The Co-Director of the MAPA program, Dr. Matt Sanger, was recently interviewed about the relationships between archaeologists and the public on the popular podcast Go Dig a Hole with archaeologist Chris Sims. Below is Matt’s summary of his experience on the podcast. Check out the episode here! Below Dr. Sanger summarizes what he and Chris talked about during this episode.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Chris Sims about our MAPA program, the current state of public archaeology, and the threats we are under in our current anti-elite climate. We spent much of our conversation chatting about what MAPA has to offer for potential students preparing for the intellectual and practical requirements of jobs outside of academia (click here to apply to the MAPA program ). The strength of our program is its flexibility. As I explained on the podcast, MAPA students have worked with experts in paleoethnobotany, geophysics, and landscape theory here at Binghamton University already, and there is tremendous opportunity for students to customize their MAPA training program based on their topic of interest. (If you want to look at a few potential mentors, visit the archaeology faculty list online here)
Chris and I also discussed how difficult it can be to balance technical expertise and theoretical engagement in education – it is critical that students get both if they want to address the big questions in our discipline. As time goes by, archaeologists have become increasingly aware of how the past figures into modern political debates, and we are increasingly seeing knowledge we produce mobilized for causes we may or may not support. Chris and I spent a good amount of time talking about the need to produce new sorts of archaeologists who are prepared to address anti-intellectualist attempts to dismantle historic preservation laws, for example. Archaeologists are often said to be part of an “elite” class whose actions impinge on the rights of “everyday” Americans.
By the end of the discussion with Chris, I felt inspired to issue a call for action. I believe if archaeology is going to survive, archaeologists must act to reclaim its relevancy. This is going to require a deep and broad commitment to public engagement. We did not have time to explore what that would look like in this episode, but I believe many of the other posts you will find on this blog are illustrations of what I mean.
We need to find a better balance between doing systematic social science and being responsive to external concerns. It is exactly this balance we try to prepare our MAPA students to achieve, by giving them research skills, ensuring they understand the histories of ideas and sociopolitical entanglement of anthropologists, and giving them opportunities to deploy their skills in an internship.
I hope you enjoy the episode, and I welcome your responses to the ideas I expressed here and on the podcast!
Dr. Matt Sanger is Co- Director of the MAPA Program at Binghamton University and an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Binghamton University Anthropology Dept. His interests revolve around questions of mobility, landscape, heritage, and community formation within Native American societies. He addresses these topics through archaeological research, largely in the American Southeast, where he studies ancient coastal hunter-gatherers. His research is heavily dependent on American Indian philosophies, oral histories, and collaborative research with descendant communities as he strives to understand how cosmological world-views and ecological conditions influenced societal development.