FAQ for Survey on Public Archaeology Practice

Over the past couple weeks I have been sending around a survey which comprises part of my PhD data collection (find it here). In response to questions I have received, I’ve put together this handy guide to Frequently Asked Questions.

Do I do public archaeology?

These are the most common questions I’ve gotten so far in response to my survey. Public archaeology is such a broad term that’s some believe it has been rendered meaningless. But I don’t think it’s meaningless – I think it is meaningful enough, at least, to have attracted your attention!

If your work fits any of these descriptions, you are someone I am looking to fill out this survey:

  • Presenting to the public about archaeology (or related topics)
  • Working with members of a descendant community, local community, or other stakeholders at any stage of research or cultural resource management
  • Putting together educational materials about archaeology
  • Doing archaeology intentionally in public – in person or on the internet
  • Participating in an archaeology event (such as a local archaeology day, Day of Archaeology, or International Archaeology Day)
  • Putting out press releases about archaeology work or events
  • Working in museums, education, or other settings where you regularly explain past-oriented topics
  • Representing a government or non-profit entity dedicated to the preservation of archaeological resources
  • If you see yourself as bridging a gap between archaeologists and other groups
  • If you consider yourself a public archaeologist, community archaeologist, community based participatory researcher in archaeology, heritage worker

What is your definition of public archaeology?

That’s a good question that I hope to settle for myself as I write my dissertation. ( I wrote an earlier blog post with several definitions of public archaeology that you might find interesting. There are tons more where that came from.)

For now, I believe it is an important term for drawing a diverse group of individuals together who share aspects of practice that may not be understood within a broader archaeological community. I know this is an unsatisfying answer but that complexity is why public archaeology is the subject of so many PhD dissertations lately.

What will I get out of participating in the survey?

I am committed to making my dissertation Open Access when it is completed (due within the next year.) I am also committed to my work being relevant to public archaeology practice broadly, which is part of the reason I am so open to feedback online. What you will get out of participating in this survey is supporting my approach to scholarship, and eventually, access to the research you contributed to. I will do my best to also create more digestible forms of my full dissertation once this process is completed.

What is your dissertation about?

My dissertation is about the relationship between public archaeology practice and the institutions which fund, publish, and apply requirements upon the people pursuing it. In academia, the most prominent institutions that shape research practice would be universities, publishers, granting agencies, and governmental bodies (especially if it is a government-sponsored institution.) In US contract archaeology, public archaeology work takes place in relation to the company, the client, state and federal and tribal historic preservation officers, property owners, and granting agencies, among others.

Each setting in which public archaeology is done has a set of institutions involved; none are outside institutional influence. The role of institutional requirements on the development of scholarly practice goes relatively undiscussed in public archaeology literature. There is a set of origin stories about public archaeology which have been published as well as passed along through the oral history of practitioners; I am interested in understanding these (through a survey and interviews) as well as studying the development of public archaeology practice through in-depth case studies and text analysis of a literature database.

How does this survey help you with your dissertation?

My objective in creating this survey is to get a broad sense of what practitioners believe is important about archaeology-in-public/outreach/co-conducted research/community-directed research/whatever version of public archaeology they pursue. To understand this, I want to know what people think about how their form of practice came about, how they identify themselves in professional life, and whether their identification with public-oriented practice has been impacted in any way by feedback that is routed through institutional frameworks.

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