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Geographic Emphases in American*
Archaeological Practice

Michael J. Shott

I work in the American Midwest, where Wobegonian virtues discourage complaint. But the low standing of Midwestern prehistory in American archaeology outweighs traditional reticence. This paper compares representation of Midwestern prehistory in American anthropology departments to the Southwest and Latin America. To the extent that manifest geographic emphases are not justified anthropologically, I criticize them. My purpose is not to assign blame but to document a pattern of geographic emphasis, explore its causes, and consider how practice should change to rectify existing inequities.

Data Source

I examined archaeologists' stated geographic interests in relation to their area of employment, using the American Anthropological Association 1996­1997 Guide to Departments (1996, Washington, D.C., Guide henceforth). The ideal study would compile data from successive Guides over a longer interval. Indeed, such data exist (e.g., 1998, S. Hutson, Institutional and Gender Effects on Academic Hiring Practices. SAA Bulletin 16(4): 19­21, 26), but those data are not applicable for this study. My study was confined to the 366 U. S. departments listed in the Guide, excluding Puerto Rican institutions and community colleges.

Although the most comprehensive source on North American anthropology departments, the Guide has limitations, like any source. By employment of anthropologists and enrollment of students, these institutions probably account for most of American higher education. But by choice or circumstance, departments may not appear in the Guide, information may be out of date or incomplete since there is no fixed content or format, (geographic area often is specified, analytical and cultural expertise less often), or outdated as interests change. When individuals appeared in two department listings, I placed them with the first-listed institution if I lacked more specific knowledge. Increasingly, partners jointly hold single academic appointments, a condition not always identified in department listings. I assumed each listed person to hold a full-time appointment, even in several cases where I knew the opposite to be true. I excluded emeritus faculty and those with staff or part-time faculty appointments. Some identified themselves as both archaeologists and anthropologists. Cross-referencing against the SAA Directory was impractical because a surprising number of archaeologists are not SAA members. I identified these people as archaeologists only if archaeology, prehistory, or analytical expertise of an archaeological nature was the first interest listed.

Data Treatment

For each institution, data include the number of archaeologists employed, the highest degree offered from B.A. to Ph.D., its status as public or private (1997, The College Blue Book: Narrative Descriptions, 26th edition, Simon & Schuster, New York) and its Carnegie classification (1994, A Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Princeton, N. J.). Carnegie categories include Research University, Doctoral University, Comprehensive Institution, and Liberal Arts College, each subdivided into subcategories 1 and 2. Classification is by mission, curriculum, number and level of degrees awarded, and amount of sponsored research.

About 200 American institutions possessing sizable graduate programs appeared in National Research Council (NRC) rating (1995, Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States: Continuity and Change, edited by M. L. Goldberger, B. A. Maher, and P. E. Flattau, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.). Most comprehensive universities and liberal arts colleges were omitted. Institutions were ranked in the aggregate and separately in anthropology. Aggregate rank of 104 institutions was taken from D. S. Webster and T. Skinner (1996, Rating Ph.D. Programs: What the NRC Report Says . . . and Doesn't Say. Change 28(3): 22­44, Table I); disciplinary rank from the NRC's own report (Goldberger et al., Appendix Q). The list probably includes most American institutions that offer graduate anthropology degrees. Webster and Skinner chronicled rather grave deficiencies of the NRC report but also defended its general validity.

Archaeologists may argue the comparative merits of Michigan and Chicago, but few would hesitate to rank both above, say, Oregon and no one would waste time wondering if Memphis or Northern Iowa deserved mention in the same conversation. Yet these others may have good archaeologists and departments. Rankings measure perception, not necessarily merit.

I counted the number of archaeologists expressing various geographic interests, but ignored areas outside of the Americas (Table 1). Geographic area rather finely, if unevenly, subdivides North America and distinguishes it from Latin America. I did not distinguish Mesoamerica from South America, because the distinction did not suit the purposes of this study.

