Category Archives: Reflection

Final Reflection

For the past year I have been interning with the Smithsonian Institute working on the Conflict Cultures project. The Conflict Cultures project is multifaceted, with goals including cultural heritage disaster assistance, research, and data collection. I was involved in the last of these goals and have spent the last two semesters collecting geo-spatial data and metadata. This internship was ideal for me given my education, occupation, and professional goals. Overall, I found the experience rewarding. First, because I had the opportunity to implement my skills as a GIS specialist and scholar of North Africa, on the other hand because I implemented what I learned in my George Mason course work to think critically about the project, rather than simply fulfilling data entry tasks.

The first semester of my internship coincided with Hurricane Irma’s destructive pass through the Caribbean. The George Mason intern group was the assignment of geocoding all the Caribbean museums we could find, which blended the disaster relief aspect of Conflict Cultures with data collection. The importance and urgency of our data building was so clearly manifested in the news coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath, making the work both exciting and fulfilling. Working in cultural resources management, I have the privilege to be a part of preserving cultural heritage every day. I will admit that most days I easily forget the value of what I do, but rare salvage projects where we are excavating right in the middle of active construction are quick reminders of CRM’s importance. Working with Conflict Cultures in the wake of Irma was a very similar situation in that regard. I really enjoyed coding the Caribbean because the work I was doing was tangibly helpful. The following semester, however, was much more of a struggle.

I was assigned North Africa as my area of focus for the Spring Semester of my Smithsonian internship. At first, I was excited since this is the area of the world I will be focusing on during my PhD study. Surprisingly, the novelty of working in this familiar region quickly wore off. I was occasionally encouraged by interesting museums, but for the most part I found myself grinding away hours. Perhaps I felt this way because I love problem solving. The first semester I had to figure out the best way to deliver what the Smithsonian wanted; this semester I had everything figured out. Also, the we didn’t know ahead of time the name of the museums we would be coding in the Caribbean, we had to find them. A previous group of interns had already entered in most of the data for North Africa and I was just completing their work. I realized that one of the reasons I love archaeology is because I love discovering new things; with all of the museums already entered for North Africa, I didn’t have the thrill of adding something completely new. Spring semester was not completely dull, however. I figured out early on that something was amiss with many of the Egyptian museum entries. Using my knowledge of Arabic, I figured out that someone had thought that “Al-Mathaf” (and several other transliterations) was the name of a town. This is just the Arabic word for “museum.”

The biggest take-away I gleaned from this internship had nothing to do with data-building, but rather with the nature of digital research. In our course work we spent a great deal of time, particularly with Professor Leon, discussing the limitations of virtual scholarship and collaboration. As an online student, both with George Mason and other institutions, I have experience both the frustrations and pleasures of working with the humanities in the digital world. Collaborating on a complex project with many people with various tasks as a virtual intern has been a wholly different experience.

The lack of direct guidance was both freeing and disorienting. I often found myself irritated because I felt like typical bureaucratic hinderances were exaggerated. Instead of just walking down the hall inform my supervisor I was finished with a task and needed something new, I had to wait. Generally, I felt my supervisors were dedicated to their roles, but occasionally I felt blown off. For example, since I was a late arrival in the Fall, the Smithsonian’s blog expectations were never explained to me, so when I submitted my first post it was rejected. Although I felt that I clearly expressed my availability to discuss what about my post needed attention, I was never connected with a supervisor. As a result, over a month passed before the expectations were explained to me.

Distance proved to be the greatest obstruction when the Conflict Cultures intern group constructed our final visualization project. Without body language during the group meetings, it was difficult to gage when I could talk or what people thought of my ideas. I wrote a separate blog post about my other frustrations, so I’ll not rehash them here. I will say that the moral to the story is that virtual projects, especially when large groups collaborate, need strong leaders and clearly stated goals. I never received from the leadership clearly articulated guidelines for the map, or where the final product would be stored. As we discussed in class, these two aspects- the end user and archiving- are central questions that need to be answered before embarking on a project. Without this information I feel the other interns and I provided the best deliverable we could, but to be honest I have doubts as to the usefulness or longevity of the result.

