Author Archives: Kate Ellenberger

Maybe We Shouldn’t Assess Public Archaeology

Following last week’s post, you may sense that I am on the fence about “evaluation.” I am passionate about public archaeology and heritage work, and I believe we should strive to gather more information about how our actions affect other stakeholders. (Side note: you can learn more about how Program Evaluation professionals do this in a reply to my post by Victoria Dekle.) And yet, “evaluating” ourselves is an uncomfortable concept that brings to mind a universal system for “testing success” when success is subjective. We all have goals for our specific contexts, and stakeholder communities in those contexts who have their own priorities and criteria for “success”. How could we possibly be expected to create a methodology that could address such a tangle of potentialities? Well, we don’t have to. For my final post as Guest Editor of the MAPA blog, I am going to explore a few hypothetical arguments against evaluating public archaeology work. (As far as I can tell, there has not been much discussion about the perils of assessment, besides that people probably don’t want to be perceived as tearing down colleagues.) If the budding discussions about public archaeology outcomes continue, these arguments should be considered. Why not evaluate? Because peer review is [Read More]

The Case for Critical Evaluation of Outreach Approaches in Archaeology

In situations where the goal of archaeological work is not to produce a product, but to successfully engage a particular group of people, it seems like common sense to try to figure out if it is working. Archaeologists are used to assessing human behaviors by measuring material signatures – indirect evidence – and most public outreach efforts in our field also follow this model. Where with zooarchaeological evidence we might use a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) as a rudimentary measure of the abundance of an animal in the diet of past people, with public archaeology most people are using number of attendees or online hits as a measure of engagement. But just as MNI is but an entry point to understanding the role of animals in the past, counting heads is only the first step in understanding if public archaeology is “working.” (I know I am talking about a huge variety of goals that archaeologists have, but I will try to be relevant across the spectrum, like horoscopes.) As I outlined in my first post, the ethical underpinning of public archaeology (the “big umbrella”) is that archaeological practice has sociopolitical consequences for contemporary communities. As Dr. Randall McGuire (2008:48) put it: Recognizing [Read More]

Evaluating Public Archaeology

Before I get started on the heavy stuff, I’ll introduce myself: Hi, I’m Kate. My first experience with archaeology was as a high school student, but I did not see my path forward in this career until I began working with indigenous people during my undergraduate training at Western Washington University. After I made what I thought was a pretty unrealistic presentation about engaging the Lummi Nation in archaeology within my department, my professor (Dr. Stacy Rasmus) told me I was going to make it happen, and she helped me start the project. I applied for my first grants, made my first conference presentations, and wrote my first drafted publication under her and my advisor Dr. Sarah Campbell. I knew what I was doing was important; I saw the surprise on the faces of the Lummi elders I talked to when they heard University students say we cared about their perspectives. (Although the department’s faculty had a long history working with the Lummi, I was probably the first archaeologist these elders had met who was not Native.) At that point I knew I wanted to pursue archaeology with and for non-archaeologists. Now, almost ten years later, I am working on my PhD in [Read More]