Peer Comment

Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.

Cite this as: Battle-Baptiste, W. (2015) Peer Comment, Internet Archaeology 39.

I am a historical archaeologist who happens to be a blogger, so the style I use to write is an expression of both. All of the opinions will be mine, there will be no citations, simply a form of one-sided, self-reflexive dialogue that bloggers appreciate. Now that I have gotten the politics of blogging out of the way, I will begin.

#CritBlogArch Tweets

The archaeological field school can often be that experience that makes an archaeologist for life. This is how it happened for me more than twenty years ago. There I was coming straight from a world where I had never considered archaeology, but those hot, sun-filled days, transformed me from a historian interested in colonial slavery to a historical archaeologist specialising in plantation landscapes. Those weeks meant everything to my development as a scholar. It was about learning about camaraderie, public engagement, best practices, field methods, important moments in US historical archaeology, excavation techniques, and the politics of archaeological practice in the Chesapeake region of Virginia. I am, and will always be, a 'dirt archaeologist'. Although I do fear that some of the grittier aspects of the archaeological field school are a thing of the past (which honestly could be a good thing), I believe there are ways to bring that dirt, the theory and artefact interpretation together in one space, the blogosphere.

As academic archaeologists, we can still make that magic that happens in an archaeological field school a reality, we simply have to think outside of the excavation square and shape the student's experiences differently. There are sharp learning curves in this endeavour; we as teachers have to understand what that means in the minds of our current students. How do these skills translate in the minds of a career-orientated digital generation? One answer: the archaeological field school has, like so many other aspects of archaeological practice, transformed over time. Archaeology will never lose the aspect of 'doing' in how we train students of the future; we do, however, have to challenge ourselves to finding that connective tissue that weaves together the skills, practice, theory and politics.

'On the ground' archaeology from the perspective of a university field school is now influenced by more than a desire to complete field research or fulfilling your love for archaeology in the summer months, we have to take into consideration student enrolments, summer tuition numbers, funding, budgets that pay our teaching and research assistants a living wage, facilities management and public outreach. The stresses of these factors influence not only the quality of the field school, but the experience of the students enrolled.

As Terry Brock and Lynne Goldstein map out for us, a digital platform can be the ideal space to make archaeology more interactive and accessible to younger generations of students, yet blogging archaeology is not as simple as it may seem. Brock and Goldstein give a good argument about the difference between producing digital public archaeology and creating a Facebook page or Instagram account. The relationships are there, but there is a real value to using social media that challenges our students to see the genre as more than posting pictures of parties and social events, status updates, opinions captured in 140 characters or less, or the ever-popular selfie. Yet, for a moment, imagine a selfie that also contains within its frame the latest artefact you found and your background is the archaeological unit where the discovery was made. Imagine those comments and likes, the interesting dialogue among friends created by that one selfie. The strength of using the archaeological field school as a training ground for digital public archaeology is that navigating these forms of social media includes critically thinking about the complicated juncture where archaeological method and theory, interpretation, and public interaction come together as a form of public discourse. This project at MSU appears to be challenging students to think about all of these digital tools as they engage with archaeological practice.

Although I am an advocate for the practice of digital public archaeology, I do have one deep fear. The fear of losing the face-to-face exchange and interaction of old-school public archaeology. In my own teaching experience, I have noticed a decline in my students' abilities to interact comfortably with multiple publics. Group work and multi-student projects are a part of the remedy for the classroom. I also think that the new emphasis on team-based and learner-centred approaches is a direct response to the daily habits of our digital generation. I would like to see archaeologists engaged in digital public archaeology continuing to highlight the practice and still consider (or at least have knowledge of) a variety of real-life situations, where students see that the digitalization of our practice is just one aspect of our approach to archaeological research. CAP's unique history, a dynamic field director (Goldstein), and an experienced social media navigator (Brock), did an excellent job of tapping into the Land Grant tradition of 'learning by doing', and 'using the campus as laboratory'. This created a situation where the learning could move to different spaces, still captured within the field school framework, and meant that this experience was most likely accessible to a wide variety of students.

I must say that I am happy to see the use of digital public archaeology at a site that already had a tradition of public engagement and a social media presence. This allowed the field school students to become part of a larger project, to learn how to exchange with stakeholders that were interested in daily discoveries and the learning nature of the blog and other digital resources. It is a perfect combination, the energy and dynamics of students and the guidance of an established program.

There is much to be said about the current state of archaeological practice. I am confident that we will stay relevant as long as we continue to move with the times while staying true to the past.

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