Table 1. Geographic Areas Defined.

(1) Northeastern North America

(2) Southeastern North America

(3) Midwestern North America

(4) Eastern North America

(5) Southwestern North America

(6) Other or Unspecified North America

(7) Latin America

Some categories are not mutually exclusive. "Eastern North America" comprises the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest. Archaeologists who work predominantly in one smaller area might list eastern North American as their area. This definitional problem is serious but its magnitude is unknown, leaving no choice but to accept area interests as reported. I treat the eastern United States as a region for comparison with others.

Crudely, I defined regions mostly along state lines. Texas being large, I perhaps arbitrarily divided it between Southeast and Southwest, placing Texas-El Paso, Texas-Pan American, Texas-San Antonio, Texas Tech University, and Trinity University in the Southwest. This measure divides Southeast and Southwest somewhere between Austin and San Antonio. The Midwest excludes states from North Dakota to Kansas; these are considered Plains states. The Southwest is defined liberally to include parts of Texas, as above, and also Colorado and Utah. Both states reach the Southwest but are not encompassed by it; indeed, most of Colorado lies outside conventional cultural or physiographic boundaries of the Southwest. This treatment is conservative because it reduces the representation of Southwestern prehistory outside of the Southwest itself, and one of my conclusions is that the Southwest is well represented externally.

Documenting the Pattern

Distribution of Archaeologists

The study identified 738 archaeologists in the professoriate. On average, departments employ about two archaeologists, but the distribution is skewed, even omitting departments that have no archaeologists (Figure 1). Excluding Carnegie category 8 (seven nonselective B.A. colleges with a total of nine archaeologists) and several institutions that do not award degrees, Table 2 shows the distribution of archaeologists by Carnegie category, status, and highest degree awarded by institution. The number of archaeologists differs considerably by category. There are nearly as many Carnegie 5­6 as Carnegie 1­2 institutions, but there are considerably more archaeologists in the latter category. Thus, the mean number of archaeologists per department declines steadily from categories 1­2 to category 7 (F = 40.5, p = .00). Averages obscure great variation in the number of archaeologists per department (standard deviations approach or exceed means), but many archaeologists have few in-house colleagues. Not surprisingly, American archaeologists are distributed broadly but unevenly across the academic landscape.

Table 2. Archaeologists by Carnegie Category, University Status, and Degree Program.


Carnegie Category


1­2 3­4 5­6 7



320 106 126 1


94 30 12 39


414 136 138 40


3.51 2.06 1.37 .59






  Highest Degree Awarded
  B.A. M.A. Ph.D.
Public 142 141 275
Private 66 18 94

Most archaeologists work at public universities. Not only are there many more public than private institutions, but on average they employ more archaeologists (mean = 2.51 for public universities, 1.26 for private ones; t = 5.51, p = .00). Remarkably, 86 departments have Ph.D. programs. (Presumably, most Ph.D. departments are listed in the Guide but perhaps some B.A. institutions that employ archaeologists are not.) Most archaeologists work in these programs even if not all award the Ph.D. in archaeology, although there are many more departments at the B.A. level. Archaeologists are concentrated in graduate programs. Obviously, the mean number of archaeologists differs by highest degree awarded by the institution (F = 108.7, p = .00); mean per department is much higher at the Ph.D. than the B.A. level.

Even ignoring Carnegie category 7, which are private institutions, Carnegie category and status pattern significantly (X2 = 13.4, p = .001). In Carnegie categories 1­2, there are an unusually high number of archaeologists at private schools despite the numerical preponderance of public ones; in categories 5­6 the opposite is true. This pattern may reflect nothing more significant than the comparative rarity of Carnegie 5­6 private universities. Whatever the explanation, archaeologists are distributed widely in public universities; in private ones they are somewhat concentrated in major research institutions.

