Tag: Cultural Heritage

Cultural Heritage and the R Word

Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum

Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum

In the face of funding cutbacks, a cultural heritage institution buzzword of late is being “relevant” to the public.  Nina Simon has a new book out on this very topic. Quite often we view relevance from the perspective of getting folks in the door or demonstrating to public officials or other funders why an economic institution should maintain their cut of the economic pie. The short-term flurry of activity after the Florida Governor’s attacks on anthropology or reaction to the various “Digger” shows that have now been cancelled are problematic. Bluntly, our field seems stymied by a focus on self-interest – we tend not to get excited until our own little corner of the universe is attacked, despite our mission to act as public stewards, educators, and servants. I recollect the Art History graduate student in my Museum Practices seminar several years ago who calmly and confidently stated “Art Historians are not interested in what the public thinks.”

I have a dream, nowhere near as lofty as that of MLK Jr., but, my dream is that when cultural heritage funding or other resources are on the chopping block, it is not the professionals who immediately respond in protest, but rather the response comes from the public whose cultural heritage resources are being threatened. I dream that the citizenry would respond to such cuts with “We demand that you provide the professionals who work in our publicly funded institutions that preserve our cultural heritage adequate resources to do the job that our tax dollars are intended for them to do.”

To bring about this dream necessitates not a magical conjuring up of public forces to do the bidding for the professionals. Rather, I believe this dream can be fulfilled as a logical consequence of cultural heritage institutions engaging and sustaining long-term relationships with the public we serve. Or as John Cotton Dana noted 99 years ago “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs” (The New Museum, 1917:38).

What I think that all comes down to is demonstrating relevance to the communities that we serve.  Several years ago I posed the following question to my Museum Practices Graduate Seminar as a final exam question:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to as a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

I have posted some of the responses on this blog.  I like this question so much that I now use it as one of the final exam questions for all course I teach and as a question on all graduate comprehensive exam committees on which I serve.

This is a question is relevant because it directly leads to addressing Dana’s mandate of a century ago.  Over the years, I have grilled students to go beyond vague sentiments of cultural preservation, we don’t know anything about this cultural period occupation in this particular region, to further scientific knowledge, and all the plethora of similar answers when responding to this exam question.  Direct responses that directly engage public requests are what I find so relevant as in the Florida Public Archaeology Networks cemetery reclamation program or my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza’s work in Nivín, Peru that is a poster child for co-creation based on the specific community expressed needs to which she is directly responding.

Hmm . . . this post seems like a rehash of many similar entries I have written over the years on the R word, here, here, here, here, etc.  But once again, this issue raises it’s head.

How is your institution/project relevant to expressed needs of the community that you serve?

 

The Florida Public Archaeology Network: A Decade of Success in Community Engagement

fpanThe past several years have witnessed broad cuts in cultural heritage programming in the United States, particularly on the local and state levels. At the same time, several cultural heritage programs are, if not thriving, at least sustaining their presence and activities. A program that has sustained and even expanded its presence over the past decade is the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  I have long been a fan of FPAN and the many resources they provide for all forms of community outreach.

In a recent article “Lessons Learned Along the Way: The Florida Public Archaeology Network after Ten Years” (Public Archaeology, 14:2, 92-114), William B. Lees, Della A. Scott-Ireton & Sarah E. Miller present a summary on what has worked and what has not worked for the organization over the past decade.

The article begins in noting that:

The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is a new direction for public archaeology programmes, dedicated to the express purpose of preserving the state s heritage through public education and engagement. It differs from other programmes, past and present, because it is focused solely on archaeological preservation through public engagement and because it is not housed within a larger programme with other research or heritage management responsibilities.

