Tag: education

Archaeology & Museums – Predictions & Trends

This week I wanted to throw out some thoughts on the future of archaeology and museums.  Of late, I am fond of saying, if we think we can just hold our breath for a while and things will go back to the “good old days” of funding and support, then we will likely die of asphyxiation.  At the very heart of archaeology is the understanding of change through time and space.  Our very discipline provides us with the starting point to consider the change going on all around us today as well.

One of my most intriguing finds in the recent past is from the Museum Audience Insight post on Museum Visitation in Tough Economic Times.   The blog is based on a comparison of museum visitation studies by the Research Advisors and a recent report of the American Association of Museums.  In part, the AAM report concluded that although these are tough economic times, museum attendance overall is holding steady.  Further, the blog looks at the demographic trends of visitors and the nature of their museum engagement.  A follow-up post has a rather detailed analysis of the study respondents.  Both of these posts are definitely worth a look.

From the Heritage Key website in England comes 12 Expert Predictions on the future of Archaeology.   Although most of the predictions focus on advances in the scientific applications in archaeology, such as remote sensing, radiocarbon and DNA testing, other types of changes are also envisioned.  For example, author Brian Fagan predicts that site destruction will reach a crisis point.  From the Manchester Museum, Peter Brown sees new forms of communication as key for Museum success.  Experimental Archaeologist Jacqui Wood sees archaeological parks as more year-round experiential sites, bringing to mind venues such as Connor Prairie in Indiana.

What are your thoughts on the future of Archaeology and Museums?


Public Outreach in North Carolina Archaelogy

The Research Laboratories of Archaeology lives within the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  A pretty highfalutin sounding title and not necessarily a place one might immediately go looking for public outreach or teacher resources in archaeology.  Regardless, the site has a lot to offer. The Who We Are page lists the most recent accomplishments of the RLA and all deal with production or publication of educational materials geared at the K-12 level.

One of the most compelling resources is the Intrigue of the Past lesson plans geared to the 4th – 8th grade levels.  The five sections include Fundamental Concepts, The Process of Archaeology, North Carolina’s First People, Shadows of People, and Issues in Archaeology.  Chapters within the sections range from the culture history of Native Peoples, ethics, rock art, artifact analysis, archaeology as a career, to name a few.  The set of lesson plans are comprehensive and for the most part hands-on or participatory in nature to engage student involvement.  The total package of lesson plans is a useful guide for similar projects in other institutions or regions.

Other unique offerings on the site include a 2009 on-line course for teachers, Archaeology and North Carolina’s First Peoples taught by Theresa McReynolds through the Continuing Education Program at the University of North Carolina.  As described on the link “This online course explores the science of archaeology and 12,000 years of North Carolina’s human past. Participants will be introduced to inquiry-based activities that can be adapted to meet their own teaching objectives.”  The course runs 8 weeks and requires 5-7 hour per week commitment.  The course sounds like an excellent model to equip public school teachers with archaeology basics for classroom instruction.   Hopefully, this course will be ongoing.

The RLA site also has locally produced videos that explore different archaeological concepts such as stratigraphy.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the site is the electronic excavation of the 18th Century Native American Occaneechi site.  Though somewhat static and without the bells and whistles often associated with on-line edutainment today, the scope, detail, and value of the excercise are impressive.

The site has a set of links to other resources, a slide show on the 2009 Archaeology Day, links also to academic course offerings, field schools and recent research projects in the state, although this latter link is somewhat dated.

Of note, the Collections Page contains a series of pdf files of catalogs for artifacts curated by the RLA along with associated records such as black and white photos and color slides – something many state facilities are moving toward, but few have accomplished.

The site can be a bit confusing to navigate.  For example, with the link to the on-line course noted above, I am not certain how I got there the first time but the only way I refound the page was by going back through my browser history.  It seems that there are multiple links leading to the same thing – not a huge issue but a bit confusing.  There are no links or discussion of descendant voices save a few several year old articles on Cherokee Potters.

