Engaging with the public as an archaeologist is one of the main reasons I came to the Binghamton Anthropology Department. My own interests lie very definitely within the realm of Public Archaeology and community engagement. Our department has several folks who focus on public engagement in their work including Dr. Siobhan Hart, Dr. Nina Versaggi, Dr. Kathleen Sterling, Dr. Seb Lacombe, Dr. Ruth Van Dyke and Dr. Matt Sanger and Dr. Randall McGuire. All of these individuals engage with the public in various ways (so many more blog posts to write!) and for me, that was the selling point of this program.
But what seems apparent to most of us, is that there is no one set way of to engage with the public, and certainly no guarantees that whatever method is chosen will be effective and “engaging.” I have personally worked in several different arenas of public archaeology leading to a diverse set of engaging experiences. While working as a field tech at a historic house museum there was a daily component of wonderful, exciting, unrelenting, and at times profoundly frustrating moments while I tried to explain our site (an antebellum domestic slave quarter) to the myriad of tourists milling around the grounds each day. I found it so hard to connect sometimes, and keep the levels of discussion open and accessible to all the folks I was talking too. I even ended up doing a conference presentation called “Negotiating the Transformation of a Workspace: Public Archaeology at James Madison’s Montpelier” (shameless plug, I know) to try to open up a conversation on the issues inherent to public archaeology. Thankfully, there are a lot of other archaeologists/anthropologists who have helped answer that question!
In a recent blog post, Doug, of Doug’s Archaeology had a whole awesome post about this. In Doug’s post he reviews a conference session about how to engage with the public as an archaeologist. In this post, (Sharing Tips and Tricks for Engaging the Public – SHA Conference) he has uploaded video of each presenter talking about their tips and tricks for keeping the public engaged. There are about 12 different presenters from all realms of archaeology giving their best advice for how to handle public engagement.
Although many folks write about working in public archaeology, or public engagement, there is usually very little discussion about the troubleshooting aspects of it. Yet, those of us doing it know how difficult it can be to truly connect history/archaeology to another person in a way that seems important, and impactful. Doug’s post is a great resource for professionals trying to do some troubleshooting of their own.