble repatriation discussion. Using the Wikipedia page also allows for students to assess the worth of user-generated content.  I emphasize that there is not a right or wrong position on repatriating the Elgin Marbles. I enjoy that depending on the class composition of Anthropology, History, and Art History majors, the discussion is quite varied. Occurring within the first two weeks of the course, I intend for this discussion to set a tone for the diversity of possibilities throughout the semester.

Forty percent of the course grade is from the final project that students complete for the class. I offer several possibilities and past projects to help stimulate the students thinking. The criteria for the final project includes that it must be broadly based in archaeology or cultural heritage studies and must ultimately live in area museum.  The projects were particularly successful this past semester.  I will post some of them here over the next few weeks.

For the final essay students respond to the following questions:

  • What is the social utility of archaeology?
  • Does Archaeology have a viable utility for people beyond other archaeologists?
  • What is the most significant insight you obtained from the course? Explain.

My reason for asking this line of questioning flows from my first field school experience nearly 30 years ago. The instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support keeping this site open to the public, you might as well go home.” I pondered that mandate for many years. Quite honestly, I don’t think I was ever able to adequately respond until I worked in applied archaeology contexts where community members were creating exhibits around their own cultural heritage. I believe that it is critically important that our students be able to show that archaeology is relevant, not just in the classroom, but when they leave as well.

Finally, the two wordles below are from spontaneous/unannounced two-minute trait list exercises for the term “applied archaeology” students completed on the first and the last day of class.  I am not completely comfortable with the shift over the course of the semester.  I appreciate that “excavation” is not the predominant associated term at the end of the semester as in the beginning.  On the other hand, I am surprised that the concept of fieldwork is nearly absent in the final list.  I am pleased that by the end of the semester students appreciate that applied archaeology is a discipline that is not performed for but rather with the community.

 

applied archaeology

 

 

 

 

AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Museums

This past Friday I participated in a session at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Association of Museums that considered the role of AmeriCorps NCCC Teams at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Below is a portion of my presentation:

In the past year, we logged about 2500 community service learning hours at Chucalissa.  The hours are primarily attributable to AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.  We also worked with a host of other service learning groups including State AmeriCorps teams and alternative spring break students from throughout the Midsouth.  

Team pic

AmeriCorps Team and Homeowner

In addition to a considerable amount of collections work, over the past two years the NCCC teams completed a host of other projects at Chucalissa.  For example, they conducted a shovel test program in the “meadow” area of Chucalissa to determine if there were any intact archaeological deposits.  They expanded the community garden that had outgrown its original bed.  Over a one year period, three different AmeriCorps Teams worked on successive construction phases of our replica Mississippian house structure.  This past fall, a team built a 30 x 30 foot pergola so that we could have a covered shelter for outside activities.  They also built a rain structure along our nature trail.  AmeriCorps Teams are the best when it comes to clearing and refurbishing trails, and then have done a good bit of that at Chucalissa too.

All of these projects are certainly interesting and very worthwhile.  In fact, Wendy Spencer, the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO appointed by President Obama, stopped by Chucalissa when she was in town to check in on the work of the AmeriCorps Team.  This past year, Chucalissa was honored to receive the Sponsor of the Year Award for the Southern District of AmeriCorps NCCC.  But I suggest that the reason for the visit, the award, and the success of our AmeriCorps program extends beyond completing the tasks I noted above.  Instead, I believe that the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa brings together the very best of the community service aspect of AmeriCorps with the civic engagement that is very foundation of the modern museum in the United States.  I am fond of quoting John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement from the New Museum where he challenged practitioners to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

In 2007, the University of Memphis and by extension Chucalissa, had a less than stellar reputation in the Westwood community of Memphis, the location of our Museum.  Area residents were concerned about the stench from the sewage treatment plant, code violations, and crime rates.  The community perceived the University interests as research from which the University made money and faculty gained prestige but with little or no relevance to the community.  As one resident stated at a community meeting I attended in 2007 “Don’t tell me what the University of Memphis is going to do for my community.  The last time you were here doing your research for two years and all we got was a map on the wall.”  The man was right.

That brings us to another part of AmeriCorps work at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Since 2007, the C.H. Nash Museum staff began to reconsider our role as an educational resource of the University of Memphis.  Now, a central focus of the Museum since 2007 is to engage the surrounding community in all aspects of Chucalissa’s activities. The engagement flowed from the museum’s commitment to begin functioning as a social asset and stakeholder in the Southwest Memphis community.

