Mobilizing the Past: Archaeology as Activism

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Through studies of the past, archaeologists implicitly or explicitly influence the present. The impacts of archaeological research on everyday life range from government policy and legislation, to the reinforcement or subversion of societal norms through naturalization narratives, to the formation of community through a sense of shared past. Recognizing these impacts among others, archaeologists have begun to explore archaeology not just as a means of reconstructing the human past, but also as a tool for shaping the present. This empowers archaeologists to heal the wounds and ongoing violence inflicted by colonialism, legitimize the identities or narratives of marginalized people, better care for our environment, represent the needs of living communities, and improve the world around us. This session will explore how archaeologists can extend their focus beyond academia in order to positively impact living people through investigations of history and material culture. Presenters will build on frequently discussed topics in archaeology including community and indigenous archaeologies, demonstrating how we can further our approaches to help heal trauma and build community and bringing to light less commonly discussed issues such as homelessness, gentrification, and LGBTQ rights, thus, showcasing the versatile potential of archaeological approaches to activism.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-8 of 8)

  • Documents (8)

  • Activist Archaeology and Queer Feminist Critiques in Mesoamerican Archaeology (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Chelsea Blackmore. Shankari Patel.

    One of the strengths of prehistoric archaeology is its ability to document the full range of human variation. For Latin America, activist archaeology has the potential to inform postcolonial and Third World feminist critiques that challenge white supremacist legal systems that marginalize women of color and indigenous peoples. The false universalisms and cultural essentialisms found in human rights debates ignore the diverse experiences of women’s oppression, especially the indigenous, poor,...

  • Archaeology as Storytelling (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Samantha Easy.

    The rise of open source publications has increasingly made archaeological research available to wider audiences and yet the knowledge we as archaeologists produce is not always freely accessible or available. It is fully understood within our discipline that archaeological sites have strong connections to the past; that they are embodied spaces and irreplaceable sources of knowledge. However, this view of sites does not always extend to the broader public or to communities with ties to those...

  • Birch Island: The Archaeology and Memory of Resettlement (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julia Brenan.

    Archaeology has the ability to bring people together and assist communities in creating their own historical narrative so it can be passed on and acknowledged, corrected and recorded, within and outside of their community. My work in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador on an archaeological site that only ended occupation in the late 1960s facilitates the formalization of the historical narrative of the former Birch Island community through archaeology, historical research and personal interviews....

  • Co-Interpreting the Past – Shaping the Present, Building the Future (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ieva Paberzyte.

    Interest in the past brings archaeologists and Indigenous people together. Archaeologists reveal the past through material remains, while Indigenous people remember the past and keep it alive through stories. Often the past for archaeologists is an object of scientific curiosity, while for Indigenous people storytelling is an essential part of their identity. Stories provide wisdom and strength to deal with challenges in the present and the future. Joint efforts of archaeologists and Indigenous...

  • Inclusive Heritage: Learning from Urban Art in Berlin (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Genevieve Godin.

    Alternative, subcultural, or otherwise non-mainstream forms of heritage are increasingly being recognized, both in the social imaginary and in the discipline. Such moments provide archaeologists with opportunities for actively working towards a more inclusive and diversified heritage practice. Specifically, my work explores the potential of urban art walking tours and workshops in the borough of Kreuzberg (Berlin, Germany) from a contemporary archaeological standpoint. As tour guides present...

  • Leading Each Other to Water: Queer Archaeology and Consciousness Raising in New York’s Adirondacks (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Megan Springate.

    In 1903, white middle-class women founded Wiawaka Holiday House in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains for "working girls" to have an affordable vacation away from unhealthy factories and cities. In 2013 and 2014, I and dozens of community volunteers (ages 18 to 70) excavated on the grounds of the still-operating Wiawaka Holiday House (now the Wiawaka Center for Women). Underpinning all of the conversations and instruction about interpretation and excavation at the site were the queer...

  • More Than a Pair of Hands: the Education and Rights of Local Field-Workers (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Litteral.

    The archaeologist abroad must be held responsible for the fair treatment of his/her locally sourced workers. Fair treatment should go beyond providing a pay check comparable to standards in the United States. Archaeologists should feel ethically obligated to provide a wealth of knowledge to local field-workers. There remains much inconsistency in adherence to SAA principles of ethics. Particularly principles 2 and 4, as they relate to the accountability to local peoples and comment to public...

  • Queering the Inuit Past: Archaeology as LGBTQ Allyship (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Meghan Walley.

    The real-world utility of academic archaeology is frequently called into question. I address this perception by demonstrating that archaeology has unique potential in the sphere of LGBTQ activism. Because archaeology deals in constructing past narratives, it has the discursive power to naturalize or denaturalize existing social structures and identities. While archaeology has a long history of reinforcing normative social categories, archaeologists have recently begun to apply queer theory,...