Tag: public outreach

Museums as Participatory Institutions

For the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

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 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?

This year, Paige Brevick, a graduate student in Egyptology and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrote a compelling response that incorporates some of the ongoing discussions of museologists today, specifically based on her experiences on the staff of the Museum of Biblical History in Collierville, Tennesse, U.S.  Here is her essay:

The stereotype of museums as hoarders of wealth, both economically and intellectually, is an outdated myth in desperate need of revision.  While museums may have historically catered to the elite or academic, they have undergone significant reform in recent years to increase the transparency of their collections and develop their resources.  Today, even the most research driven institutions must find innovative ways to entice the public and interact with them through increasingly creative means.[1]  This level of social engagement encourages a dialogue between the public and academic that is rarely seen in other settings.  It is in this way that the museum leaves behind the stereotype of “elitism,” rather, it strives towards the ideal of the “participatory,” where a community may take an active role in all aspects of museum administration.[2]  Tax dollars then do not only fund high-brow research or support unethical wealth transfer.  Instead, the Public’s tax dollars go to fund museums who are increasingly aware of the needs of their communities, and who cultivate environments for learning.

As curator at the Museum of Biblical History, a small museum with limited staff in Collierville, Tennessee, my duties are highly varied.  Not only do I conduct research and work in the gallery, but I am constantly seeking out new ways to engage the public with our exhibitions.  The Museum of Biblical History has served the community for over two decades and has had to adapt to the needs of the changing community over time.  At its onset, the museum hosted lectures on archaeology that were free to the public.  Attending a museum lecture like this would provide John and Josephine Q. Public the opportunity to briefly leave behind the troubles they face in a hopefully inspiring way.  Though not necessarily problem-solving in itself, attending free lectures is a way for the public to better understand what museums in their town have to offer.  Attendance at a lecture like this may be the first step to getting involved in action-oriented projects within the community, as museum programming brings people from different social groups  together.

In an effort to better serve the community of Collierville, the Museum of Biblical History now offers Bible Story Time programming to children once a week.  Local members of the community, including the mayor and firefighters, volunteer to read Bible stories to  children in the museum.  The museum provides two crafts per program, which student participants make in the museum and take home.  Museum staff and volunteers supervise the event, with the support of visiting parents.  This program is provided free of charge.  Though the Publics are going through difficult times with reduced public services, turning to the resources provided by their local museums may alleviate small concerns and provide a degree of routine to their schedule.  Many museums offer similar free programming at least once a month.

Though the Museum of Biblical History is small, it adjusts to meet the needs of the community.  This winter the museum stored its entire Near Eastern artifact collection away, in order to showcase a highly requested display of nativities from around the world.  Even the crèche collection itself is on loan from a community resident.  As an archaeologist, part of me was hesitant to make such a dramatic change in our gallery.  The public, however, had spoken so the show was underway.  I curated the nativity exhibition and watched on opening night as over a hundred people packed into the small museum, doting upon handmade nativities.  The show brought people together to discuss culture, tradition, heritage, art, and the history of Christmas as it is understood from international perspectives.  The Publics tax dollars support experiences like this one.  Their funding encourages not only an appreciation of art and history, but of empathy across cultures, even in the small town of Collierville.

Museums should strive to become beacons of knowledge, and act as windows into other worlds, whether those worlds are a glimpse into an ancient culture or an exhibit featuring local artists.  A museum is not only a safe-haven for research or objects of the past.  If  museums are to remain successful in an economically turbulent environment, they need to continue to focus on making the information they possess accessible to the communities they serve.  The Publics, then, are not transferring their money into a disconnected or wealthy museum entity.  Instead, their tax dollars go back into their own community, creating educated generations for years to come.

[1] AMA, Word of Mouth Marketing, pg. 38-40.

[2] Simon, Nina.  “Chapter 7: Collaborating with Visitors,” In The Participatory Museum.

Service in Cultural Heritage

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza (center) with students from the Maria Parado de Bellido Nº 88104 school in Nivín, Peru.

