We are blogging as we dig into the archaeological records archived at Independence National Historical Park (INDE) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. These records were created over the past 50 years as archaeologists researched sites within the park's boundaries. The Independence Park Archives is currently creating a Guide for this vast collection of documents. This blog serves toward that end. It functions as a platform where archaeologists, archivists, and the interested public can share ideas about how to make these materials more widely available and more useful to the user.
Read more about this project blog...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Social Media and Archaeology Outreach

The Independence Park Archivist is attending the Society for American Archivist's (SAA) annual conference this month. We anticipate getting some new ideas that will be useful for accomplishing this Archeological Records Management Project -- as well as this blog's purpose and intent.* This month also saw the National Park Service Archeology Program release a Guide/Handbook for NPS Archeology Outreach outlining best practices, policies, and tools. This should likewise be useful to this Archives project and its blog. (See the Guide cover image above, arrow added).

This new Guide summarizes NPS requirements for Civic Engagement and public involvement in regards to archeology, referencing Director's Order #28A and the National Strategy for Federal Archeology both of which deal with, among many important concerns, facilitating use of archeological databases by managers and researchers, interpreting and sharing the results of archeological investigations, establishing programs of outreach as a regular agency function, and engaging the public in archeology through volunteer programs. (As mentioned before, this blog is generated by an NPS Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program participant).

Excitingly, the Guide draws upon Independence Park archeology outreach for one of its four case studies (the James Dexter Site). But more directly pertinent to the needs of this blog, it provides guidance for the implementation of NPS outreach via social media:

Social media provides the NPS with another way to promote outreach activities and create networks of interest groups. Opportunities include Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube, butother platforms are available. Social media is both outreach and a way to spread news and information quickly about archeological outreach projects to a broad constituency. Outreach through social media keeps the NPS in the public's mind. Uses for social media range from announcements about special events to cancellations or closings to reminders about things to do, to building communities of people with shared concerns for NPS resources.... (Emphasis added to reflect the orientation of this project.)

NPS Archeology Guide table of contents. Part 5 deals with public involvement and Part 7 with Social Media.

The Guide draws on the 2007 NPS Brief (#19), Archeological Collections and the Public: Using Resources for Public Benefit which has been relied upon to date in the development of this project. This Brief outlines some the benefits for the public of archaeological collections (including archeological records collections) as seen by the managers of collections repositories across the nation. The case studies referenced show not just "the many ways that curators find archaeological collections to benefit audiences with different interests and needs" but also states that "outreach benefits the repositories themselves by offering opportunities to demonstrate the significance of the holdings, reinforce the importance of proper management, provide a valuable public service, fulfill institutional goals of outreach and research, and most of all, activate the potential of archaeology to benefit the public".

Just as Social Media as a platform for archaeological outreach forms a rapidly evolving sphere, so the study of archaeological records collections is evolving. For instance, an international, interdisciplinary, research initiative was recently launched to study archaeology's past practice. It is called the Histories of Archaeology Research Network (HARN) and it aims to preserve and study the social context of archaeological practice so as to supplement the documentary materials that are created in the practice of archaeology and which are archived for posterity. This includes, for example, gathering oral history about how various thoughts and ideas put into practice emerged and were developed.

This blog project attempts to do something in this vein by drawing on 20th century history, the historiography of American History, the history of Independence Park and the National Park Service, and the history of urban archaeology to contextualize (make better sense of) the Independence Park archaeological records (see for example, the posting Oral History!). These past months spent helping process the Central Files has been critical to this aim. These documents contain information relevant to the archaeological developments in Independence Park but the information is often not otherwise noted in the Archaeological Records Collection.

*We hope to report on this Archeological Records Management project and this blog to the Archival science community next year --as our plan this year did not come to pass. As mentioned in the last posting, we are reporting to the archaeological community in January.