Public Archaeology as a Tool for Community Preservation and Empowerment
Preservation of most traditional landscapes depends upon a sustainable tourism. In turn tourism, and to a surprising degree business development, depends upon establishing a clear sense of place. This web presentation, explores the many ways that archaeology can benefit local development projects and tourism while accomplishing the research goals of the archaeological community. Public education opportunities linked with the heritage tourism infrastructure can enhance community pride and boost the local economy. Archaeology can contribute a unique sense of place, as well as pride of a shared history, for a community. Enhanced interpretation of historic and prehistoric sites, provided by archaeological research, can increase awareness of the past for the visiting public and local residents. The media can be used as a tool for increased funding and support of archaeology and preservation. I will present here a how-to approach to dealing successfully with the politics, the publicity, and the tourism industry while rediscovering the past. I will use examples from the city of Baltimore, Maryland, USA that will help you deal with the politics of a bureaucracy, benefit from the inevitable publicity, and enrich the public, wherever your project may be located.
In Baltimore it all began with a newspaper article describing an exciting archaeology program in Annapolis, Maryland. Here, visitors were welcomed to a warehouse site and given a guided tour of the archaeological excavation. The Mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer (known perhaps for his promotional escapade in which he dove - clutching tightly to his rubber Ducky - into the dolphin tank of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, having lost a bet on the completion date), was intrigued by the possibility of a similar project in Baltimore. His reasons were perhaps more pedestrian than those of the Annapolis folks. He viewed an archaeological excavation as an opportunity to promote a specific area of the City. In this photo, Mayor Schaefer, wearing his "archaeology pith helmet" is peering intently at the ground as cameras snap away. So, Baltimore hired its first City Archaeologist and began the development of public archaeology in Baltimore.
Mayor Schaefer and Elizabeth Comer at the beginning of public archaeology in Baltimore.
Building upon the success of other public archaeology programs and the interest of a local politician can both be extraordinarily useful to a start-up public program. A powerful political voice that senses the benefits of archaeology can be the driving force behind funding and logistical support. What do they get in return? The photo opportunities are an obvious answer, but along with that is the opportunity to provide quality of life benefits to students and constituents through public involvement opportunities. And to feel, as the archaeologists do, that they are providing a means for individuals to feel enfranchised with the past. Public education opportunities in archaeology can enhance community pride and boost the local economy through heritage tourism. Archaeology can contribute a unique sense of place, as well as a pride of a shared history, for a community. Each of these factors can be relied upon to generate support from the political community for public archaeology programs.
The Fallswalk, in need of assistance.
Considering the size of Baltimore and the extent of development over the last two decades within the City, very little archaeology had taken place. Perceived as a nuisance by the City and developers, archaeology was being viewed for the first time as a positive force. Earlier in the year, a group of historic sites east of the Jones Falls had been linked by a self-guided walk called the Fallswalk. However, the Fallswalk had not gotten off on the right foot, probably because the surrounding area, while of historic interest, was bounded by low-income housing projects and severed from the main part of downtown by a very heavily traveled street.
Clearly, the Fallswalk needed a shot in the arm, a new promotional angle. Perhaps a working archaeological excavation would draw people to the area as well as increase an awareness of the historic sites, both below and above ground. Indeed, the planned construction of a major boulevard through the area had resulted in Section 106 historic research and archaeological testing, demonstrating that remains of early Baltimore were intact below the surface. Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 is the United States enabling legislation that protects historic and archaeological resources.
A city-owned parking lot, where an early Baltimore brewery and later a casket company stood, was selected. Historical research told us that the brewery was built by a wealthy Philadelphian, Thomas Peters, who came to Baltimore in the 1780's. It was later owned by the third Mayor of Baltimore, Edward Johnson, early in the 19th century, and the Star Spangled Banner was sewed together by Mary Pickersgill on the malt house floor in 1814. After the brewery ended operation in the 1870's the National Casket Company occupied the site until the 1960's. With urban renewal, the site became a City parking lot for 56 cars. As a microcosm of 200 years of Baltimore's industrial history, the selected site provided an opportunity to enfranchise the public with their past through archaeology. This would be accomplished through a combination of levels of involvement, from placard reading, to guided tours, to actual excavation experience through volunteering for students and the public.
The chosen site: a parking lot that once was a brewery and a casket company.