Over the next four-year period we participated in many collaborative and co-creative projects with the surrounding community (detailed in this article).  In 2012, through a partnership with T.O. Fuller State Park and the Westwood Neighborhood Association, we proposed a 3-way partnership for an AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  Over an eight-week Round, we proposed that the Team would spend about one-third of their time working at T.O. Fuller State Park, one-third of the time working in the community, and one-third of their time working at Chucalissa.  The University of Memphis put a good bit of money and labor into rehabbing a residential facility at the Museum to house the AmeriCorps Team.  In the past two years, we have hosted four eight-week AmeriCorps Teams.

In the Westwood Community, modifying John Cotton Dana’s 100-year-old suggestion, we sought to “Learn what aid the community needs: and fit the Museum and AmeriCorps to those needs.”   Those needs focused on working with the elderly and veterans on fixed incomes to correct code violations or perform minor to moderate structural repairs on their homes.  For example, in the fall of 2013, the River 4 AmeriCorps Team performed an exterior makeover to the home of an 88-year-old WWII Veteran in the Walker Homes neighborhood, a community established for returning African-American veterans in the late 1940s.  Mr Ford Nelson, the Veteran homeowner, had lived in the house for 60 years.

AC Vet 13

AmeriCorps Team presenting Veteran’s Day Banner at the Westwood Community Center.

A highlight of each AmeriCorps Team is their participation with the community in a Day of Service, whether on 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr. day, or Youth Services Day.  This past November, the River 4 Team presented a banner they created honoring veterans at a Veterans Day event at the Westwood Community Center.  The presentation was a BIG deal.

Here is how this all comes together.  The AmeriCorps Teams provide the Westwood neighborhood with a community service that they desperately needed and wanted – correction of code violations and housing rehabs.  The AmeriCorps Teams also are instrumental in allowing the C.H. Nash Museum to engage with the community in cultural heritage projects.  This intersection is reflected by Mr. Ford Nelson, whose house the AmeriCorps Team worked on in November, attending and speaking at the Black History Month event hosted at Chucalissa in February.  This intersection also allows the President of the Neighborhood Association to be a strong advocate and participant in the planning for Hidden Histories cultural heritage program collaborations between the community and Museum for the summer of 2014.

2012 Veterans Honorsmall

Veteran’s Day Banner created by AmeriCorps Team

This intersection is the essence of Civic Engagement as envisioned over one decade ago in the American Alliance of Museums seminal publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.  As Hirzy wrote in that volume

“when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

That sentiment is a critically important part of the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa.

In 1986, during my first archaeological field experience, the instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told us on the first day “If you cannot explain to the visitor why their tax dollars should go to support these excavations or keep this site open, you might as well go home.”  I puzzled over this mandate for many years.  Today, I find the mandate comes down to being relevant.   The AmeriCorps experience is part of our Museum’s relevance to the communities that support us through their time, energy, and resources.

We find this process is not linear or without ambiguity.  But the community engagement does not detract in any way from the components of our mission related to the prehistory of the area.  In fact, we argue that through our multi-faceted work with AmeriCorps, we invite more stakeholders to the table for dialogue. We believe this incorporates the very essence of the International Council of Museums definition of a museum that notes they are “. . . institutions in the service of society and of its development.”

Applying Archaeology with the Public

excaThis semester I am teaching Applied Archaeology and Museums at the University of Memphis.  This course addresses my primary research interests – the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage and its use as an empowerment tool for the public.  Since I last taught the course two years ago, the resources for this empowerment tool multiplied exponentially.  A good bit of the growth comes from digital technology put in the service of human needs.  (Note this understanding of technology, well articulated by folks such as Clay Shirky, is at odds with the neo-Luddite perspective.  See here for my rant on all that.)

Access to the products of digital technology is not always simple or readily available.  Jason Baird Jackson posted an interesting piece on the high costs for accessing academic publications in a growing open access world.  The post includes a link to The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that allows an author to retain specific distribution rights for their published work.  Sherpa is a searchable database that lists distribution rights by journal that authors retain for open access distribution.  Here I am less interested in discussing specific open-access issues, and more some of the current venues and perspectives in which cultural heritage information is presented to the public.

On the digital end:

A common point for these new opportunities is that even in my low-tech and financially strapped museum existence, all are practical possibilities where the primary limitation is not technology but labor to produce the products – a situation that can circle back to volunteerism and community service learning.

A second common point is that products of these technologies are accessible to a public with a wi-fi connection and basic internet surfing skills.

