Living History Museums, Part 3: Living History and Archaeology

I once heard an anecdote by an archaeologist at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Massachusetts, that archaeologists had uncovered these football shaped depressions around excavated 17th century homes in New England.  They had no idea what type of feature these depressions could be!  But then, someone saw this shape and style of depression outside one of the recreated homes at Plimoth Plantation.  It turns out that chickens create that shape while roosting.  There are many more examples just like this, where a living history museum can provide answers to all kinds of questions.  Incorporating experimental archaeology can make a living history museum more like a laboratory, where archaeologists can gain a better understanding of how various artifacts were created and used.  Interpreters at these museums can use the reconstructed artifacts, clothing, and homes to present daily life at the site; various archaeologists have lived or studied at living history museums to truly connect with what they are researching.

For archaeologists and historians, living history museums offer a space for innovative research though re-creation. For example, Roger Welsch was able to serve as a food consultant in the area of traditional brewing at Plimoth in an effort to further his research and reconstruct 17th century life (1974:357).  He and Jay Anderson moved into the Brewster House at the Pilgrim Village and dressed in period costumes for a full immersive experience.  According to Welsch, “ . . . physically and intellectually neither of us was capable of sustaining seventeenth century life for very long—a stern lesson in itself” (1974:357).  Through total immersion in both daily life and research, these historians made great strides in understanding their own investigations, but also in understanding the livelihood of the original settlers. Of course there are limitations to how informative this type of research can be, but it does allow a setting to suggest what life was like.

References

Roger L. Welsch, “Very Didactic Simulation: Workshops in the Plains Pioneer Experience at the Stuhr Museum,” The History Teacher 7 (May 1974), 365-364 (p. 357).

Living History Museums, Part 2: A Brief History

Historians can trace the living-history movement as far back as 1881 to the European open-air museums and farms. Trying to highlight the past in the United States can be seen after the Civil War (Anderson 1982). This effort was rooted in the need to preserve what civic leaders and middle-class professionals considered to be traditional American beliefs and cultural values, especially with the influx of European immigrants.  Those within groups like Sons of the American Revolution tried to find ways to best display examples of their ancestral and national values.  Hoping to create a sort of shrine to the past, these places (mostly historic houses and landmarks) made history a place to visit.   A few traditional historic houses and farms later evolved into living history museums, but for many years these sites espoused and aimed to glorify the cultural values of the Founding Fathers through costumed interpreters and activities.

The most influential living history museum is Colonial Williamsburg.  In 1926, John D. Rockefeller was convinced to fund a project that would restore the entire Williamsburg community to the time of the American Revolution, since it was considered the birthplace of American liberty (Leon and Piatt:66).  Once completed, Colonial Williamsburg gained a reputation for authenticity, with restored houses and recreated activities. As early as the 1930s, costumed interpreters guided visitors throughout the museum.  Everything was neat and orderly (i.e. no representation of slavery or other grittier aspects of history), representing a bygone time lost to the urban post-industrial world.  Spurred by the national fervor created by Williamsburg, many more outdoor living history museums were created during the 1950s.  Again, a nostalgic era was portrayed with costumed hosts and craftspeople demonstrating life as it supposedly once was.

A more realistic interpretation of the past was born out of the cultural uproar of the 1960s and 1970s that spurred the deconstruction of outdated historical theory and the rise of ‘new social history.’  Long neglected subjects would become the new focus of this theoretical revolution: women, African Americans, working classes and confining political and cultural strictures.   The past was being explored in a variety of novel methods, from experimental archaeology to revolutionizing how the past would be presented.