As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of one of my bosses at my day job as a GIS Specialist at a small cultural heritage management firm. He is a collector. He’s constantly out at libraries, archives, and the State Historic Preservation Office gathering data. Then he gives it to me to do something with. Often, the data is completely unorganized. I spend quite a bit of time organizing the data and changing file names before I can decide if what he gave me is even useful. He functions under the idea that having as much data as possible is intrinsically good and useful. This just isn’t the case. Half the time I don’t even realize what I have, and when I do the storage is too cumbersome. In many ways, the museums database seems to be functioning under the same expectations. I have been left with the impression that the project assumes that once the data is collected it can be transformed at will into something useful and accessible. I have my serious doubts. As I’ve already discussed in another post, I don’t feel the data is being collected and stored in the best program. Additionally, I haven’t been told by the leadership how they plan on dissemination our database, just ideas about how it will be used. Given the fact that 320 hours of my life have been put into this project, I want to feel confident that the data will be utilized. Unfortunately, although well intentioned, the attitude of “If you build it, they will come,” often fails to reach a project’s goals.

Overall, I will remember this internship as a good, if not occasionally onerous, experience. I am pleased that I got to work with geospatial data for an entire academic year. Using Google Maps taught me the strengths and weaknesses of the platform and I did find many resources for my own academic work. As I have thought through this experience, however, there are a few aspects that do not sit well with me. The naming convention for the museums is chief among them. I admire that Conflict Cultures aims to empower local heritage organizations by teaching them the skills to reclaim, preserved, and protect cultural material in crisis situations. It seems contrary to this mission that we only record the museum names in English. While recording every museum in English makes the database searchable, I do think a field should be added for the native name. Such an addition would preserve the integrity of what the words are originally trying to communicate and allow the people who utilize these museums greater ease in finding them. Despite this problematic data gathering approach, I do feel very privileged to have worked on this project. As I have stated before, I do believe that the mission of Conflict Cultures is important and that the project has great potential to aid communities and advance scholarship.

Forgotten, But Not Lost

The most challenging aspect of being a student for me has always been standing out. In college I went to every class and completed every assignment, but I quickly learned that high marks did not lead to a strong impression. I also learned that name recognition with professors was a key part of success. I have had professors who would forget appointments, even though they had seen me in class hours before.  Being stereo-typically absent minded, they’d need two or three e-mails before offering a short, terse, response. These interactions (or lack-there-of) always left me feeling brushed aside and not worthy of their time.

Luckily, graduate school cured me of this self-depreciating attitude in response to forgetful professors. I learned to recognize that while it was true that they were very busy people who can’t set everything aside for one student, their laissez-faire mentoring was actually a vote of confidence. They trusted that I could meet dead-lines  without constant check-ins and was fully capable of directing myself. Although the sting of annoyance never lessened when a professor sauntered to their office thirty minutes late asking casually, “Oh, did we have an appointment?” I developed an odd sort of pride in the fact that they were so confident in my abilities that they didn’t have to worry about keeping me on track.

Being a virtual intern feels like being in this situation all over again. The difference is, now I have absolutely no face-time with my supervisor. Whereas in school I could pass a few ideas by my instructors after class or camp outside their offices, now the only recourse I have is incessant e-mails. There have been a few times when a call time for a phone meeting have never been completely nailed down because my supervisors never confirm when they are available.  The feeling of being on a team working towards a lofty  goal is greatly undercut when the supervisor forgets a conference call.

Given the severe lack of direction, I’ve become quite comfortable assigning myself tasks. I would like to report that I came up with some ingenious idea without supervisor direction, but instead I just kept perfecting the assigned task.  I quadruple-checked every one of my entries, and rewrote my blog post in the absence of direction. Although I often felt that I was not using my time effectively, I have never had more confidence in the precision and accuracy of my work.

Next semester, I would like use my time more creatively  if outreach to my supervisors go unanswered. Given that this project collects GIS data, I think I might try to make a visualization of our data. I would like to map the museums of an island, or perhaps compare the locations of museums across the islands to build a predictive model towards locating other museums. I think population density and proximity to cruise ship landings are two factors that most heavily influence museum location in the Caribbean. I might also use these same factors to see if there is a difference in locations between specialty museums and general interest museums.

Virtual Tourist

As part of the Conflict Cultures team, I’ve been researching museums in the Caribbean. Upon beginning work, I already knew I enjoyed GIS work, but over the past weeks I’ve discovered a new facet of GIS that I hadn’t recognized previously: being a long-distance tourist. I have never been to the Caribbean and did not dedicate time to studying this region in university. I’m quite enjoying familiarizing myself with a new part of the world.

