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NPS Archeology Guide > Archeology Outreach > 8. Case Studies of Archeology Outreach

Case Studies of Archeology Outreach

Here are case studies of archeology outreach at NPS sites. We encourage parks to submit case studies of their own for the NPS Guide (to be listed below) and to the Case Studies Gallery that is part of the coursework for Module 440: Effective Interpretation of Archeological Resources. Case studies might involve particularly noteworthy outcomes, creative solutions to difficult problems, a successful exhibit or public program, or other best pratices. To submit a case study, contact the NPS Chief Archeologist at DCA@nps.gov.

Public Archeology at Manzanar

Topics: Japanese American, excavation, descendants, volunteer

Archeologists’ work at Manzanar has greatly benefitted from the assistance of former internees and their descendents—those with direct ties to the site—who have come forward to offer research support. This collaborative effort benefits NPS and communities alike by enriching our knowledge of the site and the internee experience. Thus these archeological projects are essential to the preservation of Manzanar War Relocation Center and the promotion of its history.

One of the most successful projects is an annual public archeology program that pairs NPS archeologists and staff with volunteers to support the preservation of the site. Each year since 2007, park archeologist Jeff Burton has invited volunteers to assist in the excavation and stabilization of Merritt Park, a community garden designed and constructed by Japanese-American internees at Manzanar. Former internees and descendants came from as far away as Washington state, New York, Florida, Canada, and even Japan to participate in the excavation, and local residents donated their time and energy as well. Volunteer tasks included clearing brush, removing sediment to reveal rock features, and using photos to reconstruct rock and cement work. In 2008 alone, fifty volunteers donated over 1,200 hours to the dig. The enthusiasm and interest of the volunteers demonstrate the importance of preserving Manzanar War Relocation Center.

As a result of these excavations, visitors can more easily visualize the wartime landscape and appreciate the efforts of the internees to transform their surroundings. Furthermore, for the former internees and their descendents, the public archeology project provides an opportunity to explore the material evidence of a shared history. Participation in this project is especially poignant for former internees who have the chance to recount an important part of their family heritage and help restore what was once their home. Through engagement with local residents, former internees, and descendent communities, NPS initiates a national dialogue about civil rights, the wartime era, and a regrettable yet important part of American history.

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Community Outreach at the James Dexter Site

Topics: African American, consultation, excavation

Consultation between Independence National Historical Park and two historic independent black churches (Mother Bethel A.M.E. and St. Thomas African Episcopal) has produced an important archeological investigation funded by the Park's partner, the National Constitution Center. Though C originally intended to protect the Dexter homesite upon its discovery, this position was reversed in response to community groups’ forceful urging that the site warranted an excavation. Thus began a collaborative effort between INDE and residents of Philadelphia.

In the course of the excavation, INDE issued regular press releases and progress reports to keep the public informed and constructed a viewing platform on-site from which people could watch the work being done. INDE also held a series of public meetings before, during, and after the excavation in which they solicited input from black civic and religious leaders, historians, city tourism officials, politicians, and local residents. Interpretive panels at the National Constitution Center and near the Dexter House site were created with the participation of these community representatives.

Community members were also invited to observe the post-excavation artifact analysis at the public archeology laboratory located in the Independence Living History Center. There, visitors had the opportunity to watch archeologists at work, listen to presentations on Philadelphia’s history and material culture, and even participate in the processing of artifacts as volunteers.

Local leaders emphasized the importance of increasing public awareness of this formerly neglected story; information about Dexter has since appeared in a variety of media. A short film was produced in order to recount the site’s history and illustrate the excavation process. Dexter’s story has also been featured in Pennsylvania Archeology Month activities, a curriculum-based education program created by the Independence Park Institute (Archeology: History Found in Pieces) (pdf), and special events at the National Constitution Center.

The Dexter site case study demonstrates the possibly difficult decisions that can emerge from engagement with stakeholders. In this case, NPS had to choose between following the standard policy of preserving a site in place to protect it for future investigation, and excavating the site at the urging of the local community. This example does not suggest that NPS policy can be superseded or overturned because interested parties demand it; instead it reveals at least one way that the NPS mission was fulfilled by the goal of one park to tell a more complete and inclusive story of our national history by investigating the resources that were available to tell that history. In this case, those resources were archeological. By considering different interpretations of NPS policy and sharing the decision-making process with interested parties, the NPS strengthened relationships and built trust with community members while bringing a forgotten part of history to the fore.

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Public Excavation at Fort Vancouver

Topics: European Americans, excavation, education, youth

A multifaceted approach to archeology and history education is key to the success of Fort Vancouver’s outreach programs, which include public history and public archeology. The Public Archeology Program offers special tours, lectures, and opportunities for hands-on activities. Members of the public are invited to view the archeological collections and resources, observe archeological excavations in progress, and participate in a dig.

A particularly successful component of the Public Archeology Program is the Public Archeology Field School, a collaborative effort of the National Park Service, Portland State University, Washington State University Vancouver and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve Trust. The annual field school, based at the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, has been training undergraduate and graduate students in field methods, theories, and techniques since 2000. Through their investigations of the remains of Fort Vancouver, participating students gain experience in all aspects of excavation and laboratory analysis while learning how to use archeological findings to understand class, gender, and other issues in colonial history.

A unique feature of the field school is its commitment to public outreach. Students are trained to be effective interpreters to the public and take turns speaking to visitors about the field school, the significance of the site, and the research goals of the project. The public is invited to the site for daily briefings and can learn more about important finds and day-to-day activities on the field school website and blog. In addition, a public lecture series brings together students, scholars, and members of the public for discussions of archeology and history.

At Fort Vancouver, archeological research, education, and outreach are combined to connect with as many audiences as possible, including students, researchers, and members of the public. All of these efforts are made with the goal of encouraging appreciation for cultural resources and the need to protect them. By teaching preservation values to young students, who then pass them to the public through interpretation, NPS promotes and raises awareness of the protection of our historic sites.

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African American Families at Manassas NB

Topics: African American, descendants, consultation, oral history, Robinson House, Manassas

Archeology, collections, and oral history presented outreach opportunities at the Robinson House, which is located on Manassas National Battlefield. A graduate student from the University of Maryland conducted research both in the park’s archeological collections and oral history interviews with James Robinson’s descendants. Outreach from NPS archeologists to the student, and from the student to descendants via NPS archeology, resulted in a richer understanding about a free African American family in the nineteenth century.

NPS archeologists in National Capital Region parks and facilities, and the NPS regional archeologist, assisted the student. They facilitated access to the archeological collection at the Museum Resource Center, the regional collections storage facility; helped curate uncataloged artifacts; aided in photographing objects for interpretive products; and reviewed interpretive products.

The student and NPS Archeologists met with descendants of James Robinson to gather passed-down knowledge of their ancestors’ lives. The process built improved relationships between the family and the NPS, but it also contributed valuable information about the layout of the site, the location of associated sites, and the uses of material culture.

Outreach between the NPS, the Robinsons, and the student extended even further through products that resulted from the research. They included a traveling exhibit (stored at MRCE), two websites, a dissertation, and several scholarly articles.

Outreach from the Robinson House project had a number of outcomes. One of the most important was a good relationship with the African American community. Collaboration with descendants and the community helped to smooth over historical conflicts between locals and the federal government. Another outcome was community involvement in archeological interpretation. Descendants’ input helped to flesh out the Robinson House story and communicate its significance. The project also resulted in collaborative partnerships between the NPS, the University of Maryland, and the researcher.

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TSM/MJB