The RLA page is an impressive resource for North Carolina and a model of creative ideas for the rest of us.

so, is this Facebook stuff worth it?

I asked this question about Social Media in general a few weeks back.    I also noted how at the C.H. Nash Museum we do not want our newsletter, website, and Facebook to be simply different versions of the same thing.  We routinely use Facebook to interact and with our fans.  So how is that going and what are we learning?

The first thing I learned was the need to give up control.  This seems somewhat contradictory to my position as the Museum Director, but all of our staff and graduate assistants are now administrators of the Facebook page.  We routinely discuss the type of content we think will work.  I thoroughly enjoy that the posts I at first might cringe at, are in fact those that engage our fans the most.  Further, this interactivity is driving increased awareness and participation in our on-site events, such as our annual 5k run.

Second, the ability to interact with other Museums, cross promote activities, and simply share and be engaged with other folks experience is tremendous.  The page Museums on Facebook lists some 600 different institutions with fan pages.  I am a fan of a couple dozen different regional, Native American, and archaeological museum pages.  The types of posts from these museums is diverse.  Most museum web pages continue to just push product.  However, an increasing number are becoming more interactive and “social” in their approach.  For example the Newseum Facebook fan page always ends their posts with a question to engage their fans.  On the C.H. Nash Museum page, we find that questions posed are always answered by at least a couple of fans.

A recent post on Beth’s Blog discussed Facebook analytics.    Options range from the complex such as Google Analytics to not so complex analytic options.  For example, the simpler Insights link available to administrators of each individual Facebook fan page actually has a wealth of data.  There are also links with lots of Online data on Facebook fan page analytics.  A good starting point for me was a download that reports on comparative data based on Facebook Insights.  The report contains abundant detail on averages for Fan Pages, on everything from number of fans, average posts, number of comments per post – more stuff than you can shake a stick at.  This downloadable report allows you to see how your Fan Page stacks up against the norm.  For example, on the C.H. Nash Museum page, we are above the norm on the most of the various feedback measures.

However, these data still do not directly answer the question, is this Facebook stuff worth it?  If a page maintains above average rankings on all measures, does that mean it is working and is worth the time expended?  I’ll play with this more in the future.

What are your thoughts on how to measure if your energy expenditure in Facebook is worth it?

Student Field Trips & Budget Cuts

A casuality of cutbacks in education over the past several years is funding for field trips to museums and archaeological sites.  We need to develop creative responses.

In New York, the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s has innovated by taking programs into the schools.  Although the Museum charges 400.00 for the service, the price is cost effective for the school considering field trips average 11.00 per person to take 300 students to the Science Center.  The Museum expanded their  current Outreach offerings to 15 different programs.  The demand for the Center’s Outreach programs to the schools increased dramatically with a doubling of year-to-date revenues from the previous year.

Community partnerships are another means for funding field trips.  For example, at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn Washington, funding from the local Rotary Club, subsidized field trip expenses.  This avenue of support seems a natural.  Rotarians and other civic-minded individuals likely harken back to their time as students and the importance of field trips in their own formative experience.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, several approaches prove beneficial in reaching students.  First we promote the ticket subsidy program sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission that covers up to 50% of the cost for student participation in events at the Museum.  We also revised and tied all of our programs, crafts, and activities to the curriculum standards for all tri-state (Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee) area schools.

One of Chucalissa’s most successful new programs is the “Family Day” activity.  Less than one year old, we launched the program based on a community supporter’s comment.  One day, as a busload of children were arriving at the Museum, I commented on the enthusiastic response we received to our new programming.  The community supporter commented that this was great for schools, but what about the families who might visit the Museum?  Her comment begat Family Days.  Now, during the summer on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM and during the school year on Saturday only, we offer families who arrive at the museum a 2.5 hour program comparable in scope as that provided school groups.  The program includes our introductory video, tour of our hands-on archaeology lab and the archaeological site, our hands-on music program that includes a drumming circle, a scavenger hunt, and a craft activity where children make a pottery bowl to take home.  The program is a big success and allows us to reach youth who otherwise, because of budget cuts, might not be able to make the field trip.