The idea of using archaeology as a positive promotional tool is not usually the intent of the excavation. Even today, more than a decade into public archaeology, many professional archaeologists can be heard lamenting the time it takes to talk to the public or the press. They would much rather be left alone to dig in private. The public is almost universally curious about the past and their curiosity and interest can be seen in popular culture such as movies and advertisements. The challenge for archaeologists is to ensure that archaeology is not simply relegated to the role of tourism curiosity, but that important messages are conveyed to the public through interpretative programs. This is particularly important when dealing with students, as they need to understand their role in stewardship of archaeological resources now and carry that knowledge and sensitivity with them when they are adults.
Because the focus of the excavations in Baltimore would be the public, we tackled each part of the excavation planning from that point of view. A media consultant and a local university professor became integral parts of the formation of the public program. The archaeologists were trained to give tours and transfer their knowledge and enthusiasm to the public. Archaeologists and historians provided input into tour content and the formation of historical arguments for Baltimore. The project historian did additional historical research to find photographs, letters, and diaries that could be incorporated into the placards, brochures, etc. This information formed the body of historic data from which the tour was developed. Specific historical facts were translated into arguments which, when linked to a feature or artifact, formed discreet parts of the tour. Sample historic images used.
One of the Blue Chip-In students
As the program was developed, teaching became a major thrust - teaching not only visitors through tours but teaching volunteers and students on a tutorial basis. In order to realize this focus, a field school, consisting of students from local colleges and universities, was developed. They subsequently received credit from their home departments for their participation. It soon became obvious that a larger core of excavators was needed and a summer jobs corps program, sponsored by the Mayor's Office, provided eight Blue Chip-In students. These high school and college students brought to the program unique backgrounds and skills. For example, a commercial art student and a mathematics major worked together to create wonderful maps and drawings. By the end of the summer, the Blue Chip-In workers became superb excavation technicians and, in turn, taught new volunteers.
The sharing of multiple perspectives of history with the public and students is one of the most important roles of archaeological interpretation. And while archaeologists know the content, they are not generally experts in getting the message across to the public in a meaningful way. Training archaeologists to give tours enhances their ability to express themselves. And, it also has the added benefit of allowing each archaeologist the opportunity to reflect on their role in the excavation and interpretation of the past.
In Baltimore, as the beginning excavation date drew near, promotion became a concern. The public clearly needed to be told about this program. Since this excavation was to be Baltimore's first, it seemed appropriate to have an opening complete with the mayor, speeches, kids, balloons, root beer floats, and the media. This turned out to be the perfect way to capture the press and get the word out. A press release went out and the lessons began immediately. One particularly nice reporter called and said he couldn't make it to the opening and could he have an interview, etc., beforehand. Being sympathetic and naive, I agreed. To my horror he did an exclusive the day before the opening, complete with pictures. Several, but not all, competing papers simply didn't cover the opening because of this. The ones who did come made the inevitable mistakes. Wrong dates... Misquotes.. and some Misinterpretations.
Opening day on site: inviting the public to take part in the festivities helped stir their interest in taking part in the excavations.
"Archaeologists as Detectives: Solving History's Mysteries" - promotional poster.
A public relations volunteer quickly stepped forward to help. She taught us to prepare written text and visual materials for the press and to give them good copy - written and verbal. Written press kits assured high quality press coverage without the constant vigilance of the archaeologist talking to each reporter for hours. She taught us to stage good picture opportunities even if it meant we had to stop digging for a few minutes. We learned to hold the press' hand and make it very easy for them. It worked for us and kept them coming back. And, it also gave us control of what was said and written.
The word was sure to get out and it did. Throughout the excavation, the media, TV, radio, and newspapers - focused a great deal of attention on "The Dig." The media coverage brought hundreds of volunteers whose hours of assistance translated into many thousands of dollars. And it brought thousands of visitors who learned about the importance of archaeology at "The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig."
"The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig" - one of many large signs to attract and welcome visitors.
In addition to the media coverage, we printed and distributed brochures and flyers soliciting volunteers and inviting visitors to "The Dig." "I DIG BALTIMORE" hats were ordered and distributed. The site was ringed by a 260 foot BALTIMORE ARCHAEOLOGY sign and the entrance was surmounted by a sign: "The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig- Welcome." A billboard was erected over a major downtown street. Visitor information was sent to 1400 travel agencies throughout the country.
