SAA PEC Biographies

Claire Smith

President, World Archaeological Congress & Head, Department of Archaeology Flinders University
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia. 5001, Phone: 61-8-8201-2336, Fax: 61-8-8201-3845

Description of past and current involvement in public education and outreach

I have taught in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University since 1998. As Head of the Department, I am currently responsible for the oversight of teaching programs and for the supervision of research students. I convene my Department’s Public Lecture Series and have convened several conference sessions on archaeology and teaching.  I am a member of the National Committee for Teaching and Learning, Australian Archaeological Association.  I am Director of two archaeology projects: the Barunga Community Archaeology Project and the Burra Community Archaeology Project and I have been a consultant to AustraliaQuest, which is run through the Adventure Learning Division of Classroom Connect.

I do not draw a sharp distinction between my research, teaching, professional performance and community service.  For me, these activities are integrated: each one feeding into the others.  I am committed to becoming a better teacher, and to sharing my knowledge about good teaching practice, as demonstrated by my experience at Flinders and through a number of publications.  These include Teaching Archaeology in Cyberspace.  A Pilot Study at Flinders University, South Australia (Smith 2000) and Teaching Archaeology for Fun (Burke and Smith, in prep).  With the same colleague I have also produced a book arising directly from our field teaching, The Archaeologist’s Field Handbook (Burke and Smith 2004), currently being revised for publication in the US by AltaMira Press.

My foundational experience of public education comes from my employment as a university teacher.  When I started teaching at Flinders University seven years ago I was surprised by how much intellectual effort is involved in being an effective teacher.  I am not referring to developing the content of topics, which I expected to be time consuming, but to the effort involved in developing techniques for being an effective teacher.  Because archaeology is often concerned with a living heritage (particularly, although not limited to, that of Indigenous peoples), it is the ongoing interaction with the various Indigenous community groups who value archaeology and artefacts who have inspired my scholarship in teaching.  As practicing archaeologists, it is not enough to be able to teach undergraduate students the values of our discipline, but as professional archaeologists we must also be able to explain ourselves to others.  The challenge is always how to do this in a way that makes archaeology a socially responsible discipline.  I have initiated high quality research into how other people teach archaeology creatively, how best to make archaeologyaccessible and interesting to the public, and most importantly, how to make archaeology relevant to the various equity groups who are all too often relegated to being the objects of other peoples’ study.   I believe that teaching, research and partnerships with the community form an intellectually exciting and rewarding framework to teaching archaeology in the modern world.  My view is that the consideration of equity issues needs to be addressed with all students from school years onwards.  While it is essential to deal with equity issues at university, it is also important to contribute to the shaping of younger minds, in informing the development of national attitudes towards equity groups.  As part of ongoing collaborative research in Northern Australia, I have applied for funding to develop a project aimed at redressing stereotypes of Indigenous Australians.  I plan to extend the teaching materials that Heather Burke, my colleague, and I have developed for our university classes to make them appropriate for both primary and high school groups.  The scope of  the project will include training for teachers in using these materials which, if successful, could be developed for classroom use at a national level.  We would also like to publish this teaching and learning resource as a commercial product in order to give these ideas wider distribution.  We have already discussed the possibility of developing this resource into a board game with  the Director  of Flinders Technologies Pty Ltd..

I believe that public outreach should go in two directions: not only through taking archaeology to the public, but also through having members of the public, or particular interest groups, inform archaeological practice and contribute to the shaping of project outcomes.  Certainly not all teaching and learning takes place in the classroom.  Many learning situations arise serendipitously in response to current events, and the professional demands and realities of the discipline.  In my classes I continually seek to integrate outside issues with students’ learning, through inviting outside guests to contribute to the classroom environment (particularly senior traditional elders whose perspectives can never be communicated adequately by non-Indigenous people).  In addition, I convene my Department’s Public Lecture Series, which hosts six to eight guest speakers each year.  This lecture series features eminent archaeologists from a wide range of sub-fields, providing students and members of the public with a window into the diversity of professional possibilities and career opportunities that are offered by archaeology.

I have given conference papers and convened sessions on teaching archaeology at international conferences, including ‘Teaching Archaeology in Cyberspace’, in 1999, Cape Town, South Africa, and ‘Teaching Archaeology for Fun’, in 2003, Washington, D.C.  In 2000-2001 I was a consultant to AustraliaQuest, an interactive expedition programme for K-12 classroom use.  These expeditions, called Quests, involve a team of scientists and explorers venturing to different parts of the globe to explore great cultural and natural mysteries.  This is run through the Adventure Learning Division of Classroom Connect, Minneapolis, USA (

As President of the World Archaeological Congress, I have convened a Standing Committee in Teaching, Learning and Public Outreach.  In this role I have I have initiated several new projects relating to teaching and learning.  The Access to Knowledge programme aims to develop 50 substantive archaeological libraries globally, each of which will become regional hubs for archaeological research.  The Archaeologists without Borders programme provides in-country training and educational programmes in low-income countries.  In addition, I have initiated a new focus on seeking grants to support WAC members from economically disadvantaged countries to attend conferences and to publish scholarship.  I have also developed new publication strategies which will facilitate access to contemporary research by practicing archaeologists.  Recently I have introduced an electronic newsletter as means of informing members about current issues and items in the global archaeological context.

Interest in PEC Membership

I am very pleased to be a new member of the PEC (2004), which will give me an opportunity to learn from other professionals in the area of public education, and to share ideas and strategies about the teaching and learning of, and the promotion of archaeology. The Executive of the World Archaeological Congress has recently established a Teaching, Learning and Public Outreach Committee, and I anticipate there will be some useful cross-fertilization between the PEC and this Committee. I can offer my experience as a university teacher, researcher and community archaeologist. My approach to collaborative teaching, with Indigenous groups, professional archaeologists and other specialists, demonstrates my commitment to keeping abreast of recent developments in our field and related fields.  I can provide access to my ongoing research into archaeological theory and practice which continues to inform my teaching, and has resulted in a number of publications which focus on innovative and interactive educational strategies for the classroom. I have extensive experience working with Indigenous communities.  As President of WAC, I can obtain assistance and advice from practicing archaeologists in more than 80 countries.

Area of interest: Community archaeology; using the Internet to promote communities of practice; developing teaching materials on archaeology for use in primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions, with the aim of reddressing racial stereotypes (e.g. of Indigenous peoples as ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ and/or ‘children of nature’). 

Target audience: University and College level, firstly, but also school-aged students and the general public.