What steps can you suggest to offset the shrinking field trip dollar?

The House of Dance and Feathers

A fitting post for today is Ronald Lewis’s museum The House of Dance and Feathers in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.  The museum focuses on the cultural traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans.  Besides that yesterday was Mardi Gras, the House of Dance and Feathers is particularly relevant to this blog because the institution in many ways represents the ultimate in public outreach or the public face of the museum experience.  I lived in New Orleans for a few years a couple of decades ago and always thought that the Zulu Krewe represented the essence of the African-American Mardi Gras experience.  Currently, there is an excellent exhibit on the Zulu Krewe in the Cabildo at Jackson Square in New Orleans.

The House of Dance and Feathers documents something entirely different.  As taken from their website “Since 2006, the museum has become an important gathering place for scholars, activists, students, neighbors, and volunteers to talk about the history and culture of the Lower Nine, and to discuss the rebuilding of New Orleans.  The museum has also hosted numerous meetings, workshops, and gatherings for people who are working to make things happen in New Orleans.  Visitors to the House of Dance and Feathers experience the power of self-representation and the value of cultural exchange.  Mr. Lewis is currently working with Rachel Breunlin and the Neighborhood Story Project to produce a museum catalogue. In his museum tours and public talks, Mr. Lewis speaks eloquently about the social significance of place, family, and cultural traditions in community-building, and he has been an outspoken advocate for a resident-led rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward.”

I first heard of the Museum in a presentation given by Helen Regis at the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings last year in Santa Fe.  Regis is one of the editors of the very engaging volume The House of Dance and Feathers: A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis. The book is a fantastic story and documentation of the multi-faceted potential of the museum experience.

What other community museums tell these untold stories?

Society for Georgia Archaeology, Public Outreach

A few weeks ago I posted about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology website and the wealth of online information they offer.  Louisiana is not unique in their breadth of offerings.  I find that in most states, their respective archaeological organizations provide an increasing amount of on-line information to the public.  Most state sites offer schedules of upcoming events, brochures and information about major sites and museums in the area, along with a listing of the programs and services available through the agency.  Also, these state archaeological agencies usually each contribute some unique online resource to the public.  In Louisiana, the unique offerings included their excellent mound trail driving brochure and teacher guides.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website follows a similar trend.  In addition to including many of the offerings common to archaeological  agencies in other states, Georgia also provides several unique offerings.  One of the most unique is information about the their archaeobus that takes archaeology to the public throughout Georgia.  Rita Elliott, Curator of Exhibits and Archaeology at the Coastal Heritage Society in Georgia gave an excellent presentation on the archaeobus at the 2009 Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Mobile, Alabama.  The archaeobus is a transformed Bookmobile retired from a county regional library.  The archaeobus web link documents the transformation process, including the expense involved, and evaluates the initial phase of the project.

The SGA website also has detailed lesson plans for download and use in the classroom.  Topics include the Mississippian mound complex at Etowah and the Removal of Native Americans from Georgia to Oklahoma in the 1800s.  The SGA website also provides links to other institution’s lesson plans such as at Springfield, the Free African-American Community founded around the time of the Revolutionary War.

The SGA website also contains the 128 page Archaeology in the Classroom: For Teachers by Teachers available free for download.

My favorite unique contribution on the SGA website is the Weekly Ponder column.  Now in its second year, the column provides updates on archaeological site excavations, preservation issues, discusses the veracity of historic documents, and current trends in archaeology, to name but a few of the topics covered.

