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American and Mexican Archaeology:
Differences in Meaning and Teaching

Gillian E. Newell

Education reflects and helps perpetuate current professional paradigms and assigned cultural roles of archaeology within and between countries. Evaluating how archaeologists are trained offers great potential to evaluate the goals and purposes of the profession as we approach the end of this millennium. In this article, I compare how undergraduate archaeology is taught in the United States and Mexico and underscore that each system developed from different roots, traditions, and historical contexts.

Such work is important because a comparison of the two educational systems presents valuable insights into three related issues: (1) the difference in the training and pursuit of archaeology between the United States and Mexico, (2) the strengths and weaknesses of both systems, and (3) the lessons that lie in comparing and contrasting the two educational systems and pursuits of archaeology. In addition, a comparison of the two educational systems demonstrates that the B.A. degree cannot and should not be equated with the Licenciatura degree, nor should the Licenciatura degree be likened to a M.A. degree or an impoverished Ph.D.

To achieve these goals, I shall first present a brief overview of each educational system and discuss the differences in educational and professional goals of each system. Then, I will touch upon two different historical developments that influenced the two types of archaeology, leading to the differences in role and meaning of archaeology in each country. Based on these comparisons, I conclude by making some suggestions for the American training of archaeologists and posing some questions for Mexican archaeology as a discipline. The work presented here is based on my experiences in spring 1996 as a member of the binational Cerro de Trincheras project in Sonora, Mexico, directed by Randall H. McGuire and M. Elisa Villalpando C.

Educational Systems and Goals

In the United States, archaeology is taught as one of four subdisciplines of anthropology (with cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistics). Anthropology as a whole is embedded in the liberal arts education of a four-year college. Students take a fairly large number of nonanthropological courses. Furthermore, the requirements for obtaining a B.A. degree in anthropology are flexible and need not follow a rigid structure or sequence.

Students take several self-contained, nonsequential, and topic-oriented courses that only offer a general introduction and overview of the field of anthropology and its different subfields. Certainly students can voluntarily enroll in field schools, pursue internships, or write a senior thesis, but further specialization and in-depth training must wait until graduate school. In other words, the B.A. in anthropology indicates that a student can concentrate in anthropology while following a liberal arts curriculum.

In Mexico, most students attend the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia (ENAH), where archaeology exists as one of seven different programs (archaeology, physical anthropology, social anthropology, linguistics, history, ethnohistory, and ethnology). To become a Licenciado(a) in anthropology with a specialty in archaeology, students must first follow a rigid sequence of courses over the span of nine semesters. In addition to the coursework, students complete their prácticas de fin de carrera (final steps). These steps consist of at least three months of fieldwork or six months of laboratory work, and writing a thesis and defending it before an examination committee composed of professionals (1995, Reglamento para las Licenciaturas de la Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia. ENAH; 1997, Plan

de Estudios para la Licenciatura: Especialidad de Arqueología. ENAH, México D.F., México).

The training in Mexico is rigorous, in depth, and focuses extensively on both theory and practice. Because the students follow a rigid sequence in one subdiscipline, they build a profound knowledge of archaeology and develop a thorough understanding and insight into the field. Also, the requirements, especially the prácticas de fin de carrera, force the students to pursue their interests and specialize in some archaeological niche.

In the United States, a Liberal Arts education functions only as an introduction to and preparation for the world that the student will enter upon graduation (1997, E. Friedl, Fifty Years of Teaching Cultural Anthropology. In The Teaching of Anthropology: Problems, Issues and Decisions. Edited by C. P. Kottak, J. J. White, R. H. Furlow, and P. C. Rice, pp. 83­88. Mayfield, Mountain View, CA). The Mexican curriculum, on the other hand, aims to train and specialize students to function within their niche in a professional context. Consequently, the Mexican system requires thorough training in specific skills and the essential techniques necessary for success in the chosen subdiscipline.

The title of the degree alone reveals these differences in educational and professional goals. The word "bachelor" developed from the Middle English bacheler, meaning aspirant to knighthood (1982, The Oxford Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 7th ed. Edited by J. B. Sykes. pp. 48, 62. Oxford University Press, Oxford). Therefore, a Bachelor of Arts is merely "aspiring to." The noun "Licenciatura" comes from the verb licenciar, which means to license, to permit (1990, Diccionario actual de la lengua española. pp. 966. Barcelona, Spain). The Licenciatura carries some of this connotation in that students become licensed in their field and are then permitted to carry out its professional activities.