This past Sunday, my colleague Gustavo Valencia Tello, invited me to a Father’s Day lunch at his home in Casma, Peru.  I am spending a couple of months in the area this summer as part of a co-creative project organized through Culture and Community in Casma (see this newsletter for more details).  During our lunch, Professor Valencia and I had a wide ranging discussion not just about this summer’s work but also our collaboration that began in July of 2015.  After finishing our meal Professor Valencia raised a question that got me to thinking.  He asked:

“You are from a major university in the United States.  In Casma we do not have a university and in Nivín we only have a very small school.  Why do you keep coming back to Nivín?

At first, I was not certain how to respond.  I thought about how the project is interesting.  I thought about how the project is the most “co-creative” in which I have ever been involved in addressing community needs in a collaborative manner.  But I realized those responses were really after the fact reasons.  After a few seconds of thought, I replied:

“Because you asked us to come.”

We then discussed how one year before our first visit, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and Professor Valencia had communicated on Facebook where he had invited us to come to the small school museum.  (I posted here about that first visit.)  I recalled how when we first arrived in Nivín, after touring the museum, school grounds, and the surrounding archaeological sites, we asked Professor Valencia what we could do to help his project.  He responded with a shopping list of needs.  At the top of the list was museum management texts in Spanish.  (Here is a link to our Annual Report for 2016 that details our completed projects to date.)

We are currently working with the school and community of Nivín to develop a five-year strategic plan that will guide our co-creative work in the future.  Gustavo’s original invitation for Elizabeth and I to visit Nivín has led to very meaningful professional projects for all of us.

The “why did you come” question this past Sunday got me to thinking more.  I thought about my first trip to Peru in the summer of 2013.  That visit was also based on a request for me to come to help start a small museum and cultural heritage center in the village of Hualcayán to supplement archaeological research in that community.  I learned much over the four years I spent on projects in Hualcayán.

My visit to Debbie Buco’s classroom in 1997.

I then thought about other times when I had just shown up after being asked over the years.  I thought about my time as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site some 15 – 20 years ago.  I often received requests from schools and libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi to just come and visit.  One of the most rewarding requests was when I said yes to Debbie Buco, an elementary school teacher in Baton Rouge (described in this post).

Over the length of my career, without question, the most meaningful professional experiences have always come when I said “yes” to requests to be of service – often after a great deal of initial reluctance on my part.

I fear that we are in a time when such requests for service too often go unheeded.  I am surprised by the reluctance of emerging professionals to share their successful and not so successful experiences with others in form of blogs or public presentations when asked to do so.   I remember how odd it sounded to me during my first field school in 1986 to hear someone with their BA in Anthropology fresh in hand announce as they visited our excavations that he would never again do archaeology for free.  Years ago advisors cautioned me against engaging in service because publications and grants were the name of the game when seeking faculty tenure.  Just recently, the editor of a major peer review journal lamented to me that it was hard to get younger professionals to agree to do peer reviews of articles submitted for publication.

I appreciate too that one cannot, and should not say yes to every request that comes along.

I don’t intend this as a holier than thou piece.  In fact, saying “yes” to requests, whether peer review, sharing experiences, or in a variety of community service opportunities, is really quite self-serving from the “in giving, you receive” perspective.  The simple fact is that by saying “yes” to Professor Valencia a couple of years ago, my colleague Elizabeth and I each have at least another five-year project that will likely prove the most meaningful in both of our careers – Elizabeth as she works to complete her doctoral studies and for me as a post retirement project till I turn 70!  Without question, those aspects of my career that I consider the most significant and meaningful would not have occurred had I not said “yes” to being of service.

The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting 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.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.

 

¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

2017 Field Opportunity, North Coast of Peru

structuresI have posted before about the research project Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I have launched near the village of Casma, Peru.  We are pleased to announce that a 2017 field school opportunity from late May through July.  The project involves archaeological field excavations and survey, mapping, artifact analysis, museum practices and engagement with the local community.  The project sites are located around the small town of Nivín and date from 500 BC – AD 1400. 