The SGA site has links to volunteer opportunities, guides for preserving historic cemeteries, book reviews, summaries of the prehistoric periods in Georgia, Science Fair information, links for kids, along with the typical information found on most state archaeology websites.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website is well-maintained and regularly updated – I found no broken links or pages that were months out of date.  The SGA website is an excellent “one-stop-shopping” site for bringing archaeology to the public in Georgia.  The website would benefit from inclusion, or at least linking to, descendent voices, principally of the Native American communities.

Do you have a favorite website that brings archaeology and museums to the public?

SunWatch Indian Village & Public Outreach

In today’s post we have a Q & A with Andy Sawyer, Site Manager of the SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, near Dayton, Ohio.  I have long been impressed that SunWatch runs an effective outreach program and now leads the way in the inclusion of descendent voices in the programming of the site.  I asked Andy to share a bit about himself and the SunWatch program.

Tell us a bit about your own background and your overall responsibilities at SunWatch.

I am an Anthropologist who specializes in Archaeology.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Miami University and an MA from the University of Denver. In my career as a student and practicing archaeologist I have had the opportunity to work in many parts of the US.  Prior to coming to SunWatch I worked for several years in Cultural Resource Management throughout the western US.  At SunWatch I am responsible for the day to day operation of a partially reconstructed 800 year old American Indian village and museum that covers the lives of the American Indians who occupied this region almost 300 years before Columbus reached the shores of the “New World.”

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to bring the surrounding community to SunWatch?

One of the things about a small museum such as ours is that we do not have the space or the funding to bring in many traveling exhibits.  Thanks to the support of local donors, however, since 2007 we have offered an annual presentation series that covers topics of local and national interest on archaeology and issues important to the American Indian community.  Our first series in 2007 averaged 42 people per presentation and in 2009 we averaged 92 people per presentation.  We just started our fourth presentation series a few weeks ago and the attendance was 94.  These series have given us a chance to offer something new to the visitors.

That’s a pretty impressive increase in attendance. How do you account for the success?

We have focused on unique topics and have been lucky to have supportive donors that have allowed us to keep new subject matter on the table.  We also have “word of mouth” promoting as we have numerous regulars to the series over the last few years that share with folks they know and bring new people out. Also, I really think targeting the groups that have an interest in specific presentations or topics is a good strategy.  And of course, offering these programs free of charge doesn’t hurt either.

What has been your experience in being inclusive of descendent voices at the SunWatch Village?

Our experience over the last several years has been incredibly positive.  As you are likely aware, archaeologists and American Indians have not always had a good relationship, in fact in some cases it has been just outright confrontational.  When I first suggested to our organization that I wanted to contact the most visible American Indian group in the Dayton area about collaborating on events they were a bit skeptical.  In the past this American Indian organization had been critical of activities at SunWatch on multiple occasions. Part of the issues, I think, in the past was a lack of communication.  I contacted them, invited them in for a talk, and we are going on our 4th year of hosting their Pow Wow and collaborating on other events including a clothing and school supplies drive for various reservations.  So from my perspective it has been an entirely positive experience.

How do you currently use Social Media at SunWatch Village?

About a year ago we started a Facebook page for SunWatch which was our first, and still only venture into using social media outlets.  So far it seems to be a good way to get information about SunWatch and our upcoming events out to our “Fans” who have signed up.  It also seems to be a good way for our “Fans” to spread the word.  Many of our fans share our updates with their Friends helping to spread the word even further.  Some of the organizations that help us organize events, such as the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans and the Miami Valley Flute Circle, both American Indian based groups, also have their own Facebook or MySpace pages. So when these groups post info about events on Facebook they are also helping expose more people to SunWatch.

What do you anticipate will be the future role of social media at SunWatch Village?

Since we are still relatively new to this, and social media is relatively new itself, we are not sure exactly what role this will play for us in the future.  For now though it seems to be a promising way for us to reach those who are already aware of us and perhaps many more that are not… yet.

