Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who wants to change the world?  I do, I do! 

Barbara Little and Paul Shackel’s (2014) book tells us, who work in the heritage field, how.  Here are just a few gems of wisdom that resonated for me and the work us archaeologists do at FPAN.  It's not really a book review as much as points of reflection.  If any of these points bring a recent project of yours to mind, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Heritage as Healing

 In the margins of my copy of the book I go wild with ideas after I read the following:

Our work is applied anthropology and our intention for this book is to provoke heritage work that is intentional about building peace and social justice. (151)

A big idea Little and Shackel put forth is that heritage should be reframed as healing.  Where in my work in Florida can I help end social injustice?  The first thing that came to mind was abandoned cemeteries.  It does not take long when visiting cemeteries to notice a pattern, that African and African-American cemeteries are far more neglected than their European descendent cemetery neighbors.  Take for instance St. Josephs and Oak Hill in Palatka.  The two cemeteries are enormous with a hundred years of Palatka residents and visitors interred.  They are right across the street from each other!  They have a lot in common, but Oak Hill is owned and managed by the City of Palatka while St. Josephs has abandoned status.  And this disparity plays out in every county in Florida.  In Volusia County, I’m most impressed by the men and women supporting the Friends of Oaklynn Cemetery organization.  They have managed to dialog across ethic, gender, and age boundaries to come to a common goal of cleaning up that abandoned cemetery for a greater good.  Can Oaklynn be a place of ultimate healing?  Can every forgotten cemetery be a site of consciousness?  I think yes, and Little and Shackel have thrown quite a challenge in my direction to go beyond the Cemetery Resource Protection Training programs we conduct and the site files to move towards better listening, better dialoging with the communities I serve.

Archaeologists as Activists

I’ve never been more aware than now as St. Augustine’s 450th approaches that everything we do as anthropologists is political.  I loved what Little and Shackel have to say about the role of archaeologists: 

We propose that heritage workers from any discipline begin thinking of ourselves primarily as members of the public. (145)  


Expertise is not interference when it is offered ethically and in a spirit of collaboration.  Experts are legitimate stakeholders and expertise is often essential to good decision making (67)

That WE have a seat at the table during public deliberation.  I sometimes feel my job is to provide data for the public to make an informed decision.  Yet the decision I make as a professional has merit and is okay, within our ethical guidelines, to share with the public.  Prior to the last major election, I shared on Facebook a statement in support of Conservation (Amendment 1).  I didn’t endorse a candidate or a party, but if FPAN’s core mission was once to protect the state’s buried past through education and outreach, why not voice support for conservation legislation? 

The Value of Networking

Closer to the beginning of the book Barbara Little introduces herself and offers this statement: 

I see no boundaries to anthropology, and thus no boundaries to its archaeological branch.  I am an anthropologist first, an intellectual identity that prompts me to keep looking for intersections and connections.  (20)  

 I think one of the inadvertent things FPAN can provide is long term partnership building.  As part of my job I network within 15 counties and target heritage organizations, educators, local governments, and volunteers that serve a variety of purposes.  The longer I am at this work, I see the endless connections to be made across these partners, and finding I am too often the last component standing.  We may link teachers with sites and volunteers, or local governments with archaeologists and advocates, but too often those variables change.  By staying in place for nearly 10 years, I become the more constant bridge between some of these partners.  The good goes beyond the benefit of cultural resources, we are helping to build sustained social capital.  

Cultural Resources in Danger

Heritage sites are impacted too often by flooding, hurricanes, sea level rise, tornadoes, mud slides.  A colleague approached me during one of our professional society meetings last year and asked what can be done to bridge the gap between historical ecology and community engagement.  I had no idea, but said I was willing to work with her on this.  The result so far has been a panel to discuss impacts by these natural factors on cultural resources at the Society for Historical Archaeology annual meeting.  We started a Facebook group last year #EnvArch and for one of my first posts I put a quote from this very book: 

Judging by work in the field for the last several decades, it is not uncommon for cultural heritage professionals to feel as if cultural preservation takes a backseat to environmentalism.  The feeling of being less visible, less valued by the larger public, and less potent politically can get in the way of integrating complementary movements.,  Our common aspirations for positive peace and environmental justice remain divided when we cannot integrate our efforts and join forces. (33)