However, when considering the products that will live in real-time contexts created by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums course this semester – after all, isn’t that what applied is all about? – I am concerned that the products be relevant to public interests and needs.  Consider:

  • I had a back-and-forth with a recent graduate of our applied anthropology program who lamented that she felt well-prepared to write lengthy academic reports but her employers really only wanted the punch line impact statements, something her academic training left her unprepared to produce.
  • I am working with a student who is developing an exhibit for a county museum based on a several thousand piece surface collection curated in our museum repository for the past 30 years.    The intern was excited by my preaching about the need for the exhibit to be relevant to the public, including avocational archaeologists who visit the museum.  To that end, we discussed how the exhibit could interpret prehistoric trade and exchange, site function, and time period of occupation – all based on typical artifacts collected from the land surface after spring plowing or a good rain.  However, as a well-trained anthropology undergraduate, the student was reasonably obsessed with making certain she typed her projectile points accurately.  Her training made it hard to accept that the primary public interest of similar shaped points, from the same time period, manufactured at the same location, likely used for the same function, was not the correct typological name ascribed by an archaeologist several thousand years after the tools production.  An exhibit that is not typology focused is not “dumbing down” to the public, but rather, functionally interpretive and different.  That is a lesson from our co-creation with avocational archaeologists.

Co-creation with the public is a critical part of making resources relevant – whether digital or real-time.  Co-creation has become a buzzword in museum contexts for the past number years, as popularized by Nina Simon in her Participatory Museum volume.   My colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I have organized a fifteen paper session Co-Creation, the Public and the Archaeological Record  for the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings this April in Austin, Texas.  The session abstract is:

Co-creation in public archaeology is a means to engage and empower citizens to become stakeholders of the archaeological record. In museum contexts Simon (2010:278) writes that the purpose of co-creative community projects is “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.” The papers in this session discuss a variety of recent archaeological projects that implement the co-creative model. The contributions demonstrate how co-creation moves beyond “hands-on” educational experiences or typical volunteer programs because participants are invited to play an active role in designing and constructing the final products to address their needs and interests. Co-creation aligns with current emphases on informal, life-long, and free-choice learning models that foster public engagement in the preservation of cultural heritage resources. The papers in this session also explore the benefits and challenges of using this method and provide examples of best practices for implementation. Finally, these papers speak to the impact of co-creation on the discipline and how the process increases the ability of archaeology to contribute to debates on contemporary issues.

We are pleased that Carol McDavid, a pioneer in this process, including her work at the Levi-Jordan Plantation (link to 1998 website) will serve as a discussant for the session.

How do you envision co-creation in archaeology?

Thinking Local in Archaeological Outreach

SCAPOD Group Pho

SCAPOD co-founders from left to right Helena Ferguson, Meg Gaillard, and Erika Shofner

The South Carolina Archaeology Public Outreach Division (SCAPOD) was formed in 2010 with a mission to engage the public in the presentation and preservation of the regions cultural heritage through publications, education and museums.  With an explicitly ‘think local’ perspective the  recently formed 501(c)3 is an example of how local initiatives can be instrumental in bringing the often exotic perceptions of archaeological research into our own backyards.  The three SCAPOD co-founders, Helena Ferguson, Meg Gaillard, and Erika Shofner demonstrate the commitment to public service in archaeology by the new generation of practitioners.  Below is an interview with the three co-founding members of SCAPOD.

Can you tell me a bit about SCAPOD, how and why the organization was formed?

In 2008, Meg and Erika were looking for a topic to present at the upcoming Southeastern Archaeology Conference  (SEAC).  Both were interested in educational outreach in archaeology and heard about the South Carolina archaeology teacher’s manual “Can you Dig it?” that was compiled in the 1980s.  They decided to examine the manual along with the current archaeology outreach in South Carolina and find a way to update the lesson plans to fit current standards.  The more they researched the more wonderful outreach programs they found (both past and present).  They outlined a possible plan for updating and maintaining a new archaeology manual for South Carolina teachers at the conference. A number of professionals expressed interest in what they proposed.  Helena soon joined the group and the three started coming up with more archaeology public outreach ideas and projects.  It was clear that there was no single organization that dealt primarily with archaeology outreach in South Carolina, so Erika, Meg, and Helena decided to make their own.

What niche does SCAPOD fill in educational outreach in South Carolina?

We do a little bit of everything – classroom visits, adult programs/presentations, museum exhibit design, and so forth. We have plans of more projects for the future.  However, one of our main visions for SCAPOD was for it to be an archaeology outreach “clearinghouse” of sorts.  There are numerous other organizations that do great archaeology outreach programs. We don’t want to be seen as competition for organizations who do similar programs to SCAPOD, but rather a collaborator that can assist in successful archaeology outreach within South Carolina. We also aim to fill in the gaps of needed programing statewide.