Geographic Interests

Table 3 shows the number of archaeologists by geographic interests. Because the Northeast has many universities, especially private ones, I include it in some comparisons. While the most popular North American area is the Southwest, Latin America is by far the most popular area overall. There are far fewer combined Midwestern and Northeastern than Southwestern or Latin American archaeologists employed in American universities, yet about half of all departments are in the Midwest or Northeast.

Table 3. Number and Distribution of Archaeologists per Department by Selected Geographic Emphases.

  Number of Archaeologists/Department
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total
Midwest 341 23 2 0 0 0 0 27
Northeast 340 25 1 0 0 0 0 27
Southwest 311 38 10 4 1 1 1 85
Latin America 234 77 37 10 5 1 0 206
Eastern N. A. 257 72 30 7 0 0 0 153

Distribution and Concentration Within Areas

Twelve of 21 (57.1 percent) Southwestern universities employ at least one Southwestern specialist. The average number of specialists per Southwestern university is 1.4; eliminating Southwestern institutions without specialists there, the average is 2.5. Even these impressive figures are deceptively low. Most Southwestern univer-sities that do not employ a regional specialist lie outside what most would consider the Southwest proper. The figures reflect boundary definition, and an even higher percentage of Southwestern univer-sities, more narrowly defined, employ Southwestern specialists.

By contrast, only 15 (19.5 percent) of 77 Midwestern universities employ Midwestern archaeologists. More Midwestern than Southwestern universities employ specialists in their respective regions, but Midwestern institutions are far more numerous. (This percentage is low in part because of differences between Midwestern and Southwestern universities. There are many more private institutions in the Midwest. These, in general, and liberal arts colleges, in particular, are less likely to employ archaeologists than other anthropologists.) Expanding the Midwest to include Plains states north of Oklahoma would reduce, not increase, the percentage. The average number of area specialists in Midwestern universities is a dismal .2. Even eliminating Midwestern universities without Midwestern archaeologists, the average reaches only 1.1.

The number of area specialists per department also differs between areas. All but two Midwestern departments have only one area specialist. Admittedly, this observation betrays the limitations of self-reporting. Ohio State University and Michigan State University each have at least two archaeologists who practice substantially in the Midwest, yet each reports only one Midwestern specialist. Nevertheless, most of the relatively few local specialists in the Midwest and Northeast have no departmental colleagues who also work there. Southwestern and especially Latin American archaeologists are much more likely to have at least one area colleague and often more. One Southwestern department has six Southwestern archaeologists, and five others have four Latin American scholars each.

"Practical reason explains only so much. Undeniably, the Midwest lacks cachet; at dinner parties, corn dogs compete poorly with chicken mole or pozole. Hollywood parodied archaeology and produced genre films in the Indiana Jones series but, like all good parodies, this one contained a kernel of truth audaciously exaggerated."

Distribution Across Areas Involving the Southwest

Two Southwestern universities employ archaeologists who identify the Midwest among their area interests. Eight Midwestern schools employ Southwestern specialists, including one that employs two. In fact, these eight Midwestern universities employ a total of nine Southwestern specialists and only two Midwestern ones. Midwestern universities are seemingly committed to Southwestern prehistory much more than Southwestern universities are committed to Midwestern prehistory.

Seventeen departments employ at least two Southwestern specialists, but seven of these are not in the Southwest. Nor does this figure include major departments like Michigan and Harvard, which traditionally were active in the Southwest but whose 1996­1997 rosters listed few archaeologists reporting Southwestern interests. Of the seven, two are in the Midwest, four are in the Southeast, and one is outside the continental United States. While Southwestern archaeologists are concentrated in the Southwest, they also are found in significant numbers elsewhere.