Emphasis on the elite figures of the past (i.e. Founding Fathers) shifted to the common and ordinary.  As for living history museums, interpretive presentation shifted from simple craft demonstration to the social, economic, religious and political standing of various figures within the community.  The concept of first and third person interpretation was taken to a higher level: many living history sites strived to move from simply having guides give a passive interpretation of history to a more authentic experience by having history literally come alive.  There is still the trend at many historic houses and museums to keep an idyllic and comfortable sense of history, forgetting that the past had weeds and filth littering the roads, and that the people themselves carried a fine layer of dirt.  Interpretative programs continue to evolve and positive change has been seen at museums like Colonial Williamsburg by bringing the more uncomfortable aspects of history to life.

[Keep an eye out for Part 3: Criticism of Living History]

References:

Anderson, Jay. “Living History: Simulating Everyday Life in Living History Museums,”       American Quarterly 34 (1982), 290-306.

Leon, Warren and Margaret Piatt, Chapter 3: “Living-History Museums,” in Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig. History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Magelssen, Scott. Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2007.

Marshall, Howard Wight. “Folklife and the Rise of American Folk Museums,” The Journal of American Folklore 90 (Oct-Dec 1977), 391-413.

Rosenzweig, Roy and David Thelen. The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Tivers, Jacqueline Tivers. “Performing Heritage: the use of live ‘actors’ in heritage presentations,” Leisure Studies 21 (2002), 187-200.

WIA Blog Post: To Be or Not To Be An Archaeologist

I wrote the following for the Women In Archaeology (WIA) blog.  Check out all of the great posts and podcast episodes on the website!

Consider the following:

“You know you’re an archeologist… when with a BA in Anthropology, field school, and post grad work as a field tech, you have never labeled yourself as an archeologist because in the purest form, you haven’t earned that title. Then you cringe when the non-degree holding, no field school, no anthro studies, shovel bum, I mean field tech, who is new to the community tells everyone he IS an archeologist. UGH!!”

A woman posted the above not too long ago on an archaeology-themed Facebook group and it spurred a variety of reactions from, ‘what the hell?!’ to ‘Ugh, I know! So, frustrating.’  My fellow Women in Archaeology Podcast hosts chatted a bit about our own reactions to the post.  Our overarching response was why on earth would she not consider herself an archaeologist?  There’s a lot to unpack in just these two sentences.  Let’s consider the first . . .

“ . . . have never labeled yourself as an archaeologist because in the purest form, you haven’t earned that title.”

This individual indicates that she has a great deal of experience and education in archaeology, so why wouldn’t she consider herself as an archaeologist?  I am loud and proud about my archaeologist status—I have earned it through experience (i.e. blood, sweat, and tears) and education (i.e. BA and MA in anthropology and archaeology).  Now, why wouldn’t she do the same?  One of the possible things going on here is called ‘imposter syndrome.’  There are numerous articles describing this syndrome by Time, Scientific American, The New York Times, and so on.  In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is the fear that you will be exposed as a fraud if you claim to be one thing or another, despite numerous accomplishments supporting your claims.  For example, you could never really be an archaeologist unless you fit the ideal—no matter how you strive, you simply are not good enough to have that title.

What does it mean to be an archaeologist in the ‘purest form’?  Is there really such a thing?  The pursuit of archaeology is conducted in a variety of forms, from the lab to the field, from academia to cultural resource management (CRM).  Being an archaeologist can mean surveying hundreds of miles or studying bones or analyzing ancient poop—there are many ways to be an archaeologist.  Consequently, ispso facto, therefore, forsooth, you—individual who posted this discussion inspiring post— are an archaeologist.  If you fear being called out for not having the specific qualifications to be the perfect archaeologist, don’t be.  No archaeologist is perfect.  And, the requirements for what it means to be an archaeologist are determined more by the type of career you hope pursue than some overarching label of what archaeology is supposed to be.  It is the job where the necessary education and/or experience comes in.

On to the second part of the post . . . “non-degree holding, no field school, no anthro studies, shovel bum, I mean field tech is new to the community.”