Much like a tourist, I spend most of my time traveling the islands of the Caribbean. Unlike a tourist, I never put down my map to look upon the museum I’ve just navigated to. Instead, I move over to my spread sheet and input coordinates. I do feel as though I’ve gotten to know the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatias. Rincon, a town in Bonaire, is now particularly familiar to me. Three museums, Mangazina di Rei, Museum Kos Krioyo, and Museum Chichi’ ‘Tan are all within a quarter mile of each other. In my mind, I’ve started my morning at Mangazina di Rei, had lunch across the street at Kosbonso, stopped in at Museum Kos Krioyo down the block, seen the life-size dolls at Museum Chichi’ ‘Tan, and ended my day with some cactus liquor at the Cadushy Distillery just on the other side of the San Ludovico Bletran Catholic Church which stands in the center of town.

As much as I feel that I’ve come to know the layout of these islands and towns, I still feel very distant from the people. I know the names and locations of their museums, but very little about what they contain, or the people whose stories these buildings tell. Although every history museum I found exhibited “Amerindian” material, I had never heard of the term despite my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. I assumed Amerindians were the native peoples of Caribbean islands. Upon further research, however, I learned that Amerindian is a synonym for Native American. Surprised and embarrassed by my ignorance, I decided to write my Smithsonian internship blog about the term in case others were confused as well.

I hope that as I continue research in the Caribbean, I will become more familiar with the residents as well. The Smithsonian blog post assignment gave me the impetus to research the cultures represented by the museums more closely, and I have decided to take this lesson to heart. I chose to join this project because I feel the pressure of crisis situations around the world threatening people’s lives and culture, not just because I am fascinated by geography.

Learning From Other Students

In truth, I looked at these websites and student interviews about a month ago, since I knew I wasn’t going to have time to change much in my project. I have my huge, cumulative Greek grammar exam on Friday, so, I don’t see a ton of changes happening between now and then. Going through these resources, however, did really influence how I put my project together.

I think the interview that most influenced my project was Nate Sleeter’s who modeled the historical research process for his students. At that point, I already knew that I wanted to focus on the Alexamanos Graffito, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. After watching his interview, the idea of walking my students through the steps of an object study came to life.

Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharp’s project got me thinking about implementing my project in a class room. When I was first confronted with this assignment, I had no idea what Professor Mills wanted from us. What the heck was a “digital learning opportunity?” At first, I was thinking about creating a project geared at the general public, but Wieringa and Sharp got me thinking about creating something for students. I really wanted to make a syllabus like they did, to accompany my assignments, but I just didn’t have enough time. If I find a spare hour, I will post a list of  dues dates (not specific calendar dates, but the days and weeks of a typical 13 week semester).

The list of projects to check out didn’t really inform my thinking. They were either resources for the general public or k-12 teachers. And they were huge projects, more akin to the type of work I did last semester. In “Digital History” I did first begin to think about what kinds of online assignments are possible and how to integrate primary sources. Really, it was Digital History that first gave me the idea to include a teacher resource about how to use this assignment in a class. I had originally intended to make one for high school and another for post-secondary.  As I worked through the project, however, I found that the content was way too specific to Early Christian archaeology, so I abandoned the teacher’s guide.

Teaching History in the Digital Age

Professional historians are innately aware that the truth of history is in the eyes of the beholder. History can be told from multiple perspectives and with as many interpretations as there are people. The advent of the digital world has created an environment in which the past is ever more malleable. Although unsettling to standardized history curriculum advocates, this malleability is a great strength of the discipline which educators can utilize to teach and encourage deeper engagement.

The internet, especially social media, has raised awareness among the general public that there are several versions of the past, perhaps even to the point of being taken for granted. Although in 1994 Peter Seixas demonstrated that students take modern interpretations of history at face value, and only question their assumptions when faced with conflicting narratives, I wonder how true those observations are today in an age when “alternative facts” and “revisionist history” are Facebook hashtags. Already students enter the class room at least aware that narratives of the past exist other than their own.  As educators, we can directly address the “jagged edges” (to borrow Sam Wineburg’s term) of history that our students encounter on the web and brush aside.

The malleable past also encourages empathetic and personal readings of the past. Interactive online exhibits, for example, facilitate placing ones self in the past. The questions, “Why should I care? What has this to do with me?” can be more easily answered. As educators, we can direct our students to more complex understandings of histories (purposely plural- the many memories and narratives of the past). Students come to class with their own comforting narratives of the past, and as teachers we encourage deeper engagement by directing students to confront the uncomfortable jagged edges where their personal histories conflict  with divergent accounts. Struggling with both empirical knowledge and emotional bagged, I think, actively engages students towards thinking historically.