In contrast, Midwestern archaeologists are scarcely concentrated at all. Only two departments, both in the Midwest, contain more than one Midwesternist. The distribution of Midwesternists is highly patterned with, not surprisingly, the greatest number by far housed in Midwestern universities (X2 = 28.9, p = .00). Thus, few Midwestern specialists are employed outside that region. The Northeast is the only other region exhibiting a patterned relationship to Midwestern research, which is negative; only one of 111 Northeastern departments has a Midwestern specialist. No department outside the continental United States employs a Midwestern archaeologist.

Fifteen departments in the Northeast and Midwest combined employ Southwestern specialists; only 15 Midwestern departments employ Midwestern specialists. Moreover, proportional differences mask the uneven distribution of universities across the United States. A small proportion of Northeastern departments employ Southwesternists, but the proportion nevertheless comprises seven departments. Northeastern and Midwestern departments combined employ more Southwesternists than do Southwestern departments.

Distribution Across Areas Involving Latin America

While the Northeast has more universities than the Midwest, they have similar percentages of departments employing Latin American specialists (34.2 and 34.6 percent, respectively) and a similar mean number per department (1.7 and 1.4, respectively). Among the relatively few Southwestern universities, 47.6 percent employ Latin Americanists, and they show a very different frequency distribution. Mean number of Latin Americanists per department is 2.2. More than twice as many Southwestern departments have at least two Latin American specialists as have one. Latin Americanists are widely distributed across the United States and are found in numbers in many departments.

Although Southwestern universities employ more Latin Americanists on average than Midwestern universities, they employ fewer absolutely. Moreover, Southwestern universities employ more Southwestern than Latin American specialists. Yet Midwestern universities employ more than twice as many Latin Americanists as Midwesternists.

University Status

The general pattern of regional representation is perhaps magnified in private universities. Only three private institutions employ Midwestern specialists, two of which are in the Midwest. The archaeologist at the third is more active in the Southwest than the Midwest. Yet eight of the 137 private schools outside the Southwest employ Southwestern archaeologists, including two in the Midwest.

By far, most Midwestern and Southwestern specialists work at public universities. The percentage of Latin American specialists at private universities (29.1) is much higher than the comparable percentages of Midwestern (11.1) and Southwestern (12.9) specialists. Private schools favor the study of distant areas. Perhaps because Latin America is the most distant of areas considered here, private universities favor it the most.

NRC Rank

NRC ranks are interval-scale measures that occupy a much wider range than does number of archaeologists per department. Since the latter are so constrained, rank-correlation between the variables is weak. Nevertheless, pattern in the relationship between rank and geographic representation is worth examining. NRC rank in anthropology varies negatively with the number of Southwestern (t = -.05, p = .59) and Latin American (t = .12, p = .18) archaeologists found in departments. Thus, rank increases (i.e., the rank score declines) as the number of such archaeologists increases, at least weakly. Yet the rank and number of Midwestern archaeologists co-vary positively (t = .07, p = .48), again weakly. As the number of Midwestern specialists increases, department rank declines. To a slight extent, departments are disadvantaged by employing Midwestern specialists. Put differently, higher-ranked departments do not seek Midwestern specialists, or those specialists are not particularly esteemed by the discipline.

Calculating mean NRC rank by presence or absence of area specialists, departments with Midwestern specialists are ranked lower overall and in anthropology than those without them. For the Southwest and Latin America, departments employing such specialists enjoy a slight advantage in NRC anthropology rank, but no advantage and, perhaps, a slight disadvantage, in NRC general rank. None of the differences is statistically significant. The Southwestern result may owe to the concentration of Southwestern specialists in that area and the relatively low national stature of Southwestern universities themselves, despite their high status in anthropology.

All pair-wise tests of association between presence of Midwestern, Southwestern, and Latin American specialists are significantly positive. But the association is strongest by far between the Southwest and Latin America, weaker between either of these areas and the Midwest.

