Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

SAA's Workshop on Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century:
Promoting a National Dialogue on Curricula Reform

Susan J. Bender and George S. Smith

On February 5-8, 1998, a group of 24 professional archaeologists met at Wakulla Springs, Florida, to explore and discuss the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for archaeologists to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This workshop was conceptualized, organized, and directed by SAA's Public Education Committee and was sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS) Southeast Archeological Center and Archeology and Ethnography Program, Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Association of State Archaeologists, with additional support from the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA), and the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA). The workshop built upon discussions and recommendations from the 1989 (SAA 1990) and 1994 (SAA 1995) Society for American Archaeology "Save the Past for the Future" working conferences; the 1995 SAA forum on "Restructuring American Archaeology" and the resulting conference on "Renewing our National Archaeological Program" (Lipe and Redman 1996); the 1995 "Professional Choice, Public Responsibility" symposium held at the Chacmool Conference in Calgary, Alberta (Bender 1995), and the 1997 conference, "Changing Career Paths and Archaeological Training" sponsored by the Professional Archaeologists of New York City (Schuldenrein 1998a, 1998b). The consensus from these meetings was that archaeology has changed considerably in the latter half of the 20th century and that many students have not received the education and training needed to attain and perform successfully many of the jobs currently available to archaeologists.

As a result, many government agencies and private archaeological firms have called for improved education and training. They report that students are not prepared for jobs that require understanding and application of historic preservation laws, ethics, cultural resource management field strategies, resource evaluation, National Register evaluations, proposal writing, personnel management, and business practices (Blanton 1995). Others have stressed the need for instruction in public relations; writing for the public; working with landowners, developers, governmental officials, teachers and students in grades K-12; promoting cultural diversity; understanding current educational methods and trends; protecting archaeological resources; stabilizing sites; and working with both Native Americans and avocational archaeologists to prepare our students to interact effectively with a changing professional context (Fagan 1994; Lynott and Wylie 1995; McManamon 1991; SAA 1995; Smith et al. 1995; White and Weisman 1995). Therefore, it is critical to the profession that academic departments develop curricula that meet the requirements of the profession and reflect current career opportunities.

It is abundantly clear that professional archaeologists today--and for the foreseeable future--will be interacting with many publics. Archaeology majors must take courses that introduce them to the business, legal, and ethical contexts of contemporary archaeology. With this rationale in mind, the workshop on "Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century" was convened.

As originally conceived, the workshop was to concentrate on how to enhance undergraduate and graduate education and training in public archaeology and cultural resource management. While keeping these concerns central to our discussions, workshop participants soon realized that these issues are embedded in a larger disciplinary agenda. While the social, political, and employment contexts of practicing archaeology have changed enormously over the last 20 years, curricular structure and content have remained relatively unaltered.

SAA's ethics statement (Lynott and Wylie 1995; Lynott 1997) was used as a basis for discussion because it provides a succinct summary of curricular reform. The following summarizes the most important findings of the workshop.

The Professional Involvement workgroup at the "Save the Past for the Future II" Working Conference (SAA 1995) first identified the need for a workshop to address national curricular reform in archaeology. Its participants envisioned it as the first in a series of initiatives that would encourage academic departments to include training in public archaeology and cultural resource management in their curricula. The participants reasoned that not only are more archaeology graduates employed in applied rather than academic positions, but systematic education in these areas would surely go far toward creating a cohort of educated citizens sensitive to the need for protecting the nation's threatened archaeological resources. Planning for the Wakulla Springs Workshop thus began in 1996, and from the beginning, one of the major concerns was to assemble a group of archaeologists that would be representative of the wide diversity of teachers and future employers of our students.

Conference participants were thus drawn from community colleges, four-year liberal arts colleges, and both public and private university departments of anthropology. Similarly, potential employers were represented by professionals practicing archaeology in federal, state, and local agencies, as well as in for-profit and university-sponsored consulting firms. Moreover, representatives from the AAA, AIA, SHA, and the American Cultural Resources Association were invited to encourage dialogue beyond the boundaries of the SAA membership. We were sure that meaningful reform could proceed only from a dialogue in which the wide variety of practicing archaeologists could see their concerns represented.

Our discussions at Wakulla Springs were focused on the review of position papers circulated in advance of the workshop. These papers tended to suggest that our first task would be to reach agreement on the core principles for curricular reform. Moreover, they revealed that the task must be accomplished in a format that responded to the needs and constraints of a diverse profession, without privileging or stereotyping any one sector. Our second pre-workshop initiative was to survey departments of anthropology to assess levels of interest in and impediments to the type of curricular reform contemplated.

Perhaps the most important result of this survey was that it indicated a majority of the responding departments (about one-third of those listed in the AAA Guide to Departments of Anthropology) were interested in integrating training in applied archaeology into their curricula if they did not already do so. Workshop discussions thus began by defining principles for curricular reform. The following statement prepared by the Undergraduate Education Work Group provides an explicit rationale for the principles we adopted:

During the past two decades, archaeological practice has been transformed by forces both internal and external to the profession. These transformations include a blurring of the distinction between prehistoric and historic archaeology, a growth of the market in antiquities accompanied by unprecedented site destruction, the threatening of our archaeological heritage by construction and development activities, the implementation of cultural resource legislation and the subsequent growth of the cultural resource management profession, the passage of legislation regulating access to human burials and artifact collections, and heightened popular interest in archaeology including the growing interest of descendant communities in their archaeological pasts.