Despite Google’s and our browser’s personalization filters, multiple versions of the past molded for particular purposes find their way on our screens. In 2016, Sam Wineburg asked students if they believed that President Obama was born in Kenya. When they stated they did not, despite an interview with his grandmother claiming she was present, Wineburg took the opportunity to explore a source students already doubted. I don’t think students are shocked when history professors reveal that historians, politicians, activists, and the general public all shape the past for a variety of purposes. I think many students come to history classes to learn the “real story,” because they have doubts about popular stories.

The built-in skepticism allows history teachers to more easily deconstruct narratives of the past than the pre-internet age. The reign of the textbook is over. No longer do students learn about the past from a single authoritative textbook which presents a seemingly self-evident narrative. Rather, students pick up bits of history from Facebook, their browser home page, and YouTube, along with the history taught in school. Good history education, moving forward, will be putting these many histories in conversation with each other with the goal of forming students who actively engage with intellectual conflict, rather than brushing new information aside.

Texts Referenced:

Seixas, Peter. “Confronting the Moral Frames of Popular Film: Young People Respond to Historical Revisionism.” American Journal of Education 2, no. 3. (May 1994): 261-285.

Wineburg, Sam. “Why Historical Thinking is Not About History.” History News 71, no. 2. 2016.

Historical Thinking in National Parks

Daniel Coslett and Manish Chalana published “National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance” in November of 2016. In the article, the authors discuss how two national parks- Whitman Mission and San Juan Island- have responded to calls for more complex history education and declining visitor numbers. Although Coslett and Chalana never use the term “historical thinking,” I think the term can be applied to many of the activities and goals they describe. The image, text, and interpretational changes at these two parks incorporate similar issues that my class, Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, has discusses.

One of the most important elements of teaching historical thinking that we’ve been discussing is the interpretation of evidence. Both parks have complex and contested histories, and both are trying to engage an increasingly multi-cultural audience by presenting evidence of the past from previously ignored perspectives. At Whitman Mission, the Native American story is now being more fully articulated. As we have discussed in class, good history starts with good evidence from multiple perspectives. Native American guided tours directly challenge the image of white pioneers discovering open land and visitors must face challenging questions.

The authors also discuss the power of images in the parks. At Whitman Mission, a savage illustration of the “massacre” is located in front of the foundation of the building. Although the audio associated with that location provides an even-handed interpretation the massacre, the image resonates much more dramatically with the audience. The authors also draw attention to the laundress plaque at San Jun. Although women are depicted elsewhere in the park in many roles, the laundress’ house has the only written text, narrowing the audience’s view of women on the island. The authors applaud attempts by the parks to integrate minority interpretations of the past, and draw attention to places where this integration is wanting.

Although Cosset and Chalana call attention to several opportunities for improvement, they don’t offer solutions. In my experience of our National Parks, the curators and guides just throw information at you, but don’t really give patrons an opportunity to think. I think both Whitman Mission and San Juan Island could better serve diverse audiences by providing their visitors with mental exercises. Perhaps this is offered during the special events they glaze over, but such opportunities should be a permanent fixture. Now, what do I meet by “mental exercise?” Basically, an assignment, but without the language of obligation.

The park staff have assumed that by offering multiple perspectives of historic events, they will resonate with a more diverse public. It is a nearly impossible task, however, to anticipate what will make history engaging to every individual. By encouraging visitors to think historically for themselves, engaging a diverse audience becomes a much more attainable goal, because individuals will actively seek these connections, rather than expecting the park to supply them.

Park staff, however, know that visitors will not automatically ask historians’ questions. The ability to do so is one of those “threshold concepts” I discussed many posts back. So, staff need to offer these questions.  Integrating them into guided tours would be a good start. “How might Native Americans remember this mission house differently from the pioneers?” Space for these mental exercises can be made on signage as well. I can imagine adding a QR code to the laundress’ plaque offering the task, “Although the laundress’ quarters is the only building still standing that women worked in, find other evidence of women throughout the island.”

People often visit National Parks to learn, but not to think. By inviting them to engage in historical thinking by supplying them with questions or offering a task, patrons will be more engaged and learn how to think historically without ever hearing the term.

Teach Them Where They Are

Sam Wineburg wrote last Semptember, that “What once fell on the shoulders of editors, fact-checker, and subject experts now falls on the shoulders of each and every one of us.” Increasingly, I think the general public is beginning to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, constantly having to question the truthfulness of everything we see. As history educators, I think we need to arm our students with the ability to determine a source’s validity without really thinking about it.