Effects of Category Definition

As established above, the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest area are encompassed by the eastern North America category (eastern United States henceforth). Since Midwesternists may identify their geographic area as eastern North America, I combined the three smaller areas with the broader designation to produce a new category of archaeologists claiming specialization anywhere in eastern North America. (Although this may include Canada, I assume that few American archaeologists work there.) Obviously, the eastern United States is much larger geographically and presu-mably more diverse in prehistoric cultures than is the Southwest.

Thirty-four of the 85 Southwesternists (40 percent) are employed in the eastern United States. Twenty-seven departments in the eastern United States employ at least one Southwestern specialist. As above, six of the seven departments outside the Southwest that employ at least two Southwesternists fall in the eastern United States.

Table 3 shows the frequency distribution of eastern U.S. specialists. Between them, the Midwest and Northeast claim only 54 specialists; 99 either are Southeastern specialists or identify the eastern U.S. as their area. Of the 153 regional specialists, 139 (90.8 percent) are employed by universities in the region, distributed among 97 institutions there. Little more than one-third of 263 eastern U.S. departments house archaeologists who work in that area. The mean number of eastern specialists in these departments is .51 (with a very high standard deviation of .78). Of eastern U.S. universities that employ at least one specialist in that region, the average rises to 3.24 (s.d. = 2.39). Eastern U.S. specialists are not widely distributed in the eastern United States but are clustered in relatively few departments. Neither Midwesternists nor Northeasternists appear to be clustered. Apparently, most clustering owes to Southeastern specialists or those generally identifying their region as eastern North America.

NRC rank in anthropology is positively, significantly correlated with number of eastern United States specialists (t = .20, p = .04). The more regional specialists employed by a department, the lower its rank. The positive correlation with the NRC general rank is not significant. Departments employing eastern U.S. specialists have a significantly lower NRC anthropology rank (t = 2.2, p = .03), and a somewhat lower NRC general rank (t = 1.8, p = .08) than those without such specialists.


Generally, employment prospects seem much better, disciplinary esteem much higher for Southwestern and, especially, Latin American specialists. Practically, Midwestern archaeologists are employed only by Midwestern universities, but Latin American and Southwestern specialists are employed nationwide. To obtain a high ranking, a department must have Southwestern and Latin American specialists, but does not need Midwesternists. These are the geographic facts of life in U.S. archaeology. Probably the standing of Midwestern prehistory differs little from the Northeast, the Plains, the Great Basin, or the West.

Explaining the Pattern

This study merely demonstrates the obvious: There are many more Southwestern and Latin American than other area specialists, and they are simultaneously much more widely distributed throughout the academy and more concentrated in substantial numbers in highly ranked departments. Yet documenting a pattern does not explain it. As demonstrated above, there are many universities in the Midwest and elsewhere that employ archaeologists who work outside their own regions. There is no lack of opportunity to support Midwestern and other neglected areas in American academics. Indeed, Midwestern universities, as much as any others, should redress these inequities.

"Archaeology is a cosmopolitan discipline, and practice should reflect the range and diversity of prehistoric cultures on a global scale. But American archaeology's worldliness lacks proportion."

There may be many reasons that Midwestern prehistory is institutionally neglected, but purely anthropological or archaeological explanations seem not to exist. The Midwest witnessed the complete range of sociopolitical variation found in prehistoric North America, and nearly the range of the entire New World. Almost certainly its sociopolitical range exceeds the Southwest's. The Midwestern archaeological record is abundant, diverse, and as richly contextualized as any other, despite common misconceptions. To some, Midwestern pottery may be dismal in technical and aesthetic terms when compared to that of the Southwest and Latin America. True, the area lacks standing ruins, although it contains abundant earthworks that are rare elsewhere in North Ame-rica. But to identify these unflattering properties with the character of its archaeological record or the anthropological prospects of its study is a failure of imagination, not legitimate grounds for neglect.