This is very real to me as an archaeologist working in Florida.  We can already see the impacts of not only sea level rise, but impacts made from people getting together and trying to solve the problem.  Not all solutions work.  The things we will attempt to try and stave off loss of habitable land due to sea level rise are nothing small to an archaeologist.  Destruction of sites, considerable impacts due to development inland as settlement patterns change, and speaking up for cultural resources that have been on our coast for hundreds or thousands of years when faced with people losing their homes and public places.  A recent study on Sea Level Rise was conducted in our area.  Despite speaking up for cultural resources at every public opportunity given to me, historic sites were still not included in the overall study.  Please, let’s work together!  As Little and Shackel paraphrase Barbara Johnston (Life and Death Matters: Human Rights, Environment, and Social Justice 2011) in their book: while chaos might be a necessary ingredient in crisis, it is not necessarily the endpoint for human environmental emergencies. (33).

Peace Parks

Through this book I was introduced to the concept of Peace Parks.  Transboundary Protected Areas (TBPAs) are places where biological and cultural diversity are protected.   Sandra Scham and Adel Yahya (2003) received funding from the US Department of State through the 1998 Wye River Accords , their project was intended to examine the common heritage of Israelis and Palestinians. (34)  Back in 2011 Nelson Mandela proclaimed, “In a world beset by conflicts and division, peace is one of the cornerstones of the future.  Peace parks are a building block in this process, not only in our region, but potentially in the entire world.” (35)  What sanctuaries are located near me?  Where else are environmental, cultural, and living resources balanced?  I live near a place called Treaty Park, but it’s become a recreational field and playground station.  Could it too be used for peacemaking?  Maybe not on the level as TBPAs or other reserves, but what between living Seminoles today and inhabitants of Northeast Florida can overlap in this space?  As the 200th anniversary of the start of the Seminole Wars in Florida comes in 2018, I will be thinking of Peace Parks and looking for sites where healing can happen.   

Archaeological Literacy

And finally, this gem: 

Professional working at significant places need to understand how their work can potentially impact local communities, indigenous peoples, and ethnic communities. (42) 

And later

Scientists continually call for greater scientific literacy without recognizing their own responsibility for the lack of mutually intelligible communication. (66)

For years I’ve been working to raise the literacy level of cemetery care and management for the public to protect our sacred landscapes.  Over 500 people have taken part in these workshops to develop a common lexicon so we can deliberate and discuss cemetery matters and make a difference.  What have I learned of their language?  Have I listened enough to pick up on their foreign words?  I think my ears are half open.  I’ve adopted many of the phrases from other cemetery interested folks: cemeterians, hit it with D2, taphophiles.  I’d be a better anthropologist if I’d sit back every other site visit and just observe.  

Here on our blog, in our social media messaging, and at lectures and classroom visits, I’m not sure how much attention we pay to dialog.  We want to communicate our analytical findings to share with the public and hope that by informing the public it will lead to appreciation and preservation.  But Little and Shackel say:

The assumption that people simply need more or more accurate information to make informed and well-reasoned decisions is not supported by research. (65)

This stirs me.  Dialog seems key in changing people’s assumptions and ideas about science.  It’s true my favorite part of a lecture is the Q and A at the end.  It puts their interests first, or the controversial topics I’ve skirted around, or what’s more relevant to the public on a given day.  Maybe instead of scheduling more library programs, festival tables, and workshops we should be scheduling simple open Q and As?  This is something I’ve just never tried.  Which is surprising, as I’m a big fan of social media and one of the many tools heritage organizations take advantage of are live chats via Facebook and Twitter.  I’m afraid if I schedule the time, there will be virtual (or analog) silence.  But what’s more frightening is the silence if someone were to ask a Floridian, “What’s the most important cultural site in Florida, and why?”

There’s so much good stuff on collaboration, engagement, community-service learning, and museums, but that’s all I have space for in this modest Book Review.  Hope my comments inspire those involved in heritage and education to pick up a copy.  My thanks to Project Archaeology for selecting this book for the Reading Circle portion of the recent Heritage Educators Conference at Crow Canyon last month.  

Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel
Archaeology, Heritage, and Civic Engagement: Working toward the Public Good (Left Coast Press 2014).

Text: Sarah Miller, FPAN staff

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