Now, there is something to be said about experience.  I have met many older archaeologists who learned on the job, before more rigid (and necessary) qualifications were put into place.  They have more knowledge of the field than I could ever hope to gain, however, that does not negate my education and fewer years of experience.  We can work together to really do some really great work.

Currently, If you search for any kind of archaeology fieldwork job, there is typically a list of requirements that any archaeology technician must have, including some coursework in archaeology, as well as some kind of field school.  So, it is hard to imagine there’s a shovel bum out there with zero schooling in archaeology or anthropology, no field school, and no experience in the field.  I’ve been an arch tech and I’ve taught arch techs—everyone has to have some understanding of the discipline.  Otherwise, they can do more damage than good at a site or on a survey.  It makes me wonder if a conflict transpired between this individual and the shovel bum.  It is not uncommon for PHd’s having trouble finding work right out of graduate school (I struggled right after my MA) and having to work at a lower level within CRM.  It may rankle to be at the same level as someone right out of college—but, that’s not the arch tech’s fault, and trust me, we’ve all been there.

What’s important is to showcase your knowledge, but also admit what you don’t know.  It is not helpful, whether you are the crew chief or the arch tech, to exaggerate your experience, since limits will show once the work starts.  Be proud of what you have achieved and be a role model for those who want to get the same level of education and experience, but just aren’t there yet.  If you confront someone who claims to be the best archaeologist in the world, but by no means has the skills, don’t worry about them—it will show in their work.  And, any crew chief, assistant crew chief, etc worth their salt, will notice, too.

Field Photo: Prehistoric Flint Knapping Station

The majority of the artifacts I come across in the field are flakes, the bits of stone created through knapping.  Flint knapping is the process of reducing cores of stone, such as chert or obsidian, into tools, such as projectile points or scrapers.  It was amazing to find an entire flint knapping station, where I could see the lithic reduction process from beginning to end.  I could put some of the flakes back together to form part of a core. I could see hundreds of bits if shatter.  And, just think, someone was sitting here hundreds of years ago, making stone tools.

*As ever, it is illegal and unethical to remove artifacts from public lands (i.e. Forest Service, BLM, NPS, etc).

Living History Museums, Part 1: An Introduction

My brother and I were exposed to history, museums, and living history museums early on in our childhood; it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise that I ended up as an archaeologist, and he, a Medieval history scholar.  I loved reading about the past and viewing artifacts of daily life.  My family often visited the Ohio Village, which is a reconstructed town presenting daily life during the Civil War.  As soon as I turned thirteen years old, I was old enough to volunteer at the Ohio Village alone—and I jumped at that opportunity.  I had a wonderful period costume, hoop skirt and bonnet included, and I would demonstrate different activities in a third-person interpretation, as well as provide information about all kinds of facts about the Civil War and how people lived through it.  When I got a little bit older, I was the school teacher, the village feminist, a pharmacist’s daughter, a German barrel maker’s grand-daughter, presenting in both the first and third person.  I loved it!  This love of educating the public about the past continued into college, where I studied the background research, interpretation type, archaeology, and historiography of three early American living history museums: Jamestown Settlement, St. Mary’s City, and Plimoth Plantation.  So, why living history museums?  What makes this museum format special?

Historical facts need a certain level of interpretation to be comprehensible in a modern context.  Outside of the archivist, archaeologist, and historian, there are few who venture into the archives or archaeological sites.  To reach a wider audience, these facts can be weaved into popular historical fiction novels or epic films.  There are historical documentaries about popular periods of history such as the Civil War or World War II.  Modern society receives much of its information via visual media, from the news to the History Channel.  Therefore, it makes sense that if historians and museum curators wanted to draw in the public they would try to present historical information that is accessible and participatory.  Unlike docudramas and documentaries, as well as history exhibits, visitors to living history museums must become part of the presentation of the past.  One cannot simply watch: there are various smells, demonstrations, with history talking back at the visitor at museums like Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg.  The visitor is experiencing heritage!

