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common ground

Reclaiming Hanford
Summer 1995, vol. 8(2)

Online Archive

*  Beyond the Classroom

(photo) Students learn to survey a site.

"The experts told Fort Frederica staffers that 4th and 5th graders were too young to learn the complexities of archeology. They were wrong."

Ray Morris

by Francis P. McManamon

Archeologists have many audiences to reach in order to explain their work—their methods, their interpretations, and the importance of protecting and preserving the archeological record. Some of these audiences are already afforded special attention, most notably students and teachers in elementary and secondary schools. Committees of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Society for American Archaeology, and the Society for Historical Archeology, along with many public agencies, have a substantial set of accomplishments in this education arena. There are, however, other important audiences that deserve attention.

The plenary session at the recent Society for American Archaeology annual meeting emphasized the importance of reaching out to the general public. The session, held on Saturday night near the culmination of the meeting, focused on the need to provide the general public with a variety of information about American archeology. Kate Stevenson of the National Park Service and David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History told the audience that one of the best ways to make archeology relevant is to encourage Americans to visit and experience archeological sites. Units of the national park system provide opportunities for the public to learn about some of the most visually striking and important sites in the country. Thomas has recently published Exploring Ancient Native America, an informative travel guide that encourages this kind of archeological touring, as does the extensive national guidebook America's Ancient Treasures by Franklin and Mary Folsom.

Both books emphasize interpreting physically tangible resources, which communicate powerfully by their mere presence. The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, the Nauset embayment at Cape Cod, and the intricate stonework of Chaco Canyon all tell their own stories. The same goes for the thousands of other archeological sites across the United States, most of them not national but local in importance.

At the SAA session, Peter Young, editor of Archaeology magazine, and Brian Fagan, well-known popularizer of the discipline, emphasized this point. Archeology cannot hope to compete with the sensationalized fare seen daily in the national media. Only one or two archeological stories annually will attain blockbuster status, such as the recent discovery of the tomb of Ramses' sons in the Valley of the Kings by Kent Weeks. The local level, however, is another matter.

Local archeology stories are a "hometown draw" with residents—as Fagan has pointed out elsewhere—a fact not lost on local reporters and broadcasters, who are perpetually hungry for news. Archeologists need to focus attention on these local professionals to reach the general public effectively.

Another means of reaching the public, a means that will become more and more important as an increasing number of Americans and the rest of the world connect to the Internet, are the bulletin boards, lists, and home pages springing up in the electronic dimension. The National Park Service premiered its archeology home page at the SAA meeting, which offers electronic access to the popular Participate in Archeology brochure, the National Archeological Database, and other archeologically related sites—both outside and inside the Park Service [see "History & Culture," page 5]. (Readers interested in exploring these sites can check the WWW addresses http://www.cr.nps.gov ["NPS History & Culture"] or http://www.cr.nps.gov/archeo.html ["NPS Archeology"].)

Archeologists who want to pursue this kind of outreach will do well to invest in a captivating presentation of their message. As in other media, there is stiff competition for audience attention. A visually attractive, interesting, and informative presentation is essential. It will not do to merely present hard copy of text and illustrations in electronic form, although this may well suffice to reach audiences interested in technical and scientific information.

Electronic media present unprecedented opportunities and challenges for the profession. In the short time that the National Archeological Database has been on line, the number of logins has grown to over 2,000 a month. Expectations are that logins will continue to grow exponentially, with a potential WorldWide Web audience in the millions. These numbers should not be ignored by those with the means of reaching them.

MJB/EJL