There will be two sessions for the 2017 Season:

Session 1 – May 26 – June 24

Session 2 – June 26 – July 24

For more information, see:

We anticipate offering only four student slots for each of the two sessions.  The small size of the field crew will assure plenty of individual instruction and experience, but also that the spots will fill quickly!

More on Museum Relevance in 2017

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For the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

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 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?

This year, Jessica Johnson, a December graduate of the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrote a compelling response that is particularly apt for the current socio-political climate in the U.S.  Here is his essay:

I was once told that art is the product of what a society thinks of itself and wants others to see, but historical artifacts were the reality of a society. The two outputs of any society are intricately intertwined to create an entire picture. Traditionally, museums were more appealing to the wealthier class as a leisurely activity, but as museums constantly strive to validate their own existence, this statement is becoming more outdated and naïve. This is not to say there is no validity to it because many institutions still struggle with their purpose and mission, and translating those goals into actual, beneficial, tangible ways of providing for their community.

As an emerging, young museum professional I ask myself the same variety of questions as Mr. and Mrs. John and Josephine Q. Public. Why does what I do matter? It matters to me, but I have the personality and innate love of museums that makes me completely bias. However, what I do does not matter in the least bit if it does not matter to the people of whom we are researching and maintaining their history. Despite the arguments, however valid, that museums must balance budget with best practices, and outreach and advocacy with factual knowledge, the bottom line still remains: Why are we important enough to keep? I personally feel that museums are far too quick to congratulate themselves when they have done something that falls into the category of “outreach” or “community engagement.” The complications that must be balanced in museum life are hard and time consuming. However, I doubt any museum professional is required to spend 4+ years in school, only to not be able to handle the hard, time consuming tasks, while still constantly striving to fortify the reason for a museum’s existence. We as professionals know why, we feel why, we work every day towards why, but we have to remember that we still have much farther to go when it comes to convincing other people why museums actually matter.

Perhaps my specialization within my field, or the time I spent researching something only to have the accomplishment of adding to the general, scholarly pool of knowledge, can be deemed this transfer of wealth. However, once that is through, once myself and other young professionals and continuing museum professionals are interacting with their communities, this statement is far less true. Our training is applied to handling objects, but it is also applied to teaching people, caring for our surroundings, becoming relevant and interacting with the public on a local and global scale.

The tax dollars teach professionals how to care for the history, culture, and ability to learn about things that would have otherwise disappeared long ago, and do so for the people that pay their tax dollars. The research/position we do is justifying the tax dollars spent by helping citizens gain the ability to reconnect with history, to learn from history and, like suggested, empower people (Connolly 2012) and give them a sense of pride about their history and their community. But more so than that, research/position brings to light a sense of purpose about how far our society has come, and how far we still have to go.  Our research grounds citizens in the common thread that is all of our human existences. Our society often divides people, puts them into categories and groups based on a multitude of factors and occasionally, so do museum classifications. But the bigger picture, the Big Idea as it were, is that what is highlighted in museums, whether it be expression, creativity, perseverance, culture, history, applies to every person on a fundamental level; reminding us that we are all the same. This is something that is often forgotten, but can be the cornerstone for so much growth and cooperation.

Museums are constantly striving to interact with their community on all economic levels. To fight against the stigma that museums are only for the wealthy who have the free time to leisurely stroll through priceless works of art. There are so many more museums that chronicle racial inequality, the struggle of the misfortune, the history of our country. Through heavy subjects such as these, to art made simply for pleasure and viewing, museums cannot only help these individuals on an emotional level by allowing them a safe haven to get away from their troubles for a short amount of time, but are striving to tangibly help people. For example, the San Francisco Public Library helped their community by hiring the homeless people that often took refuge within their walls, and even provided contact with a mental health specialist (Goldberg 2016). This example is just one of many where museums are fulfilling their ability to cast a “ripple effect” (Simon: 2012) through their surroundings, whether it be creating a thriving downtown area, or being a draw for businesses and home owners. I know that as professionals entrusted with providing our relevance and caring for collections, we still have much to prove. However, we are on a constant path toward giving back as much as our societies have given it us.