I am thinking back to “threshold concepts.” The ability to evaluate information is a skill that takes practice, but can become almost second nature. Although the internet has made this issue more complex, I think we can find solutions there as well.

In my classes, I’ve often thought of “the public” as an amorphous blob of faceless people. So, when thinking about how historians can help “the public” understand the past more accurately, this seemed like an impossible task. Then I realized that I interact with “the public” everyday in  the persons of my family, friends, and neighbors. My most frequent interaction with non-professionals in Facebook. I think Social Media is one of the strongest tools at our disposal to promote historical thinking.

I am remembering one occasion in particular. A friend had posted her research about Petroglyphs in Georgia, and someone commented, “What’s a petroglyph?” To which she responded, “I can’t help you if you don’t educate yourself.” I was appalled. What on earth did she think her friend was trying to do by asking her?! I’ve seen this response from archaeologists, historians, political scientists, and many other professional friends. In situations like that, I see it as a golden opportunity to educate the elusive public. We might share a link, and briefly explain why it is trustworthy (A. Guy, a professor at Awesome U and at the top of the field explains it really well here:

If research shows that people put their trust in news and history they hear from their friends on social media, then bring that accurate history to where they are! No need to wait for undergraduates to file into class or a family to wander into our museums, we can encourage historical thinking with our social media friends, their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. Wineburg claims that, “If our curriculum has any pretense for career preparation, it is for the vocation of citizen.” Agreed. But let’s teach by example.

For full article see: 

Wineburg, Sam. “Why Historical Thinking is Not About History.” History News 71, no. 2. 2016.

Technology and Teaching History

Technology seems to be developing at a break-neck pace and everyone wants a ride on the bandwagon. Many historians are very excited about the promises technology offers to improve history education.  I have met few historians that resist the allure of technology in their classrooms (in fact just one, an elderly Roman history professor who didn’t even make use of the white board) and many seem to be early adopters.
Digitization projects seem to be the first foray into the digital world for most historians. Nearly all remark on the incredible convenience and analytical power of online databases and archives. Finding useful primary sources has never been easier. They are organized topically, something even hyperlinked together, and accessible from home. The large response from historians to this amazing access to nearly everything was most enthusiasm and hesitance. It seemed with every document of rigorous historic scholarship there were ten sites of dubious authority their students could access. The response was to educate students on how to authenticate digital sources. Some teachers are better at this than others. The most successful do more than just pass out a hand out with a brief lecture, they explore databases with their students.
Not long after historians started coding. TEI (the Text Encoding Intuitive) helped preserve important metadata about documents that might otherwise be lost in the digitization process. Mills Kelly reminisces fondly of coding his first syllabus for use on the web. In partnership with data analytics and coders, historians adopted data mining. For all these early adopters, however, were detractors. While data-mining produced interesting scholarship, there was concern that students might miss the skills of close reading.
In general, history educators have embraced technologies in their classrooms. With over twenty years of data, I think educators have enough data to assuage the Luddites’ fears that technology in the classroom is just a gimmick to get kids to pay attention in class. McClymer shows ample evidence that integrating technology into his teaching has enhanced his students historical understanding. By showing students how to use online data and preform their own digital scholarship, history educators are inviting students to grapple with difficult concepts in new ways.
The limitation of the general embrace of technology in history education is in assessment. Wineburg has very convincingly argued that not only is standardized testing a poor measure of student understanding, but that the tests are designed to fit students into a bell curve. Due to national standards, content teaching has long overshadowed procedural learning. Technology might provide a solution between providing students with the information they need to succeed in standardized testing and teaching them historical thinking. Databases, online exhibits, and other digital tools present both type of knowledge. Rather than depending on textbooks for homework, educators can rely on students having access to a computer. So instead of procedural knowledge limited to classroom time, students can now take it home with them.