In your outreach efforts you promote a “think local” perspective.  Has that approach been successful?

We like to think so.  Often, we find that when we talk to people about archaeology, they begin to talk about far off lands like Egypt and Greece.  Although archaeology in these areas is widely publicized, people have a hard time making personal connections with far off lands.  Discovering and learning more about the archaeology that goes on in South Carolina, sometimes literally in their backyards, makes the topic much more relevant to people especially children.  Children are total cultural creatures, meaning they are sponges of the culture that surrounds them.  Exposure to thinking culturally on a local level is a tremendous benefit to them as they grow and develop.  We have been in contact with teachers about archaeology program development. They were very excited to hear we emphasize South Carolina’s history and archaeology.  In local schools, when they focus on South Carolina history, our archaeology programs fit nicely into the curriculum while also meeting state teaching standards.

Meg with Scouts

SCAPOD co-founder Meg Gaillard teaches Boy Scouts and Scout leaders how to shovel test, screen dirt, and look for artifacts at the Fort Congaree Site. SCAPOD helped these Scouts earn their Archaeology Merit Badges.

How has your public outreach evolved since SCAPOD was formed?

We have learned to be flexible with our approaches and programs.  We found giving multiple program options, or offering to tweak a program so it fits the setting/current area of study works the best, rather than having set or “canned” program options.  It seems best if you allow the client/audience to guide some of the development of the programs so that we can effectively reach the public.  Our outreach is a unique form of applied anthropology, where we take anthropological perspectives and make them relevant through real life examples of archaeology.  We have also learned four very important words “go with the flow”.  No matter how well you think you have something planned, there is always the potential for something unexpected and opportunities for creative development.

How will SCAPOD adapt programming to meet common core curriculum standards? 

The manual that began this whole adventure, “Can You Dig It”, was a printed manual handed out to teachers.  Our draft third grade manual is currently available and completely free on our website (scapod.org/manual).  Our plans for the manual are to keep adding grades to it on the digital format.  Having the manual in digital format allows us to edit in order to fit the changing nature of the South Carolina teaching standards in real time.  The cost associated with editing, printing, and distributing is eliminated which allows us to keep the resource free to teachers. All SCAPOD Archaeology in the Classroom programs have a connection to the current South Carolina teaching standards, and are revised as those standards change.

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

We just completed activities from a grant that was awarded to us by Target Corporation for our Archaeology in the Classroom program.  This grant allowed us to provide students with quality archaeology programs and helped teachers reinforce their lessons.  The students reached with this program go to schools where budgets have been slashed preventing them from being able to take field trips and have access to supplemental educational opportunities in the classroom.  Our hands-on programs brought the material to them for free.

Pottery Refit1

Students working to re-fit their broken pots to get the experience of what archaeologists do in the lab during a SCAPOD program

How has SCAPOD incorporated social media and a “virtual” presence in public outreach and education?

We have a SCAPOD FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest page, as well as our website and associated blog.  As SCAPOD develops, we have found that social media has been wonderful for publicizing what we do and where we have been, as well as local, national, and international stories of archaeological interest.  One thing we have learned is how difficult it can be to keep up with social media posts!  We are always looking for volunteers to help us keep our virtual presence active and up-to-date.

As a relatively new organization, what are some of the biggest lessons you have learned from your educational and outreach program? 

You can never have too much help!  We have begun to rely heavily on volunteers to help us carry out our programming.  We are very fortunate to have great volunteers that make this possible.  Our connections with the local archaeology community provide us with dedicated individuals.

Also, experiment! We have learned, because of the custom tailored nature of our activities, we really don’t know how a program will go until we do it.  Every time we do a program we have a list of how to improve it and what worked well. The list helps us the next time we go to do the program.  If you’re afraid to try something that’s never been done before, you’ll never get new and original program ideas.

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

Time is our biggest obstacle right now.  All three of us have full-time jobs outside of SCAPOD, so it can be a challenge to balance work with the development and execution of our programming.  Thankfully we are all creative thinkers and do well with unique schedule adjustments.   We have been fortunate in the past year to begin developing a dedicated group of volunteers.  With SCAPOD’s current growth, we would not be able to do the amount of programming we have without them.

What has been your experience working with Boy Scouts in earning the Archaeology Merit Badge?