There is space at this type of museum for both the public and scholars to engage in the past.  For scholars, it can be a space for experimental archaeology and public outreach.  For the public, which is used to visual stimulation (i.e. television), a three-dimensional reconstruction of an archaeological site allows for greater interaction, and, consequently, a better understanding of the past; visitors tend to remember what they see and touch, rather than what they read.  Not only are living history museums interactive and informative, the public can also relate the present to the portrayed past.  Women today can note how women in Plimoth Plantation fit into the social hierarchy, realizing how far society has progressed and where there is still room for improvement.   So, what does every living history museum need to do get started? First, there must be a commitment to the Truth (yes, with a capital ‘T’) and a commitment to presenting that truth to the public.  There must also be a large reserve of resources, especially scholarly resources and well-trained interpreters, to re-create the environment of the settlement.  And, most of all, the museum must make sure that a compelling narrative is being told.

[Keep an eye out for ‘Living Museums, Part 2: A Brief History’]

A Small Window into the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

Leading Up to the Policy

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has a similar history to its cultural resource legislation cousins, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, in that it was implemented in reaction to destructive processes.  According to King (2013:23), “the publication and widespread popularity of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the need for federal government action to protect the environment came to be widely recognized.”  If you are not familiar with Carson’s work, it highlighted how indiscriminate use of pesticides, like DDT, was damaging the health of the environment, wildlife, and people.  There also was the constant development of highways, cities, and so on.  Areas of environmental importance were being negatively impacted by unchecked development.  Something was necessary to slow down the process and force people to consider all of the potential impacts that could harm the ‘quality of the human environment.’  And, that’s where NEPA comes in.

NEPA was passed by Congress in 1969 and signed into law by President Nixon on January 1, 1970.  This created a national policy of providing a detailed statement of environmental impacts, “subsequently referred to as an environmental impact statement (EIS), for every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” (Luther 2005:1).

 Goals of NEPA

  • The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ): provide advice to the president on environmental issues, monitor the overall state of the environment, and require the president to submits an annual report on the environment to Congress.
  • Provide guidance to help agencies plan and manage all federal actions.
  • Require agencies to consider adverse environmental effects (direct and indirect impacts), create alternatives to these actions, etc.
  • Provide the public a means and opportunity to be involved in federal agency planning efforts (i.e. a new trail being constructed on National Park Service Lands).

NEPA and Cultural Resources

There is wording in NEPA referring to historic and cultural resources present on public lands. For example, the policy states that Federal programs must “preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity, and variety of individual choice” (1970:2).   Consequently, negative impacts to archaeological resources must be considered during any federal action, just like the Section 106 process outlined in the NHPA.  Since performing the Section 106 process is necessary for federal archaeologists, much of what is needed for NEPA compliance can be achieved through Section 106 (i.e. copy and paste the work into the NEPA document).  Both NEPA and Section 106 are crucial in protecting and preserving the past.

References

King, Thomas

2013 Cultural Resource Laws and Practice. Fourth Edition. AltaMira Press, New York.

Luther, Linda

2005 The National Environmental Policy Act: Background and Implementation. CRS Report for Congress. Congressional Research Service.

United States Congress

1970  National Environmental Policy Act: 42 USC 4371, March 5, 1970. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

 Links

http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RL33152.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Environmental_Policy_Act

 

A Brief History of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990

What is NAGPRA?

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 is a crucial piece of legislation in the history of cultural resource management, providing for the protection and repatriation of Native American and Native Hawaiian human remains and objects (United States Congress 1990:169). The basic human right to cultural heritage, and respect of that heritage, is driving force behind this Act.

Leading Up to NAGPRA

We can trace the mistreatment of Native American human remains and cultural items early on in American history. For example, once landing in the New World, the pilgrims began exploring an abandoned village, including graves. A published journal from the time, states (Winslow 1622), “We opened the less bundle likewise, and found . . .the bones and head of a little child, about the legs, and other parts of it was bound strings, and bracelets of fine white beads . . .we brought sundry of the prettiest things away with us, and covered the corpse up again.” And that is just one example. Scientists, museums, and even the U.S. Surgeon General systematically collected Native American bodies.

