Disconnectedness is our shared challenge

Archaeology is what brings us together today for #blogarch. But what is your day job? Like, how do you put food on your table? There are so many job titles for people who identify as archaeologists.

Field Technician.
Museum curator.
Digital archaeologist.
Research scientist.
Adjunct professor.
Project director.
Historical society director.
Social media coordinator.
Museum education director.
Professional society education and outreach coordinator.
Reference librarian.
Associate Dean of students.
Crew chief.
Grants administrator.
Office administrator.
Front desk clerk.
Stay at home parent.
Consulting artifact specialist.
Brewery owner.

I mean, seriously, it’s astounding how much more diverse the jobs archaeologists hold compared to the reductive narrative that we can only become academics or cultural resource management workers. I have periodically felt lost and confused because I had not realized that our field is lousy with people who made their careers in creative ways that followed neither or both of the established paths to being a “Real and Productive Archaeologist.” But I digress.

The grand challenge of my archaeology is drawing together all these people who don’t connect often, but have important contributions to make within public archaeology. From these many contexts, my colleagues gain rich understandings of how non-archaeologists learn about our work and participate in it. I dream of stimulating a sense of community among public archaeologists which will enrich our approaches to teaching and seeking outside collaborators. I am trying to do my part by both practicing and reflexively studying public archaeology for my dissertation.

The thing is, knowing how to draw people together requires knowing about them. You have to think about the habits of your target audience, as my small business development mentor would say. So that’s what this blog post is about!

Why do I care so much?

It’s personal. (I’ve been told personal concerns should not be a reason for making academic choices but, eff it. It’s just a blog.) In my life, the original plan was becoming a professor. I wanted to do whatever I could to pursue inspiring community-based archaeology research. I heard lots of advice. Be good at fieldwork but not overconfident. Be careful and detail oriented in the lab. Publish research no matter what career you choose, just in case. Publish about excavations and traditional lab subdisciplines, not just theory or public archaeology. Be insightful even after a few beers. Be able to network at conferences. Don’t talk in the field. Learn more theory than method. Doing unpaid work for people is a good way to get a job. Write every day. And on.

I spent the last two years of undergrad and two years of grad school dedicating most all of my time to that dream before I developed a serious health problem. I had also had endometriosis since age 16, which debilitated me with pain and the stress of trying to get decent care. I have pushed through numerous days of crushing pain in the field. I may as well have stock in whatever company makes those portable Thermawraps.

Essentially, I drove myself into the ground. After finishing their Masters degrees, most of my class quit or suspended their enrollment. I knew that dream wasn’t for me anymore, so I started scheming to build an alternative career. Although I’m currently the only one from my year with such weird career plans (as far as I know), I quickly learned there are tons of us out there. (Thanks, Twitter!)

I spent most of last summer teaching digging from a bucket because I was unable to obtain proper care for my conditions and was dizzy and in pain much of the time. Being a full time field worker or fully nomadic makes these problems even harder to deal with so I’ve ruled them out. Neither do I love being a reading and writing machine in a university. Last year, I filed paperwork to be able to work as a contractor in digital and public archaeology. I frequently participate in scholarly activities digitally and annually attend the SAA conference. That’s where people usually find me to collaborate.

(False) Dichotomies

Where do the people, you people, hang out so I can design a digital place you’ll be compelled to visit often? Many of you perform elaborate balancing acts to fit archaeology into your lives. You may be in the field for a short time each year, or most of the year, or not at all. You may have mobile internet access. You exist along a series of spectrums. Where people fall is a combination of choice and necessity.

Nomadic ——————- Settled
Physically active ——- Sedentary
Worker ———————– Administrator
Method ———————- Theory
Independent ————— Institutional

I don’t think I have enough of an answer to respond to my own ideas any further, but I’m trying mightily to tackle them. If you read this, I’d love a tweet or comment with where you spend digital time.

My messy idea

People are doing good work trying to address intellectual, ethical, and political concerns but after thirty plus years of publishing in public archaeology it is time for a movement of critical analysis. Informal communities of practitioners help shape practice by perpetuating oral histories, received knowledge, mentor relationships, and external connections in ways that peer review does not. I want a space for that to develop for public archaeology and interested scholars in related fields. Our work is so often unpublished and key lessons relearned from scratch.

My idea originally was a page as engaging as Pinterest but differently organized and citation oriented. People could post and save teaching resources, comment, “like”, easily identify the license (intellectual property restriction) attached to each posted item, and modify it to their needs. Instead of a million lists of broken links we could have a dynamic space, but it would require a community of users who really found it useful. Everyone likes making lists and pinboards, right? Right? I want to hear what you think would work best. Do you think this is a pipe dream? What would you like to see when you go to plan a new outreach program?

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