Working with the Boy Scouts in helping them earn their Archaeology Merit badges is a relatively new endeavor for SCAPOD.  The requirements and guidelines for the merit badge are quite rigorous  and, require professional assistance or supervision.  Although it is possible to complete the badge without direct access to artifacts or archaeological sites, we feel that hands-on experiences with archaeologists are the best way for the Scouts to get a true understanding of what the badge (and archaeology) really mean.  We were fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with a State Park Service Ranger who previously worked in Florida doing archaeology outreach activities.  When he came to South Carolina, he already had a good framework in place on how to fulfill the merit badge requirements using resources available through the State Parks.  SCAPOD has used this framework in conjunction with our own archaeological programming to provide a hands-on experience in the field.  Pairing South Carolina Boy Scout Troops with nearby archaeological sites is another way we are able to implement our “think local” theme and give the Scouts the opportunity to work at an actual site.

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

Love what you do and don’t be afraid to try something new and take a risk! If you love it then the amount of time you put into it unpaid won’t be as painful.  The formation of SCAPOD was a risk. There was no roadmap for what we did. We have put an enormous amount of our own time into what we have accomplished, but we love what we do.  We love working with the public and seeing them light up when they make the connections our programs provide.  That professional passion and those we work with is what has made us a successful nonprofit organization.  Being driven by what we do and the need we fill is what is propelling the organization forward.  We look forward to seeing what the future holds for SCAPOD!

Contact South Carolina Archaeology Public Outreach Division at scapod@gmail.com

A Lesson in Cultural Heritage Relevance on Veterans Day

2012 Veterans Honorsmall

2012 Veterans Banner Presented by the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team

In my last post I talked about accountability in reporting cultural heritage studies to the public who often both fund and are the subject of the research.  As an example I used the public response and request for copies of a recent issue of the journal Museums and Social Issues that summarized the last five years of community outreach by the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.   My colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Bollwerk offered an interesting challenge to my blog post.  She noted that while certainly impressive that ten members of the community paid 19.00 for copies of the journal, she also questioned if publication in the journal really qualified as pubic accessibility?  She asked about the responsibility to truly disseminate the report as a readily accessible public resource and not one that required paying 19.00 for an issue of a professional journal. I noted that I offered to make pdf copies of the article available, but that the community members wanted the actual “book” and not a xerox.

With that exchange fresh in my mind, this past Friday I attended the annual Veterans luncheon sponsored by the Westwood Neighborhood Association (WNA) in Southwest Memphis.  Approximately 30 African-American U.S. Military Veterans attended this year’s event.  At last year’s gathering, members of the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team who were working on home maintenance and rehab projects in the area presented the attendees with a banner that featured the names and photos of WNA veterans.  At this year’s event, members of the River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presented the veterans with another banner to honor their service.  A focus of the River 4 Team’s current work in Memphis is repair and maintenance on the house of 88-year old WW II Veteran, Mr. Ford Nelson, who has lived in his home for 60 years.  The AmeriCorps Team presentations each year are incredibly meaningful to the Veterans present.

The President of the WNA, Mr. Robert Gurley, often comments to me that the community’s military service was never properly recognized in the past and the memory has begun to fade.  As an aid in reviving that memory, the role of African-Americans in the U.S. Military was the theme chosen by the community for the 2012 Black History Month celebration hosted at the C.H. Nash Museum.   When we first discussed the idea of putting together the banners as a physical reminder of veteran service, the WNA community went into high gear to find the photographs for the banners.  That process was not easy as for many the mementos of that period lost their relevance upon their return to the Jim Crow era South, the rising anti-Vietnam war movement, and the assassination of civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At this past Friday’s meeting, as the 30 veterans introduced themselves, Mr. Gurley pointed with pride to the photographs of those present that were represented on the banners created by the AmeriCorps Teams over the past two years.  Mr. Gurley made special notice that the group photo of veterans at the bottom of the this year’s banner was reproduced in the Museums and Social Issues journal that ten community members had purchased.

In reflecting on these events, Dr. Bollwerk’s challenge makes a good bit more sense to me.  The fact is, although an article published in a national peer-reviewed journal has meaning to the community, copies are not really all that accessible.  The AmeriCorps banners are very accessible and will be hung in the community hall.  Traditional academic values do not reward working to produce banners about military veterans.  Nor will the production of a website such as Southwestmemphis.com where such content can be curated “count” on traditional professional career paths.  Only the process of creating these products might be of interest from the professional perspective.

AC Vet 13

River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presenting Veterans Banner on November 8, 2013

However, if a museum’s mission is to truly educate, present, and preserve cultural heritage to and for the public, the museum is obligated to present and report research  products in venues that are truly accessible.

How does your institution assure public accessibility to research project results?

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