The press can be your best friend if you take the time to understand how they work and what they need from you. Can you imagine having to learn enough about two or three completely unfamiliar subjects to write an intelligent article on each in one day under constant deadline pressures? The easier you make their job, the better the coverage. A written press kit is essential and will mean less time spent by the reporter trying to fill in the background data. This is translated into more column inches or on air minutes to tell the story. Little tricks such as always using colored paper so the material stands out on a crowded desk, scanned images on disc for artifact illustrations and maps, and solid quotes that can be dropped into an article are essential.
The value of the in-kind services provided by the City of Baltimore was, at no point, more obvious than during site preparation. Approximately $15,000 worth of heavy equipment for site preparation and testing was provided through the Department of Public Works - Bureau of Highways. Additionally, DPW provided 30 shovels, 20 paintbrushes, 5 picks, 2 wheelbarrows, whisk brooms, buckets and so on. The surveying department of the City surveyed and gridded the site and made a site map. The Department of Recreation and Parks cleaned the area and provided benches.
While the various departments and resources of the City were available to the program at no cost, cash was needed to pay salaries. Grants from the local Humanities Council, two local foundations, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation supplemented the cash secured from the City. The cash budget for the project amounted to approximately $60,000, with contributed in-kind services worth $75,000.
Local companies were given the opportunity to contribute to the program. Several hardware stores gave 30 Marshalltown trowels and a storage shed. A construction firm donated a typewriter and portable toilets. A public relations firm designed the flyer and brochure and a radio station printed them. Even the U.S. Army was helpful. They provided four MASH tents to cover the excavation and excavators.
An aerial view of the site, showing the large banner in the foreground and a variety of contributions: heavy equipment from the city, tents from the Army, among others.
Public Archaeology can bring support in the form of much needed money and services. A placard placed at the site entrance that is updated with each new sponsor name will generate more sponsorship. This list should also be part of the press kit. Tents loaned from the local Army National Guard, backhoe and gradall time and grant monies are all more easily secured when positive publicity is generated for the donor. No donation is too small or insignificant. Sodas from a local distributor on hot summer days; paper artifact bags; pencils and line levels-if purchased, each will take real dollars from something else. Experience has shown that people genuinely want to help, they just need to be given the opportunity.
Placards at the site entrance (top) and in tents on site.
"The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig" site was open to the public while excavations were taking place. Wednesday through Sunday from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., visitors were taken to the placard tent and then given a 12-15 minute guided tour. This tour consisted of a series of arguments linking the archaeology and the past to the present. One such argument linked the high status artifacts found in the privy to the availability of capital in early America and the development of banks and investment houses. The skyline of Baltimore, punctuated by the towers of commerce, products of the financial revolution which took place in the 1980's, was then woven into the argument.
Volunteers and students were given a guided tour and then asked to complete an information form. Data about previous archaeological experience in the form of fieldwork, classes, or simply a reading familiarity were requested. Each new volunteer was teamed with an experienced excavator. Early on, a core group of volunteers was formed. These were the folks that came faithfully each Thursday or Sunday, for example. Inevitably, their first question each week was: "What happened while I've been gone? Did you answer that question - or figure this out?"
Getting the tour.
Volunteers at work.
Working with volunteers and students means changing your usual 9 to 5 schedules. Since most people are at work or in school during the week, keeping the excavation open on the weekends is an obvious tool to reach the public. Regular volunteers who come each week can quickly be utilized to train and mentor new volunteers and students.
During "The Great Baltimore Brewery Dig" a volunteer or visitor would return to the site a week later with the answer to a question or the identity of an artifact. The daily radio updates assisted in this process also. "The Dig Update" aired at the same time each day over WCBM, a major Baltimore station. The live report included an artifact count and information on a newly discovered artifact or feature. Several particularly puzzling artifacts were described on the radio and listeners came to the site or called with identification ideas. Once, after many phone calls and visits to museums in an attempt to identify an artifact, we placed its picture on the 6 PM television news and asked viewers to call the station if they know what it was. An elderly gentleman called to say that they were cotton bale buckles and that his first job as a child had been to remove them from the cotton bales.
The media coverage of "The Dig" throughout the summer was astounding - five local TV news reports, a talk show, a national TV report, approximately 30 articles appearing in newspapers from Philadelphia to San Francisco, three magazine articles (including airline magazines), a radio show on NPR's "All Things Considered," and front page of The Wall Street Journal.
Several thousand visitors and 302 volunteers became a part of the excavations by summer's end. And, by summer's end, the archaeology at the "Great Baltimore Brewery Dig" had provided an excellent picture of industrial development in Baltimore.
