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Archaeologists as Activists

Can Archaeologists Change the World?

Edited by M. Jay Stottman, with contributions from Jodi A. Barnes, Robert Chides

Publication Year: 2010

Could archaeologists benefit contemporary cultures and be a factor in solving world problems? Can archaeologists help individuals? Can archaeologists change the world? These questions form the root of “archaeology activism” or “activist archaeology”: using archaeology to advocate for and affect change in contemporary communities.


Archaeologists currently change the world through the products of their archaeological research that contribute to our collective historical and cultural knowledge. Their work helps to shape and reshape our perceptions of the past and our understanding of written history. Archaeologists affect contemporary communities through the consequences of their work as they become embroiled in controversies over negotiating the past and the present with native peoples. Beyond the obvious economic contributions to local communities caused by heritage tourism established on the research of archaeologists at cultural sites, archaeologists have begun to use the process of their work as a means to benefit the public and even advocate for communities.


In this volume, Stottman and his colleagues examine the various ways in which archaeologists can and do use their research to forge a partnership with the past and guide the ongoing dialogue between the archaeological record and the various contemporary stakeholders. They draw inspiration and guidance from applied anthropology, social history, public history, heritage studies, museum studies, historic preservation, philosophy, and education to develop an activist approach to archaeology—theoretically, methodologically, and ethically.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: Archaeologists as Activists

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pp. 1-16

There comes a time in the career of most archaeologists when we ask ourselves the question, Why is archaeology important? For many of us, it is usually asked when we are making the decision to become archaeologists; when we try to reconcile the guilt of doing something we love with what is considered by many people to be a cool job. Like many, I justified becoming an archaeologist with the typical...

Part I: Reconceptualizing Archaeology for Activism

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1. Archaeology and Activism of the Past and Present

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pp. 19-35

Marches on Washington. Strikes. Sit-ins. While these may be the most cogent images typically conjured up by the word “activism”—including the disruption of the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia by suffragists referred to in the quote above—they are by no means the only actions that may be deemed activist. Rather, everyday action can inform on attempts to change the social order in various ways, both in the past as well...

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2. Public Archaeology, Activism, and Racism: Rethinking the Heritage “Product”

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pp. 36-47

Most academic presentations about public archaeology and heritage tend to fall into two main categories. The most prevalent examine how to practice public archaeology: case studies, strategy papers, and the like. These descriptive narratives are useful, in that they give other archaeologists a vocabulary of ideas and approaches from which to draw (see, for example, Jameson 1997; Smardz Frost 2000). The other category, much...

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3. Activism as Archaeological Praxis: Engaging Communities with Archaeologies that Matter

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pp. 48-62

The question of how archaeologists can do work that matters lies at the core of our research projects. While embarking on our fieldwork, we wanted to create projects that meant something to us and the people who were directly and indirectly influenced by them. We also wanted to be sure that the com-munities involved in our projects had a stake in the way they were conducted, ...

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4. Doing Our Homework: Reconsidering What Archaeology Has to Offer Schools

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pp. 63-79

Most U.S. archaeologists likely presume that any and all outreach to schools, kindergarten through twelfth grade, ultimately helps to benefit society—and to some extent this certainly must be true. But I have come to believe that, because of a myopic tendency on the part of American archaeology as a regional practice, the intentional benefits for society that there could be do not always ...

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5. “Movement Archaeology”: Promoting the Labor Movement in Maryland

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pp. 80-92

I was born and raised in Ohio and went to college there. My undergraduate background was in military archaeology. In the fall of 2002 I moved to Maryland to enter the Masters of Applied Anthropology Program at the University of Maryland at College Park. Being from a decidedly “northern” state, I thought of Maryland as a “southern” state since it had been a slave-holding state ...

Part II: Becoming Archaeology Activists: Perspectives on Community Archaeology

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6. Negotiating History, Slavery, and the Present: Archaeology at Farmington Plantation

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pp. 110-125

History is not simply facts written in a book, but rather history is “an unstable pattern of remembered things redesigned and newly colored to suit the convenience of those who make use of it” (Becker 1935:253–254). The settled, static record we are all familiar with from grade school textbooks and lessons is fiction. History is dynamic and highly influenced by the contemporary. This is not to say that historical facts do not exist...

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7. Archaeology and the Creation of a Civil War Park: Experiences from Camp Nelson, Kentucky

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pp. 126-140

In this chapter we examine the role of archaeology in the formation and interpretation of Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in central Kentucky. This case is somewhat unusual. The acquisition, preservation, and public interpretation of a large expanse of land due to archaeological deposits is relatively rare in the region, especially when dealing with the historic period, as opposed to Native Ameri can or prehistoric sites. Also, the...

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8. Reconnecting Community: Archaeology and Activismat the Portland Wharf

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pp. 126-140

With the development and evolution of public archaeology over the last couple of decades came the realization that archaeology is much more than just discovering the past, it has the power to connect that past with the present and touch people’s lives. Within the framework of a critical theoretical perspective that illuminates self-reflection and emphasizes...

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9. The Saratoga of the South Will Rise (or Be Razed) Again: Archaeologists Collaborating with Communities

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pp. 141-153

Any archaeologist will tell you that an artifact’s context is as important as its characteristics for revealing information about the past. The importance of context also extends to the research setting within which archaeologists work. Most recognize that archaeology does not deal exclusively with past cultures and are aware that living peoples are stakeholders in their research. However, this awareness does not often inform their ...

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Epilogue: Changing the World with Archaeology

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pp. 154-158

Some archaeologists think that the field of archaeology is in serious trouble, having lost its way. William Lees and Julia King (2007) ask if publicly funded historical archaeology is “worth the considerable expense.” John Kantner (2004:2) summarizes a larger discussion by writing, “Intellectual fragmentation, institutional neglect, diminishing funding sources, and irrelevant...

References Cited

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pp. 159-199


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pp. 203-207


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pp. 212-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780817384425
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817356224

Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 772459218
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Archaeologists as Activists

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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology -- Philosophy.
  • Archaeology -- Research
  • Archaeology -- Political aspects.
  • Archaeology -- Social aspects.
  • Social change.
  • Community life.
  • Archaeologists -- Political activity.
  • Political activists.
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