These forces have required archaeologists to develop new skills and ethical principles for professional practice. The aims of this document [and the workshop as a whole] are to identify these new skills and principles and to suggest how they might be included in a modified undergraduate [graduate and post graduate/professional development] curriculum in archaeology.

Having reached agreement on a rationale for change, we identified specific principles for curricular reform, based on a restatement of SAA's ethical principles. In addition, workshop participants recognized that a number of the skills that should be fostered through curricular reform were clearly imbedded in the traditions of liberal arts education (e.g., written and oral education and values clarification), and we sought to emphasize them. These are the principles for curricular reform developed by the workshop:

Having agreed on these principles, workshop participants separated into three workgroups, each charged with envisioning how the principles might be implemented in the curriculum to create a new learning environment for students. Each group was charged with a discrete area of reform: undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate education and professional development. The latter group was impaneled because we recognized that at least two sectors of the profession would need to be served as a result of the contemplated reform: The faculty who will teach the new curricular elements and professionals currently practicing in applied jobs who may need programs to keep abreast of the rapidly changing sociopolitical and technological contexts of our field. Each group outlined a revised curriculum and each statement was reviewed by all workshop participants to ensure a consistent approach and representative content.

During our closing session, workshop participants turned their attention to strategies for encouraging discipline-wide engagement for curricular reform, now conceptualized as "Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century." A critical feature of this process would be to foster discussion among practicing archaeologists and to encourage feedback on our comments. This report is a first step in that process. Workgroup reports dealing with undergraduate and graduate education and postgraduate education and professional development will appear in forthcoming issues of the Bulletin. In addition, we plan to make presentations and reports to the governing bodies of those organizations supporting the workshop, as well as place other articles in their communications to theirmemberships. We hope to obtain feedback on these reports through electronic communication and a forum on "Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century" scheduled for the 1999 SAA Annual Meeting.

In the meantime, SAA's Board has created an oversight group for all of these activities, "Task Force on Curriculum." You can review the task force's membership on SAA's web site. We encourage everyone to communicate your ideas about the work we've undertaken, either directly to members of the task force, via our soon-to-be posted electronic bulletin board, or at the forum scheduled for the SAA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

After the February session, several participants in the Wakulla Springs Workshop remarked that our initiative and efforts have the potential to change the contours of archaeological practice in the United States. We hope that this remark was not hyperbole born of the excitement of three remarkably productive days of discussion. We hope, rather, that it is predictive and that we will all contribute to reshaping our educational and, ultimately, disciplinary practice. This can only occur within the context of a national dialogue.

References Cited

Bender, S. J.
1995, "Professional Choice, Public Responsibility: The SAA Public Education Committee." Symposium presented at the 28th Annual Chacmool Conference, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Blanton, D. B.

1995, The Case for CRM Training in Academic Institutions. SAA Bulletin 13(3):40-41.

Fagan, B. M.

1994, Perhaps We Hear Voices. In Save the Past for the Future II, Report of the Working Conference. Special Report, Society for American Archaeology, Washington D.C.

Lipe, B., and C. Redman

1996, Conference on "Renewing Our National Archaeological Program." SAA Bulletin 14(4):14-17.

Lynott, M. J.

1997, Ethical Principles and Archaeological Practice: Development of an Ethics Policy. American Antiquity 62:589-599.

Lynott, M. J., and A. Wylie (editors)

1995, Ethics in American Archaeology: Challenges for the 1990s. Special Report, Society for American Archaeology, Washington, D.C.

McManamon, F. P.

1995, The Many Publics for Archaeology. American Antiquity 56:121-130.

Schuldenrein, J.

1998a, Changing Career Paths and the Training of Professional Archaeologists: Observations from the Barnard College Forum, Part I. SAA Bulletin 16(1):31-33.

1998b, Changing Career Paths and the Training of Professional Archaeologists: Observations from the Barnard College Forum, Part II. SAA Bulletin 16(3):26-29.

Smith, G. S., S. J. Bender, and B. C. Keel

1995, Legislation and College Curriculum. Archaeology and Public Education Newsletter 5(4):5.

Society for American Archaeology

1990, Actions for the 1990s, Save the Past for the Future. Final Report, Taos Working Conference on Preventing Archaeological Looting and Vandalism. Fort Burgwin Research Center, Taos, New Mexico.

1995, Save the Past for the Future II: Report of the Working Conference. Breckenridge, Colorado. Special Report, Society for American Archaeology, Washington, D.C.

White, N. M., and B. R. Weisman

1995, Graduate Education in Public Archaeology at the University of South Florida, Tampa. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Chacmool Conference, Calgary, Alberta.

Susan J. Bender is associate dean of faculty at Skidmore College and George S. Smith is head of the Investigation and Evaluation Division at the Southeast Archeological Center, National Park Service. They are cochairs of the SAA Task Force on Curriculum and cochaired the "Teaching Archaeology in the 21st Century" workshop.

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page