Instead, the explanation for the Midwest's marginal status seems to be beside the anthropological point. Perhaps the reason is practical. There are many large American graduate programs but at least three of them are in the Southwest, which seems a disproportionate number considering the nationwide distribution. Yet there also are large graduate programs in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West without commensurate geographic emphases in those regions. Most of the West is public land. Coupled with the region's low population and concentration of natural resources, this condition favors public works on a scale rarely matched elsewhere in the United States. Large-scale public works projects, obviously, attract large-scale archaeological fieldwork. Yet this suggestion does not explain the comparative neglect of the Great Basin, similar to the Southwest in these respects but not nearly as popular with academic departments. Perhaps labor and general operating costs also explain geographic preferences. Arguably in the Southwest, undeniably in Latin America, these costs are lower than they are in eastern North America.

The Southwest is roughly the size of the Midwest, so the difference is not explained by geographic extent. Obviously, Latin America is far larger than either North American area alone. Although I did not distinguish between Latin American areas, I believe that most Latin Americanists work either between central Mexico and Honduras or in the Andes. Geographically, both areas are sizable. Regardless of size, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that North American archaeologists are attracted disproportionately to them.


Practical reason explains only so much. Undeniably, the Midwest lacks cachet; at dinner parties, corn dogs compete poorly with chicken mole or pozole. Hollywood parodied archaeology and produced genre films in the Indiana Jones series but, like all good parodies, this one contained a kernel of truth audaciously exaggerated. The historical and geopolitical context of the films required setting most adventures in the Near East, but the first one opened in Latin America. Despite his name, the hero's adventures were not set in Terre Haute or Ft. Wayne.

For a brief time in the 19th century, the Midwest was a fashionable place for metropolitan archaeologists. Under Frederic Putnam, the Peabody Museum worked near Cincinnati and still holds important Ohio Valley collections. The available means then probably separated Cambridge from Madisonville by as much money and time as it would separate Cambridge from Mesa Verde and Chichen Itzá a generation later. Similarly, the early archaeological fieldwork by the University of Chicago was done in Illinois, but it has long since abandoned that area. Once the Midwest lost its exotic cachet, it was abandoned for more remote locales. The University of Arizona, in contrast, has continued its early work in Arizona to the present.

The ideal is to live in cultured metropolitan locales and practice archaeology in "remote" areas. That could be many places, but generally for North Americans, it is Latin America. Similarly in the continental United States, the Southwest offers the most convenient combination of distance and proximity, of the exotic and the familiar. One can practice amid beautiful landscapes and native cultures, and encounter standing ruins and polychrome pottery. It is legitimate to link Latin American and the Southwest in this discussion. Both today and in the past, the Southwest is somewhat an extension of Latin America (1986, T. C. Patterson, The Last Sixty Years: Toward a Social History of Americanist Archaeology in the United States. American Anthropologist 88: 7­26; 1986, C. M. Hinsley, Edgar Lee Hewett and the School of American Research in Santa Fe 1906­1912. In American Archaeology Past and Future: A Celebration of the Society for American Archaeology 1935­1985, edited by D. Meltzer, D. Fowler, and J. Sabloff, pp. 217­233. Smithsonian Institution). The School of American Research was founded on the model of American schools in Rome or Athens (i.e., in foreign lands) after unsuccessful attempts to establish an American school in Mexico.

Relatively few American archaeologists live in the Southwest, practically none in Latin America. But anthropology is more about the remote or exotic than about cultural experience and history. The "other" that ethnologists and increasingly, archaeologists fondly celebrate is distant, not only in culture, but also in time and space. The hackneyed "other" is elsewhere. In the Cuna world, prestige followed action in "distant geographic regions that were terra incognita to the less educated . . . For such 'ordinary' persons the 'center of the world' was their own domain. Distant geographic realms were extraordinary 'foreign' worlds . . . unknown and awesome" to all but the cosmopolitan elite (1979, M. Helms, Ancient Panama: Chiefs in Search of Power. University of Texas Press, pg. 134). Substitute "archaeologists" for "Cuna"; Latin Americanists trade in the unknown and distant, Mid-westernists in a provincial domain. Yet cultural anthropology is reconsidering its predominant emphasis on other places [1998, T. E. Fricke, Home Work. American Anthropological Association Newsletter 39(7): 1, 4­5]. Archaeology should do the same.