Jess can be reached at jjhnsn78(at)memphis.edu

Nancy Hawkins: 35 Years of Service to Louisiana Archaeology

NHawkins

Nancy Hawkins receiving award for her work on the Poverty Point World Heritage Site.

After 35 years my friend and colleague, Nancy Hawkins is retiring at the end of this year from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in Baton Rouge.  Her final job responsibilities included Outreach, the Regional & Station Archaeology, Archaeology Month, Teacher Assistance and more.  Nancy played a major role or was completely responsible for many of the highly successful projects carried out by the Division over the past three decades.  These projects include The Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana Trail Guide, many of educational programs and publications by the Division, and most recently the successful nomination of the Poverty Point site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is a bunch more.

I first met Nancy in the winter of 1995 when I applied for the position of Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site.  I don’t remember much of the interview process.  I do remember riding with Nancy on the four-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Epps, Louisiana.  I do remember how exciting I was to be considered for this position.  I had visited Poverty Point four years before on a graduate student field trip, stood in the plaza and said “If I could get a job working here it would be like dying and going to heaven.”  I got the job in 1996.

From 1996 to 2003 I was the Station Archaeologist. Over that period, I learned much from Nancy that helped guide my career for the next twenty years.  Those lessons were not always easy, but critical for any success I was able to have.  Here is some of what I learned from Nancy:

  • Appreciate the big picture.  In Nancy’s capacity of coordinating the entire Station and Regional Archaeology Program along with countless other activities and events, she always was as mindful of the whole as the individual parts.  These lessons served me well in my later career when I juggled the interests of multiple individuals to build a central institutional mission.
  • When I worked as the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point, I absolutely loathed the Annual Reports we wrote that Nancy reviewed.  I saw this task as the equivalent of writing a new PhD dissertation every year – and in many ways it was.  But I joked with Nancy several years later when I was hired into a position where the organization had been on the decline for a several years, that annual reports and annual actions plans were the absolute key to keeping us on track to resurrect that institution.  It was through Nancy’s thoroughness in reviewing and administering these reports that I learned to show an accountability in what we were charged to carry out as public stewards of cultural heritage.
  • I have came to appreciate a thoroughness in working with Nancy on multiple projects over the years.  I readily admit that when I began my tenure at Poverty Point, I was very much like a kid in the candy store with possibilities.  I could zip from one project to another, trying to juggle too many balls in the air.  I recollect well my irritation when I would send a new project I was particularly pleased with for Nancy’s review, and she might note that, yes it looked good, but the images could be more sharply focused, and the text could benefit from some reworking – and she was right. When I came to oversee the production of exhibits later as  museum director or in applied student projects, I employed the same thoroughness and attention to detail – many times I suspect equally irritating the others, but providing them the same opportunity to learn.
  • Nancy exhibited tremendous insights during her tenure the with the Division of Archaeology.  Her vision for the Mounds Commission, the Louisiana Mounds Trail, and Poverty Point as a World Historic Site were absolutely instrumental to their becoming a reality.  In that capacity Nancy demonstrated tremendous patience and commitment to seeing those projects through, despite the obstacles that regularly surfaced.  This lesson has been absolutely key to my practice.
  • Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learned from Nancy was watching her facilitate the many projects she successfully shepherded through during her tenure.  Nancy masterfully could take just a little, find other resources and individuals with a common interest, get them working together, to produce a final product for which her name often appeared only as a footnote, but could clearly could not have occurred without her facilitation.  Over the past 10 years, this lesson from Nancy proved a guiding focus of how I came to operate in a several capacities.

This list could go on.  I enjoyed that Nancy could always ask tough questions, and still does for which I have no good answer – but force me to think.  The one nagging question she repeated to me during a meeting just a couple of weeks ago –  How are we able to evaluate the value of the public archaeology programs we create?