Here are some bullets that highlight my takeaways from the summary article:

  • FPAN was initially envisioned to expand on Dr. Judith Bense’s community archaeology in downtown Pensacola, taking the program state-wide.
  • After state legislation established the program, the University of West Florida provided funds to launch a steering committee and put meat on the bones of the legislation.
  • The legislation gave the steering committee a good bit of latitude in developing a program that was not a part of an existing organization. The steering committee was careful not to create a program that duplicated the efforts of existing organizations in the state. Ultimately they proposed a model where local universities or organizations would host or sponsor an FPAN regional center.
  • FPAN intentionally excluded “traditional archaeological research” as a major goal of regional centers. I find this exclusion particularly compelling as a means to focus public archaeology on a community’s needs and not on a regional directors interest, or even archaeologically driven “traditional research” questions.
  • Like most community based cultural heritage organizations, budgetary constraints over the past few years required restructuring at FPAN. But for “the public there is little change as we (FPAN) retain the same geographical regions and maintain offices and staff in each.”
  • FPAN also prides itself in becoming more proactive to meet Florida’s varied educational needs.   Of importance FPAN centers revise and repackage individual tools they create for other programs or regions of the state – and from firsthand experience I can attest FPAN’s products serve as models outside of Florida, across the Southeast, and beyond.
  • FPAN also delivers workshops and programs that address expressed community needs for a true co-creative experience. Sarah Miller’s article “Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida” published in Advances in Archaeological Practice is an excellent example of this process.
  • FPAN also plays a strong advocacy role for archaeology on a regional and statewide basis and serves as a national role model for our discipline. (See Sarah Miller’s SAA webinar on advocacy, archived for SAA members).
  • To be accountable to the taxpayers who pay for the programs, FPAN also sees “. . . outcome assessment . . . as the next essential step needed to ensure and evaluate FPAN s contribution to archaeological preservation in Florida.”

As noted, a unique role FPAN plays is that their sole responsibility is public outreach and education in archaeology. They are not subject to soft money generation through CRM projects or driven by quantification of “traditional archaeological research.” In this way public archaeology is not a department within FPAN, public archaeology is FPAN, making quite clear the function of the organization. For FPAN, public outreach is not something that gets snuck in on the side, or if a staff member is particularly interested in community engagement.  Public outreach is the reason for FPAN’s existence.

In this way, the organization does not keep two sets of books so to speak – one which it produces for the professional community and one for the lay audience. Both books are the same. This approach seems the strongest way to demonstrate relevancy and build community support for the cultural heritage disciplines.

Your thoughts on the FPAN approach?

How You Can Help Curate Collections in Nivin, Peru

Nivin-Museum-entryI have posted before about the archaeological surprise that my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I experienced last summer in Nivín, Peru.   Elizabeth and I presented a paper at the 2015 Meeting of the Society for Amazonian and Andean Studies in Baton Rouge that discussed this project.

Our work in Nivín is a textbook example of co-creation.  Elizabeth and I traveled to Nivín at the invitation of Gustavo Valencia, director of the small museum in that rural community.  We asked about the museum needs and Professor Valencia immediately responded that he needed books on best practices for collections management in Spanish.  In a few weeks we were able to secure two state-of-the-art volumes and created a digital archive of over 50 files on the subject.

museum-exhibitWe will return to Nivín this June to discuss a long-term collaborative project with the community museum and school.  Thus far, based on our conversations with Professor Valencia and his colleagues, their expressed interests and needs in which we can take part include:

  • Launch a scholarly and community based research project of the archaeological sites surrounding Nivín.
  • Provide resources for English as a Second Language instruction  to enable residents to engage with anticipated visitors to the area.
  • Assist in instituting best practices in both the analysis and curation of cultural materials in the current museum.
  • Provide both formal and informal instruction on these best  practices in both the school and community.

What you can do to help this project . . .

. . . and this is where you can help to analyze and curate the archaeological collections of Nivín, Peru.  The basic materials for laboratory analysis are in very short supply in this rural community on the north coast of Peru.  Below is a list of materials we have identified with Professor Valencia that are of immediate need to launch the curation project this summer:

  • pocket loupes
  • plastic bags of all sizes
  • digital scale or triple beam balance
  • calipers – including OD for measuring ceramic vessels.
  • Sharpies for labeling bags
  • rapidiographs (or similar writing instruments) for labeling artifacts
  • osteological board
  • Munsell soil book
  • microscope
  • nested geological sieves
  • laminate sheet for estimating vessel size
  • other items?
cases

Display cases to be purchased for the Nivin Museum.

Does your academic department or CRM firm have some new or gently used items of the above that are not being used that you can donate to Professor Valencia and his students in Nivín?  Or would you like to make a financial contribution, large or small, that will be used to purchase the above items?  In addition to the listed materials we plan to buy at least two locking display cabinets for the museum.  The cabinets are available in the nearby Peruvian city of Casma for $350.00 each.