Many of the protections assigned to cemeteries and unmarked graves that were once part of a cemetery largely did not apply to Native American remains until late into the 20th century. All 50 states had passed statutes to regulate the disturbance and treatment of human remains, the management of cemeteries, and to prohibit vandalism and desecration. However, the wording specifically applies to recognized cemeteries (i.e. the western concept of a cemetery). Up until 1990, in Arizona it was perfectly legal—although not ethical—to excavate and sell human remains as long as the remains were not from a recognized cemetery. Even federal laws, like the Antiquities Act of 1906 did not prohibit the excavation of remains; as long as you had a permit, it was considered permissible. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1974 treated human remains and sacred objects as archaeological resources, and, the law did nothing to attempt repatriation of existing collections.

Although studies showed the loss of sacred objects as incredibly damaging to Native American communities and religion, there was typically backlash by the scientific community to repatriate sacred items and human remains. In 1989, the American Association of Museums and the Heard Museum of Phoenix created a panel of museum staff, scientists, and Native Americans. This panel determined that Native American remains and sacred objects should be treated with the same respect as any human remains. The resulting report, ‘Report of the Panel for a National Dialogue on Museum-Native American Relations’ (1990), ended up providing the framework for NAGPRA.

Wording of the Law

NAGPRA, at its most basic level, is fundamentally about equal treatment under the law. The law attempts to accomplish two goals: (1) the ongoing protection of Native American graves, and (2) the repatriation of existing collections of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. In order to achieve these two goals, NAGPRA:

  • Outlines consulting procedures with tribes to protect existing graves and cultural materials.
  • Outlines procedures to follow if and when human remains are discovered and/or excavated.
  • Imposes criminal penalties for the trafficking of human remains and NAGPRA related items.
  • Outlines procedures to summarize and inventory human remains and NAGPRA related items in existing collections.
  • Outlines how to notify Native American and Native Hawaiian groups about the inventories, how to resolve disputes of ownership, and the repatriation process.

Why Do We Need NAGPRA?

Indigenous rights are human rights. The long history of abuse towards Native Americans, as well as scientific appropriation of Native American cultural material, indicates the need for this piece of CRM legislation. What is startling is how long it took for such a law to be implemented and it is also surprising the backlash it experienced from the archaeological community. There was a fear that the law would be detrimental to scientists’ ability to conduct studies (see the controversy surrounding Kennewick Man); but we must ask ourselves, as archaeologists and concerned citizens, what is more important: scientific studies or the informed consent of descendant communities? The answer is obvious. Archaeology should be a collaborative effort. Archaeologists need to continue to develop strong relationships with indigenous groups, going beyond just consultation by truly engaging with these communities throughout the United States. NAGPRA helped set archaeologists on a more ethical path, and hopefully, it will continue to develop a more inclusive field.

References:

King, Thomas F.

1998 Cultural Resource Laws and Practice: An Introductory Guide. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, California.

McManamon, Francis P.

2000 Archaeological Method and Theory: An Encyclopedia, edited by Linda Ellis, Garland Publishing Co., New York and London. Electronic Document, https://www.nps.gov/archeology/tools/laws/nagpra.htm.

United States Congress

1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act: 25 USC 3001, November 16, 1990. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Congress

1974 Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act, Amended Reservoir Salvage Act, May 24, 1974. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

United States Congress

1906 American Antiquities Act of 1906: 16 USC 431-433, June 8, 1906. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office

Winslow, Edward (and others)

1622 Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Preceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth in New England, by Certain English Adventurers Both Merchants and Others. Electronic Document, http://mayflowerhistory.com/primary-sources-and-books/.