The State of Louisiana and public archaeology in general are much better today for the 35 years of service by Nancy Hawkins.  I would be remiss if I did not note how she was always supported by and functioned as part of a team effort.  Although there were certainly other capable folks both before and after my tenure in Louisiana Archaeology, what I consider my own personal Glory Days benefited not just from Nancy’s work but also the vision of individuals such as Tom Eubanks, Duke Rivett, Rachel Watson and all of my colleagues in the Regional and Station Archaeology Program.

As I am now retired to New Orleans, and taking up the cause of Louisiana Archaeology again as I am able, I have commiserated with Nancy about the decimation of so much cultural heritage work that was built over the past decades.  I believe the decimation is largely the result of misplaced priorities and the short-sighted vision of many elected officials.  There is no reason to be optimistic about the immediate future for cultural heritage resources in Louisiana or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter.  We will need to take the best of old models and adapt them to a new set of realities.  Without question the work by Nancy Hawkins and her colleagues over the past 35 years laid a solid foundation on which that future can be built.

Public Accountability in Cultural Heritage Studies – Now More Than Ever.

MAGS artifact3Public or Applied Archaeology will play an increasingly important role in presenting and preserving cultural heritage of the United States in the coming period.  As readers of this blog are aware, I advocate for demonstrating the public relevance of archaeology and museums.  With a future certainty that discretionary spending will be increasingly cut, cultural heritage programs that best demonstrate their utility to the public, will stand the best chance of surviving.

Below are several links that show how this might work, first around the issue of metal detecting:

  • Maureen Malloy, Manager of Public Education at the Society for American Archaeology is the lead author on a paper that evaluates the SAA role in advising on the National Geographic Channels Diggers program.  The reality cable tv show featured avocational metal detectorists, often considered by professional archaeologists as a significant bane to their existence.  Maureen presented the paper, Diggers Evaluating Diggers: A Collaboration between SAA and the National Geographic Channel, at last year’s SAA Annual meeting in Orlando.  In the paper, Maureen and her co-authors trace the evolution of Diggers, demonstrating the positive impact that professional archaeologists were able to bring to the show’s content.  The paper effectively argues for an engaged presence as a means to increase attention and action on the archaeological concerns in such programming.
  • Matthew Reeves presented the SAA Webinar Working With Metal Detectorists: Citizen Science at Historic Montpelier and Engaging a New Constituency.  Matt discusses the training program for the Montpelier detectorists and their work at the Montpelier site.  The webinar is available for free to SAA members here.  If you are not an SAA member but would like access to the webinar, drop me a note to see about making arrangements.  Matt also recently published an article on the subject that provides considerable detail on the Montpelier project.
  • The SAA For the Public webpages has a resource link dedicated to metal detecting and includes articles such as Reality Television and Metal Detecting: Let’s Be Part of the Solution and Not Add to the Problem by Giovanna Peebles.  The page contains nearly two dozen other links on metal detecting, public engagement, and related legal issues.
  • I would be remiss if I did not note the BBC comedy The Detectorists that is available on Netflix.

A couple of other recent links relevant to public archaeology include:

  • Elizabeth Reetz, chair of the SAA’s Public Education Committee, recently posted a PowerPoint file Effectively Communicating Archaeology to the Public In Three Minutes or Less that contains information about advocacy work in archaeology.  Of particular value, Elizabeth’s presentation addresses a point raised in Maureen’s SAA paper – how archaeologists and the public often talk on two different levels with two different sets of vocabularies and expectations.  Elizabeth’s presentation is a great way to kick off a discussion on launching an advocacy campaign.  And speaking of advocacy, check the Resource Guide for the just published volume I edited with Beth Bollwerk, Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset.  The Guide contains over 30 Advocacy links to better guide public engagement in cultural heritage work.
  • Finally Doug’s Archaeology recently posted a set of videos of papers on Community Archaeology from a recent conference of The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK.  The papers address and evaluate a diversity of community-based cultural heritage projects.