Any wise words of wisdom on how you promote SunWatch Village that other museums or archaeologists might find helpful?

Identify your audience(s).  As a non-profit we have a limited budget especially when it comes to promotions.  Part of what we have tried to do is identify people who we already know will have an interest in our events and finding ways to let them know what is going on.  The groups that we have identified include local historical societies, archaeological interest groups, Native interest groups, and others.  These organizations typically have newsletters and/or e-mail lists through which they can let their membership know about upcoming events of interest so they can help us promote our events to their members.  Last year our presentation series was on Archaeoastronomy so we contacted local astronomy organizations to let them know about the presentations and we had a great response.  This year our first presentation was on shipwreck archaeology in the Great Lakes, so we contacted a local Scuba group, and we started off with a bang again.  While we still use more traditional advertising/marketing strategies, targeting our efforts in this way helps us make sure we get the word out to people who we know are interested.

You can email Andy or visit SunWatch village on-line at www.sunwatch.org or on Facebook.  Be certain to check out SunWatch Village when you are traveling through Southwest Ohio.  In fact, Southwest Ohio has a bounty of Native American cultural resources from the prehistoric era including the Fort Ancient site and Miami Fort – both open to the public.

Museum 2.0 Blog

Without a doubt, the blog I look forward to reading most is Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0.   Much of the content does not seem relevant to an archaeological or history museum or for our medium-smallish size museum.  But a lot of what I get from Nina’s blog is like my coursework in linguistics as an undergraduate – it’s just good to think and often applicable in surprising ways.  I get that some of our reluctance to fully engage with the potential of Web 2.0 is lack of knowledge.  I recollect in 1995 only 2 of the 10 facutly members in the Anthropology Department where I was adjuncting had email.  One prof still insisted on typing his manuscripts on his IBM Selectric.  But when he found out that, via the internet, he could get daily newspapers from Mexico City, his research area, the typewriter went into storage.    So, if you are just sticking your toe in the water, let me give you a couple of examples from the Museum 2.0 blog that might get you to take the plunge:

Nina also writes a column for Museum, the magazine of the American Association of Museums and is currently completing a book on the participatory museum experience.

What are your experiences with Web 2.0 when it comes to Public Outreach?

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology has long been a leader in Public Outreach and Education in Archaeology.  Their website hosts a tremendous list of resources.  For example, one of their recent publications Poverty Point Expeditions , is a classroom workbook and available online from the Division.  Written by educator Debbie Buco, the workbook uses archaeology based at the Poverty Point site for lesson plans in a wide range of subject areas including natural and social sciences and the humanities.  The lesson plans are complete with step-by-step instructions, worksheets, materials and time estimates needed for completing the projects.  Each lesson is tied to the Louisiana State Curriculum Standards.  Over the past several years, the Division also produced the books Classroom Archaeology (Middle School), Adventures in Classroom Archaeology (K-12), and a picture book for elementary school children Louisiana Indians from Long Ago.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology is also a leader in creating virtual on-line versions of all their books and pamphlets.  Perhaps most exciting is the recently published Indians Mounds of Northeast Louisiana: A Driving Trail Guide.  The guide can be downloaded as a pdf file.  The culmination of an eight-year project, the guide contains 4 driving trails in the northeast quarter of the state that lead visitors to several dozen publicly visible prehistoric earthwork sites.  Each site is described through a topographic map, cultural affiliation, and other pertinent information.  The Guide provides the public with an understanding of the regional significance, accomplishment, and legacy of American Indians for the past 5000 years.  The conical and flat top mounds that dot the Louisiana landscape take on added meaning as a cultural resource truly worthy of preservation.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology website also includes information on Archaeoloigy Month programs, traveling exhibits, the preservation of cultural resources, the Regional and Station Archaeology Programs, and links to numerous other sites of archaeological, Native American, and preservation interests.

The publications listed above may also be ordered directly through the Division by completing this form

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