The nature of expected employment differs as well. In the United States, graduate students are trained for employment in the academic world, although the majority of available jobs are in the nonacademic sector. The latter jobs supply professionals with more applied and practically-oriented work. However, these positions are perceived by some in academia to occupy a less desirable place in the professional world. The structure of the B.A. curriculum perpetuates this perception and may a create false expectation of the potential for employment in academia (1997, K. E. Tice, Reflections on Teaching Anthropology for Use in the Public and Private Sector. In The Teaching of Anthropology: Problems, Issues and Decisions. Edited by C. P. Kottak, J. J. White, R. H. Furlow, and P. C. Rice, pp. 273­284. Mayfield, Mountain View, CA).

In Mexico, students expect to find employment predominantly at the government-funded Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), of which the ENAH is part, or alternatively at the research institution the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or, much less frequently, at a private university. These institutions exist to conserve and study Mexico's

"In Mexico, historical and socioeconomic contexts have yielded a very different kind of archaeology. Anthropology developed through strong academic and governmental influence into a discipline integrating history and science to serve the nation, its people, and the discipline. As a result, Mexican students in archaeology receive more 'vocational' training to become proficient at investigating, protecting, and conserving the archaeological resources, and sharing the acquired knowledge with the public."

national heritage (patrimonio), teach, and communicate anthropological and historical knowledge to the public (1997, ENAH; 1995, J. C. Olivé Negrete, El Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. In INAH: Una historia, vol. I: 33­108. INAH, México D.F., México.). Hence, the distinction between academic and private sectors does not exist, and students are expected to function not only as academics (teacher and researcher) but in many other, more diverse roles.

The American system emphasizes the theoretical aspect of anthropology in general because that is how anthropology contributes to the formation of a critical adult perspective on the world. Introductory courses teach students basic analytical skills and create awareness of other cultures, cultural differences, and world issues. The Mexican system specifically trains students for all aspects of archaeology but in the service of the state.

Historical Context

The numerous differences, all interrelated, both resulted from and shaped the role that archaeology plays in society. In each country, archaeology developed from specific historical roots and traditions with different cultural implications for the professional practice. Here, I only briefly touch upon some important differences.

The differences in perspective toward the past and Native peoples, in particular, have had profound effects on the role of archaeology in each society. In the United States, archaeology developed without a direct tie to the country's precolumbian past. At the time of colonization, Europeans quickly displaced and decimated the native population and established their own written, and hence seen as superior, past and institutions. Then, Europeans and European Americans developed archaeology into an academic discipline when a noticeable Native presence was lacking. Those archaeologists studied Native Americans in a detached manner and viewed them as other, different, and exotic. As a result, American archaeology today is defined as the study of the other, the exotic, and the unknown (1982, J. L. Lorenzo, Archaeology South of the Río Grande. World Archaeology 13: 190­209).

In contrast, Mexican archaeology is rooted in a national mestizo culture and has a direct connection to its native past through documents and intrasocietal contact. Because Spanish conquistadors mixed with the Native population and both parties recorded the events of the protohistoric period, the precolumbian past is strongly linked to the present. Archaeology initially developed to glorify this connection and to help construct a unified mestizo identity. Consequently Mexican archaeology considers its own society and inhabitants to be its subject matter (Lorenzo 1982). Thus, archaeologists focus inward on Mexico's Indian and Mexican cultures. Instead of the dichotomy of "us versus them" that prevails in the American archaeological community, Mexican archaeology has an "us-to-us" orientation (1980, B. Trigger, Archaeology and the Image of the American Indian. American Antiquity 45: 662­676). These basic differences have underlaid archaeology in each country from initial development and to later theoretical developments. Two theoretical movements in particular had an important and strongly contrary (or contrastive) influence on the pursuit and education of archaeology today.

In the United States during the 1960s, the theoretical perspective of the New Archaeology reinforced the detached view of archaeologists. New Archaeology places great value on the scientific method and approaches archaeological data in an objective and processual manner (1992, M. Gándara, La arqueología oficial mexicana. INAH, México D.F., México; Lorenzo 1982). The legacy of the New Archaeology is still evident today because archaeologists continue to be trained to study the other and the unknown, and do so with a detached attitude.