We ask that you consider supporting this exciting opportunity to empower a rural Peruvian community to present and preserve their cultural heritage through museum studies and archaeology.

Please contact me directly at rcnnolly@memphis.edu for more information or to find out if the materials you have available are suitable for the Nivín project.  Elizabeth or I can also take delivery of any items at the SAA meeting in Orlando this April.  As well, you can make financial contributions to the PIARA website that will be used exclusively for the Nivín Project.  (Note “Nivín” in the description box on the contribution form.)

Elizabeth, Gustavo and I thank you for your consideration.

 

Distance Learning in Texas Archaeology

C.Crav1I first learned of Candice Cravins’ excellent work in Distance Learning at the Institute of Texan Cultures from a post on the Public Archaeology Interest Group’s Facebook Page.  A quick tour of their Distance Learning site shows that Candice and the Texas folks are doing some very impressive work.  She generously agreed to an interview to talk a bit more about her experience and perspective on Distance Learning.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Institute of Texan Cultures?

I received my M.S. degree in Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management from Utah State University in 2014, where my thesis research explored object- and STEM-based strategies for teaching archaeology to children in a museum setting. Prior to my arrival at the Institute of Texan Cultures in October 2014, I served as the Educational Programs Manager at Utah State University’s Museum of Anthropology.

As an Educational Specialist for the Institute, I wear many hats! I am primarily responsible for developing and leading distance learning programs for K-12 students, writing and coordinating online educator resources, developing and posting content for department web and social media pages, and planning and leading professional development workshops and family programs. I also assist with school group tours and community outreach events.

How do you see online education opportunities as a bridge between formal education curricula and museums?

Online education opportunities can serve to enhance the classroom learning experience by connecting the intangible with the tangible, providing real-world experiences that help bring textbook concepts to life. As funding for field trips dwindles and emphasis is placed more on developing math and reading skills than on social studies and the arts, museum professionals and K-12 educators alike are looking for new ways to bring the museum experience to the classroom. Virtual field trips, online exhibits, Google chats with experts, games, and other online learning opportunities provide the means for teachers to access museum resources without ever having to leave their classrooms. Museums are well-suited to provide these hands-on learning opportunities that teachers need while at the same time support classroom learning standards and objectives.
C.Crav2What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach and community engagement?

I consider one of my most successful recent efforts in public outreach to be the launch of our new TexEdventures distance learning programs – virtual tours designed to bring the museum experience to the classroom. When I arrived at the Institute in October 2014, I was tasked with producing and implementing a new distance learning plan designed to bring engaging learning experiences to K-12 students throughout the state of Texas. Prior to my arrival, the Institute had been delivering distance learning programs using IP H.323 protocol videoconferencing technology. Equipment and services were costly to maintain, and programs could only be booked and delivered with the service and support of a technology service provider housed out of a regional Education Service Center – rural, Title 1, or nontraditional students and their teachers often had limited to no access to these programs. In moving forward with new programs, I first wanted to be sure all students and their teachers would have better access to our programming. To me, this meant that programs would need to be free of charge, require minimal technology (i.e., a computer or tablet device with speakers and an Internet connection), and be easy to set up and maintain by a team of one here at the Institute. My main goal for the program was to take things that were already successful onsite and deliver them in a virtual way. I wanted distance learning sessions to be live, individualized, and interactive, giving students the chance to direct their own learning experiences.

We piloted our first new distance learning program, Can You Dig It? Adventures in Texas Archaeology last May using Adobe Connect web conferencing software and an iPad on our exhibit floor. It was a hit with teachers and students both near and far. We have since expanded our offerings and now feature programs on Native American lifeways and how to use primary and secondary sources in the classroom. We plan to further expand our offerings to feature one-time only webinars on special events and even take the technology outside to incorporate some of our outdoor living history exhibits! More information on our programs can be found at www.texancultures.com/distancelearning.