Since the Monroe Doctrine and certainly since the advent of the national-security state, the United States has advanced proprietary claims toward Latin America. Just as British and French archaeologists practice disproportionately in their former colonial possessions, Americans practice disproportionately in America's ambiguous empire. Indeed, Western archaeologists have roughly apportioned the non-Western world into separate spheres of influence. To Patterson, early North American involvement in Latin American archaeology served strategic national interests.

Yet even European archaeologists seem to work at home more than Americans, perhaps reflecting different recent histories and the cultural context of archaeological practice. Whether or not their archaeological records stem from their direct ancestors, Europeans sense an affinity to national prehistory generally lacking in the United States. After all, our past may not seem our own, even though it really is everyone's. Moreover, few archaeologists who work in North America's intellectual empire are motivated by self-interest, least of all by imperial ambition, and there is nothing gained in moral posturing to that effect. My own research places me poorly to do so (1999, M. Shott and E. Williams, Pottery Ethnoarchaeology in Michoacán, Mexico: The Third Season's Report. Paper delivered at the 98th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. Washington, D.C.).

Some view North American archaeology as no less imperial, merely a Western practice that appropriates the non-Western past. In that sense, any archaeology that does not involve the material record of the West's lineal ancestors is imperial. But a humanistic archaeology does not recognize essentialist claims to the past. Legitimately, the past is our common legacy. Neither should archaeology recognize unique claims to status for particular areas. Our concern should be to reveal and understand the past everywhere. If areas like the Midwest are slighted in the effort, we should rectify the neglect.

If departments are free to define their own interests, in part through geographic emphasis, then opportunity is denied to those in unpopular specializations. In orthodox economic theory, capital must be free to seek its highest returns. By happy assumption this freedom acts in everyone's best long-term interests. Whether or not the assumption is valid, Keynes reminded us what we are in the long term; we live in the present. Similarly, whatever happy assumption justifies the manifest geographic inequities of archaeological practice, we practice in the present. Intellectual freedom does not relieve us of the collective obligation to confront and rectify the unattractive consequences of our practices.


Archaeology is a cosmopolitan discipline, and practice should reflect the range and diversity of prehistoric cultures on a global scale. But American archaeology's worldliness lacks proportion. Were the interests of academic archaeologists even roughly proportional to geography, there would be more representation of Asia, subsaharan Africa (beyond hominid evolution studies) and other areas, not just the Midwest. Even without the emphasis on domestic prehistory characterizing nations like Japan for unique cultural reasons, there would be a good deal more representation of North America, especially beyond the Southwest and, frankly, a good deal less of Latin America. If the American academy recognized commitments to local and regional prehistory even remotely comparable to those held by other nations, more Midwestern, Northeastern, and other archaeologists would exist.

None of this is to deny that Latin America or the Southwest deserve study, nor that those specialists are good scholars. It does question that they deserve any more study or are any better scholars than others. Neither is it to advocate rigid quotas for geographic representation. But in the past 20 years, archaeology broadened opportunities to what it considered marginalized constituencies. This is a fair description today of Midwestern and other neglected area emphases. It follows that archaeology should broaden its geographic representation. All that said, geographic specialization in hiring should be subordinated to scholarly ability. Until it is, archaeology gives prestige as the Cuna do. What the Cuna do is their business; archaeology should recognize the quality of work, not its location.

*The term American is used in this article is used to refer to archaeologists with faculty positions in the 50 United States.


Elisabeth A. Bacus provided valuable comments on a draft of this paper and suggested useful sources to consult. David Webster supplied helpful information.

Michael J. Shott is an associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

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