The power of the media can be harnessed to help with research and to increase the support for and awareness of public archaeology worldwide. Numerous new public archaeology programs began following the success and publicity of the Baltimore program. Funding and support for Maryland's archaeology programs reached an all time high following the success of Baltimore's pilot program and the positive publicity generated by the public programming.
When the archaeology moved out of the field in September and into the laboratory, the volunteers moved with it. As during the field phase, lab volunteers scheduled specific hours or dropped in during open lab times outlined on the monthly schedule each was sent. These volunteers became the core for tour guides and excavators during future excavations.
Design aspects of the park (above and right).
Because the brewery excavation site would not be disturbed by development, it presented an opportunity to continue the public program in a permanent park setting. Perceived as an integral part of the Fallswalk through History, we convinced the City to abandon plans to return it to the parking lot function and, instead, work on a park design. A design charette was held in which urban planners, landscape architects, and outdoor museum specialists visited the site and formulated design ideas. The park integrates the exposed walls and features with interpretation markers. The theme of arguments, tying the archaeology to specific historical lessons, is continued and a visit is, in many ways, like the guided tour but without the archaeologist, perfect for school tours year around.
It is vitally important to maintain the interest of the public even when the fieldwork is complete. Archaeologists know that fieldwork is only a very small portion of the archaeological process. The public needs to understand the entire process of archaeology. One way to do this is to maintain volunteer opportunities and publicity follow-ups. The camaraderie that is so much a part of fieldwork can be equally a part of laboratory research work with monthly volunteer lectures, field trips to other excavations and museum displays, and social events such as vessel-reconstruction-bees. The media loves follow-ups to interesting stories and can place them on otherwise slow news days as filler. Keep their interest with an occasional phone call or letter update.
The first home of the public archaeology program, named the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, was the Office of the Mayor. While this was a very fortuitous placement within the City system to get a program off and running, it was realized that a more permanent address was needed because if we stayed in the Mayor's office we risked the longevity of the program. When an administration change took place (an inevitable happening in municipal government), the City Archaeologists would be cleaned out with the rest of the personal staff of the current administration. Thus, choices for a permanent home for the public archaeology program ranged from City departments, such as Planning, to local museums, such as the Museum of Industry. The Municipal Museum of Baltimore, the Peale Museum, one of the oldest museums in the country, was the final choice. This museum enjoyed private and City support and provided the BCUA with a recognizable name as well as stability within the City budget, as a funded line item. The support staff, collections, and library of the Peale Museum are very useful to the archaeologists. The Peale, in turn, benefits from an association with a highly visible public archaeology program.
A display case at the BCUA museum (above), a pitcher on display (below), and a hands-on soil screener (right).
At the same time the City of Baltimore began to develop the archaeology program, the Mayor decided to create a Museum Zone, incorporating the Carroll Mansion (home of Charles Carroll or Carrollton a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and several late 18th - 19th century residential structures. Located just across the street from the brewery site, the BCUA museum includes laboratory, museum, storage and office space. The new museum incorporates a hands-on excavation pit and the working laboratory as a part of the exhibit - teaching students and visitors first hand year around about Baltimore archaeology. Even with the construction and opening of this new museum structure, we never forgot who helped us get to this point - the volunteers. All previous BCUA volunteers were sent an invitation to attend the opening. The invitation was an artifact bag which each could complete with "their" provenience information and in it place an item to be buried at the new museum. As our guests arrived at the opening, we recorded their donation in an "excavation register". Each became a part of what they loved - archaeology in Baltimore. All those "artifacts" remain buried under the courtyard of their city archaeology museum.
The most successful and long lived of archaeology programs are those that become an integral part of the city, county or state government. However, the most important part of longevity for any public archaeology program is its ability to stay focused on the mission of educating and involving the public. Longevity of a public archaeology program has the added benefit of tapping into the tourism industry on a long-term basis. Tour operators can then be assured of a program available for their clients year after year. The revenue generated by admissions and sales to volunteers and the public can be substantial when a site becomes a group and individual tour destination. The resultant economic impact multiplier for the surrounding community is a powerful tool for generating political and social support for archaeology, heritage management and preservation.
The experience of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology and similar public archaeology programs demonstrate that politics, publicity and profit can create a synergy with archaeology. Archaeology can contribute to a unique sense of place and pride of a shared history for the local community. Enhanced interpretation of historic and prehistoric sites, provided by archaeological research, can increase tourism and economic development. The result of this is increased support for archaeology and success preserving, interpreting and projecting the past to the present for the public.
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