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

Think big, but start small! First take a look at what museums, cultural institutions, and other nonprofits are doing in your region and state. What appeals to you most about their online learning programs? Could you and would you want to do something similar for your organization, and how would new online learning projects help fulfill your organization’s mission and meet outreach goals? Have a clear plan in mind for your project from the very beginning – it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all the technology out there, so narrowing in on exactly what you wish to accomplish is key. Do you want to build a website or start a blog? If you work in a museum, do you wish to recreate the field trip experience for K-12 students online? Do you want to build an online course for adults interested in archaeology? Once you decide what you’d like to do, determine whether or not you have the staff and funding to accomplish your project. Develop a plan and timeline for your project. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things, and don’t think that your project needs to be something completely new and groundbreaking – simple is often better to start, especially for those who have limited experience working with technology, work with small budgets, and often juggle multiple projects at the office. Much of what I know now about educational technology and online learning was learned on the job – Google really is your best friend!

One of the first “smaller” projects I tackled when I arrived at the Institute was developing a plan to manage our department’s social media pages. Spending a bit of time each day developing and sharing new educational content on Facebook or Pinterest does wonders for increasing community interest and engagement – if used correctly, social media platforms can be powerful tools for online learning. Take advantage of free online tools, such as Canva, to help you create eye-catching images for your social media posts, and don’t overlook the subtle power of an iPad in creating engaging video content! The possibilities for what you can do for free are endless.

 

For more information, contact Candice at Candice.Cravins(at)utsa.edu

Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley

PEMA new website recently launched that promotes the Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley from Iowa to Louisiana.  I have been thinking about the need for such a website or piece of promotional material for several years.  As the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum in Memphis, I regularly meet visitors heading north or south along the Great River Road or  I-55 corridors.  When I ask, “Are you interested in other prehistoric sites along your route?” most often the response is affirmative.  In the past, there was no single piece of information I could provide to guide that visitor.  In fact, because the various prehistoric earthwork venues are scattered across several states, and typically, state agencies do not cross-promote, there was no single website devoted to these sites of American Indian cultural heritage either.

Although intuitive, survey data confirm that cultural heritage tourists overwhelmingly select their venues for visitation via mobile/web resources and/or word of mouth. Unfortunately, today the only mobile resource that truly synthesizes museum venues is Wikipedia but not in a manner conducive for planning travel.  Individual states such as Louisiana have developed, or in the case of Mississippi, are developing prehistoric mounds trail tours. However, these projects, without exception, are restricted to intra-state sites, again ignoring many cultural heritage venues that are nearby but in adjoining states.

A single regional, or even national resource to promote prehistoric venues is a first step in addressing the problem. An ideal organizational form is based not on geopolitical boundaries but on natural or cultural parameters. For example, recent Civil War and Civil Rights trails follow sets of historic events that cross state borders. Given the north/south travel along the I-55 corridor and proximity to the Great River Road, coupled with extant prehistoric earthwork sites, the Mississippi River drainage is a useful natural and cultural feature on which to organize an interstate prehistoric mounds trail.

To put the idea into practice I involved students in courses I teach at the University of Memphis in applied anthropology and museum studies. Students in my classes always create some product that will live real-time in an area museum or digital space.  For several years I suggested a student take up the task of creating a brochure that promoted the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River.  In my Applied Archaeology and Museums class in the Spring of 2014, a student took up the challenge and created the brochure.  This past year, we applied for and received the Southeastern Archaeological Conference Public Outreach Grant to expand the brochure, print and distribute copies to the venues listed, and create a digital presence for the information.  The Prehistoric Earthworks of the Mississippi Valley website and linked brochure are a result of that process.  The hard copy of the brochure is an 11 x 17 front and back six-fold that will be available at all the listed venues within the next two weeks.  (If you are a venue or cultural heritage agency that would like copies of the brochure, please drop me a note.)

In the coming months we will evaluate the traffic on the website, visitor comments, and check-in with the museums and prehistoric sites included in the brochure to get their feedback.  We will then incorporate their recommendations into the website and a further revision of the brochure.

I will appreciate your comments on this project.  Note that the website is specifically designed for viewing on mobile devices.  What works?  What does not work?  What suggestions do you have to make the website or brochure a more effective resource for information about the prehistoric earthworks along the Mississippi River?