What other resources will you use to demonstrate the relevance of your cultural heritage projects funded by the public we are meant to serve? 

 

 

 

 

The End of College – It Gets Better!

MOOC, cocreate

Two elementary school students record Munsell colors on ceramic vessels in Nivin, Peru.

Debbie Morrison’s review of the End Of College by Kevin Carey convinced me to read the book.  I am glad I did.  Carey’s basic thesis is that traditional higher education, particularly for undergraduates, is not working well today and is in need of restructuring.  Carey uses the MITx MOOC Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life taught by Professor Eric Lander as a framework to explore and pose solutions on what that restructured undergraduate model might look like.

Critique of Critiques

As Debbie notes in her review, much of the criticism of The End of College misses the point of the book.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For example, when I first read John Seery’s review in the Huffington Post I wondered if I should read the book.  However, reading The End of College revealed Seery’s review to be more of a defense of his past, present, and future vision at Pomona College where he has taught for the past 25 years.  In fact, I had some question if we even read the same book, waiting for the evidence of the damning indictments Seery made of Carey’s book.  Seery concludes his review with “The End of College is an embarrassment. And it’s not because Kevin Carey lacks a PhD” I find Seery’s review an embarrassment that he can find no value or validity in Carey’s critique of undergraduate education.

Though less inflammatory than Seery, the review of the book by Audrey Watters and Sarah Boldrick-Rab in Inside Higher Education similarly does not acknowledge any problem in higher education or propose an alternative to Carey’s analysis.  The general tone of the noted reviews reminds me of folks like Arthur Keen in his Cult of the Amateur or the more simplistic “the sky is falling” arguments against MOOCs of a few years ago.  The reviewers do a disservice to their own arguments by presenting critiques at odds with the facts.

What is the book about?

Debbie’s review does a great job in reviewing the content of the End of College.  Carey contextualizes his proposals within the historic development of higher education and hybrid (joint research and undergraduate) institutions. Of particular value is the discussion of engaging more digital technology in restructuring undergraduate curricula.

The Illusion of MOOC’s Declining Numbers

The above critiques and those noted in Debbie’s review point to the alleged failure of MOOCs as an educational tool.  As Seery notes in his review “The MOOC run-up has already run its course.”

  • Yet in the most recent issue of LAS News (Fall 2016) I received in the mail this week from my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), I read “Illinois Education is becoming more accessible thanks to new offerings via massively open online courses . . . These include the Department of Statistics, a partner in Illinois’ new Masters of Computer Science in Data Science degree offered through online education company Coursera.  And Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences and emeritus professor of English is teaching the campus’ first lecture-based MOOC in American Poetry on Coursera.”
  • A review of the coursera.org catalog shows that at UIUC alone over 50 instructors ( from Lecturers to Full Professors) are offering 70 MOOC courses in 2016 Fall semester.
  • The MOOC aggregator Class Central notes that the “total number of students who signed up for at least one MOOC course has crossed 35 million—up from an estimated 16-18 million last year.”

A review of available resources demonstrates that MOOCs have in fact not already run their course.  Seemingly, major universities throughout the world are jumping more on the MOOC bandwagon as Carey notes.

The Illusion of MOOCs as a Failure

Critics allege MOOCs are failures for a host of reasons.