Mexican archaeology, on the other hand, developed in service of the state and the Mexican people, and exclusively studied the cultural heritage of Mexico. In the 1960s, the historical particularism of Marxism encouraged Mexican archaeologists to not just gather data according to the scientific method, but to use these data to establish the connection between past societies and the modern Mexican state (1988, G. Méndez Lavielle, La quiebra política (1965­1976). In La antropología en México: Panorama histórico, vol. 2. Edited by C. García Mora, pp. 339­437. INAH, México D.F, México; Olivé Negrete 1995). While Mexican archaeology has opened up to other theoretical perspectives, the strong relationship between the past and the archaeologists, the state, and the public of today still exists.


The role of archaeology and the relationship between the state and archaeology differ greatly in both countries with profound consequences for the educational system, which in turn helps perpetuate each country's current professional paradigm.

In the United States, academic archaeology remains most important in academia, proceeds in a detached manner in pursuit of science, and to a considerable extent maintains its specialized, mystical image largely removed from the people studied and the general public. Further, academia places greater value on theory and gradually prepares students for the academic theoretical world with a critical, detached, and objective stance. Consequently, as the requirements for the B.A. degree in anthropology reflect, the university education heavily emphasizes scientific theory and implicitly attaches lesser importance to practical experience and technical proficiency, such as mandatory fieldwork, statistics, foreign language competency, and computer and writing skills.

In Mexico, historical and socioeconomic contexts have yielded a very different kind of archaeology. Anthropology developed through strong academic and governmental influence into a discipline integrating history and science to serve the nation, its people, and the discipline. As a result, Mexican students in archaeology receive more "vocational" training to become proficient at investigating, protecting, and conserving the archaeological resources, and sharing the acquired knowledge with the public. Further, the degree prepares students for direct employment upon completion and, to meet this need, they receive direct specialized training in their subdiscipline of choice. Therefore, the Licenciatura offers both thorough theoretical and practical training from a sociohistorical and scientific perspective, and teaches students their responsibilities to their national heritage, the public, and the discipline.

Understanding the differences and similarities between the two educational systems and the place of archaeology in each society provides unique insights into the discipline. The comparison points to a number of neglected or controversial areas in the education and in the pursuit of archaeology both in the United States and in Mexico. The questions and suggestions below are designed to provoke thoughts on and further stimulate communication between both education and the pursuit of archaeology, and between American and Mexican archaeologists.

Professionals and students of archaeology in the United States must consider several questions. First, does the training anthropology departments provide continue to meet market demand, as the academic job market continues to shrink in relation to the rapidly growing nonacademic sector? Further, how can we bridge the gap between academic archaeology and the private sector? Third, how can academia reach out to avocational archaeologists and to the public and prepare students for these traditionally nonacademic roles? Finally, how can we develop working relationships with Native Americans and others whose lives we study? While I cannot fully answer these questions here, I will make some suggestions how American archaeology can improve its educational system based on the above analysis.

Anthropology departments should consider changes on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. First, throughout the training of any anthropologist, more emphasis should be placed on all aspects of the pursuit of archaeology, such as theory, practice, public policy, management, and public outreach in academic and nonacademic realms. Second, at the graduate level, departments should require extensive fieldwork and demand a true working knowledge of relevant foreign language and competency in laboratory methods, analytical methods, computers, and writing. Third, the idea that academic, scientific research is most important and worthy of sole recognition is no longer viable. Instead, academics need to respect and learn to engage in academic and nonacademic archaeology. Further, departments must provide an understanding of and training for the whole spectrum of archaeology and do so with a larger geographical applicability.

In the case of Mexican anthropology as a whole and archaeology in particular, I conclude with several important questions: (1) With respect to the relation between the state and archaeology, how does the state limit and shape the practice of archaeology? To what extent is it possible to realize a state archaeology and a scientific archaeology? (2) In the United States, the practice of archaeology ranges from the academy to the private sector. In Mexico, would it benefit the discipline to open the field of archaeology to external sectors outside of INAH? Or how would not opening up archaeology affect INAH? In the hypothetical case of creating new sectors next to INAH, would it be necessary to change the structure and contents of the ENAH curriculum? Would the current relationship between the state and archaeology disappear?

Answering these questions is an extremely difficult task, which points to their relevance in evaluating American and Mexican archaeology. Identifying and evaluating problems, disadvantages, and advantages of each system can be useful in our process of reconsidering the discipline's objectives, pursuit, and education. ·

Gillian E. Newell is professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

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