Are archaeology and civic engagement interlinked?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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Archeology has a unique role to play in Civic Engagement because fundamentally it is in the business of creating knowledge from a resource often held in the public trust: the archeological record.

—Barbara J. Little and Nathaniel Amdur-Clark, 2008, Archeology and Civic Engagement, National Park Service Technical Brief, no. 23

In the above quote, Barbara J. Little and Nathaniel Amdur-Clark use Thomas Ehrlich’s definition of civic engagement:

Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

Little also notes: “Civic engagement…is a sustained effort and activity.”

The National Park Service has an initiative called Civic Engagement, which is the reason for Little and Amdur-Clark’s subject choice for this Technical Brief.

The quotes included here suggest how the publicly funded National Park Service has an obligation that is a kind of civic engagement. And, since many archaeological projects are either funded directly from public coffers, or initiated from public policy and legal requirements, archaeological investigations, then, are linked to civic life in this country.

The authors also note that “Social studies, history, and science are part of K-12 curricula around the country and archeology is a great way to combine these subjects.” Because the SGA agrees with this—that archaeological topics and data are ideal for teaching subjects ranging from social science, through the humanities, to hard science—the Society prepares teaching materials for each year’s Archaeology Month (in May), and makes the ArchaeoBus available for formal programs at schools.

Do you see archaeology as having a civic engagement component? If so, how do you see archaeology as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities,” following Ehrlich’s definition?

Notes

Did you notice that in the quotes from the NPS document, archaeology is spelled archeology—without the second “a”? The shorter version is used by the federal government and is a more recent spelling. The SGA and many other organizations stick to an older version, which renders the original æ ligature as separate letters. Both spellings are considered correct.

For a full list of NPS Technical Briefs, click here. If the NPS website link doesn’t work, here’s a link to a PDF of the online version.