Survey on Archaeology Blogs

fleurFleur Shinning from Leiden University in the Netherlands is conducting graduate research focused on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology.  Her intended result of the project is to make archaeology more accessible to a wider public.  She is soliciting input for her research in the form of a survey from readers of several blogs in the UK and USA.   The survey is well-organized, reasonably painless, and can be completed in less than 10 minutes.  I encourage you to click on this link and complete the survey, with the possible payoff of winning a subscription to Archaeology magazine and knowing that you are contributing to a project that focuses on expanding public access to archaeology.

Thanks,

Robert

An Archaeological Surprise at Nivin, Peru

Nivin-sign(For a Spanish language version of this post, click here.)

 

This past week, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I visited Nivín Arqueologia about 25 km from Casma, on the north central coast of Peru.  We were not really certain what to expect.  We had corresponded via the PIARA and Nivín Facebook pages with Gustavo Valencia Tello a professor in the Nivín k-12 school of 50 students.  We knew that Professor Valencia established a museum connected to the school.  We also knew that Nivín is located in an archaeologically rich part of Peru’s north coast.  We knew that over the past five years Professor Valencia had convinced many area residents to donate their “looted” collections to the school’s museum.  Finally, Professor Valencia had noted that there was little interest from the professional archaeological community in the sites at Nivín.  That is pretty much what we knew about Nivín when we arrived in Casma this past Sunday.

Nivin-Museum-entry

Nivín Archaeology: Searching for our identity

On Sunday evening Professor Valencia invited us to his home for dinner and conversation.  We agreed on a schedule of going to Nivín on Monday morning to tour the museum and school and returning on Tuesday to visit the nearby archaeological sites and meet with the other Nivín teachers.

On Monday morning we headed toward the outskirts of Casma and turned onto an unpaved road for the 25 km bouncing ride to Nivín.  I have to admit that I began to wonder what Eli and I had gotten ourselves into.  Except for the town of San Rafael about half-way in, the landscape was dotted with the occasional cane thatch house, agricultural fields, scattered grazing livestock and not much else.  I wondered what kind of museum could be at the end of this road?

museum-exhibit

Exhibits in the Nivín Museum

After a one hour ride, we came to a sign that read “NIVIN” with nothing else in sight.  We then continued around the bend in the road and came upon what I can best describe as an oasis in a dusty desert.  The Nivín school is a manicured space that stands out from the landscape.  Here is what we saw:

  • the museum that Professor Valencia painstakingly put together over a five-year period.  The materials are donated by area residents who looted/collected the materials over the years, often from their own agricultural lands.  Professor Valencia uses these materials in his classes to explain everything from ceramic production techniques, cultural identity, osteology, culture change and more.  Eli and I had gone to Nivín to discuss how we might assist Professor Valencia in his project.   We quickly realized that we were the students that learned much from him during our brief visit.  The school in Nivín better incorporates archaeological methods into teaching natural and social sciences than any k-12 school I have experienced in the U.S.
  • Mango

    Young mango tree in the school garden.

    a suite of gardens maintained by the students, teachers, and the community members.  The gardens grow subsistence crops of mangoes, corn, passion fruit, chilies, alfalfa sprouts and more and are completely organic.  There are also smaller vegetable and medicinal plant gardens.  Besides providing food for the Nivín community, the gardens are meant as an instructional tool for the students, the next generation of agriculturalists in the area.  Other schools in the region are studying the Nivín model.

  • sparsely supplied but impeccably clean and well-maintained classrooms and a basketball court/soccer field.  We also saw large banners that reported the awards the school had received from the Ministry of Education.
arch-site-at-Nivin

A small portion of the archaeological site at Nivín.

On Tuesday morning we were back in Nivín with Professor Valencia for our tour of the nearby archaeological site.  Over the next 3.5 hours we hiked, walked through agricultural fields, waded across a river (this gringo was not able to negotiate the single log bridge), and traversed a rocky landscape similar to what one might expect of a lunar surface.  Here is what we saw:

  • a multi-sector and massive archaeological site that spanned the Formative through the Late Intermediate periods.  The site is not registered as an official archaeological site.
  • The site is slowly being encroached on by agricultural expansion along with huaqueros or looters.  The cemetery areas of the site contain many looter pits with broken ceramic vessels and scattered human bone.
  •  The architectural forms include domestic rooms, cemeteries, 30 m high mounds, and my favorite a boulder some 3.5 m in diameter fashioned into a metate, with multiple grinding depressions and one mano laying nearby.  Christian, a Nivín high school student, whose house is on the archaeological site recalls as a youth that there were eight manos laying on/around the metate boulder.
Eli-examine-sherd

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza examines broken ceramics and human bone from a looters pit.

