From “Public Archaeologist” to “Public Intellectual”: Seeking Engagement Opportunities Outside Traditional Archaeological Arenas

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From "Public Archaeologist" to "Public Intellectual": Seeking Engagement Opportunities Outside Traditional Archaeological Arenas

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Historical Archaeology


McDavid, Carol

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Themed Issue: Archaeologies of Engagement, Representation, and Identity

Abstract: Cornel West has said that the role of the intellectual is to try to turn easy answers into critical questions and then put those questions to people with power. To whom do public archaeologists address these questions? I am currently involved in an ongoing experiment to use typically nonarchaeological venues to engage with multiple publics about "history matters." This includes participation in historical societies, commissions, and committees which may have stated aims to discuss, celebrate, and preserve history, but which frequently (sometimes unconsciously) perpetuate and reproduce traditional race/class inequities and power imbalances. My archaeological focus on inner-city African American neighborhoods in Houston, Texas, means that both my research and this larger project take place in settings where insensitive gentrification is impeding grassroots efforts to maintain and reclaim control of historical landscapes and narratives. This article will examine and critique this work, owning mistakes made and (usually small) victories achieved.

Additional tags: addressing power imbalances in our work; public engagement; African American archaeology; historical archaeology; gentrification


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