[Podcast] “Reclaiming Relevance” with Public Archaeology

“Public archaeology is knowing which questions we can ask”, Dr. Matt Sanger explains. He elaborates on the importance of understanding that archaeologists have the authority to assign facts, but that they need to relinquish authority over assigning value.

Dr. Matthew Sanger is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, and co-director of the department’s Master of Arts in Public Archaeology (MAPA) degree program. He joins this episode of the Go Dig a Hole podcast to discuss the program, public archaeology, and the state of archaeology in much larger contexts.

I open the episode with a couple questions I’ve asked other archaeologists:

Sanger explains the experiences he shared with his grandfather during his childhood had a profound impact on his decision to pursue archaeology as a career. He also briefly introduces some of his research on Archaic societies in the coastal Southeastern United States, which sets up some of the directions Sanger has taken his exploration of public archaeology.

“Public archaeology” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, especially lately as some archaeologists have become more vocal about the harm of isolating heritage from the people impacted by it. But what make public archaeology, public? Sanger explains that, on a broad level, public archaeology is any time archaeology leaves academia and reaches another audience. As he elaborates through the conversation in this episode, though, we learn there is much more to it.

For prospective students, it’s key to understand the end result of a program. That’s something that’s often not clearly communicated in other programs. From the MAPA program website:

The focus of the program is the intersection between archaeology and the many organizations that have a stake in the management, protection, study and conservation of the archaeological record. As such, graduates can expect to find careers in private environmental, engineering, energy, and architectural firms, and governmental sectors, such as federal, state, tribal, and local agencies. With training, MAPA students can also prepare themselves for careers in agencies that define policies for educational initiatives, heritage organizations that work directly with descendant communities, institutions that award and administer grants, and museums that are both privately and publicly funded.

The key there is reading between the lines to know that public archaeology is adaptable and applicable to a wide variety of career paths – many of them outside traditional archaeology or anthropology jobs. One of the biggest worries about archaeology is pumping out degrees for jobs that may not exist. It’s refreshing to see a thoughtful approach to training early career archaeologists to seek jobs outside the box.

Sanger explains in greater detail the kinds of assignments and training MAPA students receive in the two-year, thesis-driven program. The true north that guides all of this is a mission to make the field more relevant, to take archaeology “where people live”.


MAPA Program Site

MAPA Blog, Facebook Page

Matthew Sanger on Twitter

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