After visiting the site we returned to the school and met with several of the teachers to discuss possible collaborations.  We gave the school a laptop computer (from Rhodes College in Memphis) and a flip camera (from the WriteMemphis literacy program) to help launch an oral history program in the village and school.  The program will complement other oral history projects we have worked on such as those carried out in both Hualcayán, Peru, and Memphis, Tennessee, US.

After discussing with the teachers possible collaborative/co-creative efforts and mutual needs, on Tuesday evening Eli and I met again with Professor Valencia and agreed to pursue the following projects over the next year:

  • Partnering the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, TN and the Municipal Museum in Caraz, Peru, with the Nivín Museum around oral history projects.  The three institutions are at different stages in their oral history processes and can learn from each other.  We will seek additional funding to support this work.  (An Engaged Scholarship Research Grant from the University of Memphis funded a portion of our oral history work in Caraz and Hualcayán, Peru this summer.)
  • Gustavo

    Professor Gustavo Valencia Tello with some of his teaching materials.

    Elizabeth Cruzado and Gustavo Valencia will co-author a book chapter for a recently contracted volume on museum/community collaboration efforts to be published in the Summer of 2016 by Rowman and Littlefield Press.

  • We will discuss forming an expanded range for the type of collaborative projects now carried out by PIARA.  This will ideally allow for greater collaboration among Ancash cultural heritage projects and expand access to resources.
  • We will investigate returning to Nivín in July or August of 2016 to provide instruction to students in the best practice cataloguing and curation of the collections in the Nivín Museum. (Any museum studies students fluent in Spanish interested in an internship?)

Elizabeth and I have commented several times that we certainly covered a lot of ground and lined up several co-creative projects in just a couple of days!  We are excited both about learning from and working with Professor Valencia, his colleagues, students, and the Nivín community in this model program.

Why Co-Creation in Archaeology Works

food-and-drink

At the modern cemetery in Hualcayán, Peru, food and drink offerings are made to the deceased as in the prehistoric period at the site.

As a blue-collar kid, I grew up a trade union activist, believing that I had the vision for what the workers of the world needed. However, I was told more than once that all of my book-learning and vision might be great for speeches, but there was also the need for the real world bettering of lives, today – perhaps one of the reasons I ended up an applied anthropologist.

In 1990 I quit my industrial job and became a non-traditional higher education student, ultimately earning a doctorate in anthropology, then working as an archaeologist, college professor, and museum professional. I am pleased at how lessons I learned early in life transferred well to my postgraduate career.

In the same way I got my comeuppance as a trade union activist in the 1970s and 80s, I vividly recall as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Southwest Memphis, US, attending a neighborhood meeting in 2008 and being told “Don’t tell me what your university is going to do for my community. The last time you were here for two years doing your research and all we got was a map on the wall.” Through my earlier life experiences, I came to appreciate that community outreach at Chucalissa could not be based on what I believed the community needed, but must start from the listening to the expressed needs and interests of the community. Nina Simon popularized this understanding of co-creation in the Participatory Museum. My colleague Carol McDavid traced this co-creation concept back to marketing strategies in the 1980s.

This August, Co-Creation and the Archaeological Record, co-edited by Elizabeth Bollwerk and I, will be published as a thematic issue of the Society for American Archaeology’s Advances in Archaeological Practice. The issue contains a dozen papers, including one by Carol, that explores the background and presents archaeological case studies of co-creation. The volume includes my article that discusses how a co-creative approach transformed Chucalissa’s relationship with the surrounding community. A highlight of the transformation was the creation of an African-American Cultural Heritage exhibit based on a community expressed need. The 2010 exhibit was co-created with nine area high school students. This summer students from Freedom Prep Charter School, just down the road from the Museum are updating the exhibit created by their peers five years ago.