Musing on Teaching: Post Script

Today, I was assigned to read “The History Curriculum in 2023 by Mills Kelly. In it he argues that the future of history education should include Making (3D printing, video, ect), Marking (coding), Mining (data analytics) and Mashing (combining media). In many ways this curriculum reflects the concerns and philosophies of past history professionals.
From the beginning of the article, Kelly situates himself in century-old conversation of how to teach history: “I’m not a fan of those who simply predict doom without offering possible solutions.” This statement immediately reminded me of the silences offer by Beard and Becker at the end of their impassioned speeches about the faults of history education when it came time to offer redresses.
In his introduction Kelly writes, “Just to be clear from the outset, I am not going to propose what the content knowledge of that curriculum ought to be.” Which immediately reminded me of Orrill and Shapiro’s description of history education philosophy. For many years, particularly after WWII, content knowledge dominated the class room with procedural knowledge taking a back seat. Continuing into the 1990’s, content was to be standardized. Although historians generally resisted this, policy makers demanded that K-12 students know basic historic facts. Much in the mode of pre-standardization historians Kelly argues that content should be developed on the local level, in direct opposition to the current educational environment of ETS testing.
The crux of his argument, however, is not between content and procedure, but about what students need to navigate their world. This aligns with Becker’s “Everyman His Own Historian.” The job of history educators is not to fill their students with facts, but arm them with skills they need to navigate their lives. Although Becker’s arguments are far more esoteric, while Kelly is attempting to teach skills needed for placement in the American workforce of the future, Kelly is certainly an inheritor of this mentality. 
Agreeing with all of the literature so far surveyed, Kelly believes that students do not want to be in history class. He draws a contrast between excitement in science and the boredom in history. His solution to this lethargy is increased engagement with the process of history, which has been a recurring theme in these readings. His solution builds off McClymer’s guidelines in “Teaching and Learning with New Media.” McClymer advises that teachers integrated the digital world into the classrooms and Kelly offers a method.
The problem with Kelly’s four M’s is that of assessment. He is not in conversation with Wineburg’s “Crazy for History.” I can imagine that, like Wineburg, Kelly does not support standardized testing as a profitable way of measuring ability. His solution, however pragmatic it might sound, does not address how he, or ETS, would assess historical ability. Although I agree that learning to code will serve students very well in the future market place, it won’t serve them in passing the SAT history exam. 

Musings on Teaching Archaeology

This week, I’ve been reading about teaching theory and practice in history. As I read through the articles, I found myself wondering

Can I use this knowledge to teach archaeology?

Clearly (to me anyway), archaeology and history as disciplines are yoked. Yet the partnership has always been uneasy. Archaeologists often consider historians mere bookworms who provide the background for material culture; whereas historians typically demote archaeologists to ditch diggers whose purpose is to supply them with ancillary evidence of what they’ve already discovered in text. So can approaches of one discipline be transplanted to the other when there is so much professional hostility between the two? At present, I certainly think so. Both disciplines are after the same things- reliable understanding of the past and human behavior. The contemporary  literature of both underscore many of the same themes, such as the use of the scientific method, construction processes, and the use of evidence.

How can artifacts be effectively used as primary sources?

Levesque agrees with archaeologists that artifacts are undeniably primary sources. By definition they were created during the time under study. An archaeologist would go on to disagree with Levesque on every other point. To an archaeologist, objects do talk. In fact, most of us feel they’re practically yelling at us! But he does bring up a good point: how do we open the ears of our audience?

Many museum exhibits and educators plop objects into the hands of their students and expect them to start making connections and asking questions. As it turns out, the results are identical to those Levesque and Calder describe- nothing much happens. Wineburg and Levesque both advocate for empathetic reading. In some ways this is easier to do with an object. If you hold an 18th century white ware dish, you almost immediately imagine using it. But, much like what our friends in history have discovered, this alone leads to stomach-turning anachronism. Therefore, I think that artifacts are best used as primary sources when they are presented as part of a larger whole. This is much like Levesque and Wineburg arguing that primary sources must be presented together to fill in each other’s gaps. A white wear bowl doesn’t mean much. But put a pitcher in it next to a mirror and suddenly it’s recognizable as a wash basin rather than a salad bowl.

What are the threshold concepts in archaeology?

These readings have made explicit several of the threshold concepts of history, but not necessarily of archaeology. Both agree that the past is knowable and observable to some extent (well, most of them. I suppose there are plenty of post-processualists who would disagree). Obviously, however, archaeologists and historians conceptualize the point of studying the past, best practices, and methods very differently since they’re so oft at each other’s throats.

Just thinking about this concept in the field today, I came up with two core concepts. 1) Time is linear. This may seem really obvious, but the discipline completely falls apart if this is not true. There are no “what ifs.” This leads to the second concept that 2) the physical world is a result of discrete events. Cause and effect relationships are at the root of how an archaeologist understands the world. The pot is in the ground because someone broke it and dumped it in the latrine which was filled after the homestead was abandoned to clear a power line corridor.  And a whole slew of events lead up to the breaking of the pot- it was made cheaply because local material was more accessible than sturdier imports- and to uncovering it- the farm was abandoned during a severe drought during which the family became employed in the city.