  • The completion rate for most courses is reasonably low – I am not certain how completion rate equates to success or failure.  I have started perhaps 20 MOOCs over the past few years and completed 25% of them. (I have a much smaller completion rate for films I start to watch on Netflix, but the streaming video business seems to be thriving.)  Have MOOCs failed me or vice versa?  I think not.  When filling in a MOOC course registration survey, one is typically asked if they plan to complete the readings, quizzes and so forth.  As a well-trained student and believer that I must finish whatever I start, in the past I always checked the ‘plan to complete everything’ box and was disappointed if I didn’t.  Then I had an interesting experience about one year ago.  I registered for a course only because I wanted to listen to the lectures from one week of the six-week course – I had no intention of finishing the course, or completing any of the assignments.  I am more mindful when completing these surveys today.  Now I view registering for MOOCs similar to checking out a book in the bookstore.  Most books that I pick up, I don’t end up buying or reading.  I review the table of contents, read the Intro (often on-line) and then I will commit or not to the entire book.  As Carey (p.154) notes, if only 2% of the world took one MOOC course annually at $74.00 that small enrollment will create 10 billion dollars in revenue.
  • Critics argue that the primary users of MOOCs are male with advanced degrees – or perhaps that is the demographic filling out the evaluation surveys on same since the data are largely based on enrollee responses to surveys – that might be an interesting study in itself.  Yet the table below (Table 2 of linked article)  suggests that the greatest number of folks completing the courses are actually high school students!  Debbie Morrison posted a while ago an interesting piece on the role MOOCs can play in high school student decision-making on future careers.
Course Auditing Completing Disengaging Sampling
High school 6% 27% 29% 39%
Undergraduate 6% 8% 12% 74%
Graduate 9% 5% 6% 80%

MOOCs as a Supplement to Higher Education Offerings

A few years ago I posted a blog about the writing deficiency of many of my graduate student advisees.  I found that MOOC and other free-on line offerings of value to my students to obtain training in writing and other areas not available in their degree programs.

For example, a student with a career focus in cultural heritage administration was able to supplement her regular course-work with Build Essential Skills for the Workplace a ten-course specialization from Coursera.org taught by faculty from the University of California at Irvine.  The cost for the approximately 60 hours of course instruction and capstone project was $323.00 with credentials (or at no cost to audit).  Of importance, when I asked the student after completing the specialization “Was it worth it?  Did you get anything out of it you could not have gotten from your degree coursework?” they responded with an emphatic yes.

This semester a student dramatically improved their weak writing skills through a free English composition course I recommended at saylor.org.

In both of the above examples, the MOOCs provided offerings that were not available in the students formal coursework, they found the MOOCs of value, and they demonstrated increased skills as a result of the MOOC.  How is this not a good thing?

Takeaways from the End of College

Kevin Carey’s book, in a reasoned, linear, and well-organized approach and addresses several of the challenges facing higher education today.  Contrary to what his more adamant critics allege, I don’t think Carey believes he has received a mountain top divine revelation on this subject.  Rather, he provides a sober assessment, contextualized within an historic perspective, of the state of undergraduate education today.  MOOCs may very well be the Friendster of higher education replaced in the near future by a more effective tool.  I don’t think Mr. Carey will take issue with that point either.  However what Carey clearly lays out, and I completely concur, is that undergraduate education does not work well today.  Although some academicians present reasoned discussion on this issue, such as Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan College in his review of Carey’s book, there appears an overall polarization on MOOCs, like much else in the US today.

I often remark that if academicians think that they can just hold their collective breath and wait for things to go back to the “good old days” of funding, they will all die of asphyxiation and higher education as we know it will go the way of Kodak and daily newspapers.  Discussions of the real problems and viable solutions need to be put forward, particularly for undergraduate education.  It is just plain silly to rant about the low completion rates for MOOCs yet not address the similar decline in completion rates for Undergraduate degrees at bricks and mortar institutions.

I leave with:

Coursera currently hosts 1259 free courses on an incredible diversity of subjects taught by faculty at accredited university’s across the globe.  How is that not a good thing?

In my former academic department, the required graduate seminar on Research Design is taught once every two years.  Students often need portions of the coursework sooner to conduct their graduate research projects.  Coursera offers a Questionnaire Design for Social Surveys course by  Frederick Conrad, Ph.D., Research Professor, Survey Methodology at the University of Michigan.  Students can audit the course for free or register for $69.00.  Or they can register for the entire seven-course Survey Data Collection and Analytics Specialization, audit for free or register for 423.00.  How is having this option available as a supplement to their formal coursework not a good thing?

Finally, how does this relate to Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach?  Stay tuned.

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?

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