In the same issue of Advances in Archaeological Practice my colleagues Rebecca Bria and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza report on their multi-year move toward greater co-creation in the activities of the organization they co-direct Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) in Hualcayán, Peru. For the past three years I have worked with Rebecca and Elizabeth on these co-creative projects. (In fact, I write this post at 10,000 ft in the 400 person village of Hualcayán.) An example of this co-creation will occur on July 28, Independence Day in Peru, when the community will receive 100 copies of the La Historia de Hualcayán: Contada Por Sus Pobladores. The 50-page book by Elizabeth is based on a co-created oral history project launched last summer. I have posted before about the origins of that oral history project.

Eli and I met with Leodan Abando Alejo Valerio this past week to deliver advance copies of the book. As discussed in that earlier post, Leodan is ultimately responsible for the project. He was very pleased with the book and had a half-dozen projects in mind he wanted to work on in other small villages of the Huaylas Province. First, he wants to repeat the oral history book project in Huallanca the nearby small village where he is now assigned to teach. We agreed to play the same role as we did for the Hualcayán volume.

In Hualcayán, there is quite a buzz about the July 28th event. This past Thursday evening, Eli and I met with the Hualcayán President, Angel Hueza, who outlined the agenda for the Independence Day activities. The book presentation will occur after the singing of the Peruvian National Anthem but before speeches by the President and other community members. At the suggestion of the President, all the students who participated in the project will receive a diploma for their work. (I will post the details of this event in the near future.)

What does all of this co-creation have to do with archaeology at sites like Chucalissa and Hualcayán? I am completely convinced that all folks value knowing their past. For example, the boom in ancestry.com and genealogical research in general support this statement. In Southwest Memphis, at the annual Veterans Day events we host at Chucalissa, current and deceased area residents dating back to World War II are prominently featured on banner exhibits honoring their military service. This is a big deal as I have posted about before. As well, when I showed a Southwest Memphis community leader the mock-up of the Hualcayán oral history volume and noted that the students at Freedom Prep summer camps could launch a similar project, he enthusiastically approved – as did the Freedom Prep students and school administrators. In the same way, both Leodan and President Hueza see the oral history book as a central piece of a July 28th Independence Day celebration and a reclamation of Hualcayán history.

Such projects, based in an applied anthropology/archaeology provide a ready link for demonstrating the true cultural value of the archaeological record, and counter the PBS Antique Roadshow formula of “Is it real, how old is it, and how much is it worth.” In Southwest Memphis, the link extends to the remnants of a 1930s African-American Civilian Conservation Corps camp responsible for discovering the Chucalissa in the modern era.  The remnants are located at the adjacent T.O. Fuller State Park.  The link is also made in the current drive to reclaim abandoned historic cemeteries in the Southwest Memphis community. In Hualcayán, a link is formed from the modern community’s cultural heritage to the archaeological site with 4000 years of human occupation.

When we met with the Hualcayán President he noted that it was good the oral history book was not linked directly to archaeological research that can be contentious because of land access and preservation concerns. While seemingly at odds with archaeological research interests, I believe the President’s comments actually provide an opening for dialogue about the link between the modern and prehistoric periods. PIARA excels in this approach, sponsoring pop-up museums, site tours, a library, and opening a community museum. All of these projects continue to take on an increased co-creative component.

Co-creation allows for projects that truly meet the needs and interests of all participants and show the value of cultural heritage. There is room for growth and attitude adjustments from both the archaeologists and the neighborhood communities. The perspective of the student who commented “Hualcayán was so great in prehistory, but look at it today” is as problematic as the looter who reduces the archaeological record to an economic resource whether in the highlands of Peru or the US.

At my very first field school in 1986, my former mentor the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis threw out the challenge that if we could not explain to the public why their tax dollars should support the archaeological research we were conducting we might as well go home. That is, did our work have value on the public land where we excavated or to the taxpayer who funded the research? At both Chucalissa and Hualcayán, I can answer Pat’s mandate with a strong yes. For me the genesis of that yes, began as a trade union activist when I learned to appreciate the value of listening and learning from the people in whose interest I wished to serve. That affirmation is found in working with the community and not for the community, a cornerstone of co-creative projects.

Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City

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

Here is what you get in the 132 page volume:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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