Working for the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project

In the course of over twelve weeks, working vigorously on data collection and method reflection, I have learned so much about archaeology in the context of community development and public engagement as a goal rather than a component to archaeological fieldwork. Taking into account the roles we play in this project such as initiators and engagers of public outreach proves that there is a goal to be met that involves other groups of interest.

By publishing posts online to our Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project website, we allow the public to freely interact with team members involved in the process of data collection for this semester. Giving community members an inside look of the methods we intend to execute in the coming years for achieving public engagement as well as recover valuable records for these burial grounds.

After completing the readings for this semester, I have learned the importance of archaeology in a community setting. Understanding the role in which archaeologists and other specialists play when collaborating with the public. As mentioned by Jameson in Purveyors of the Past, “Because the archaeological record represents the heritage of all people, archaeologists have the responsibility to communicate with the public about the nature of archaeological research and explain the importance and relevance of archaeological research.” This quote expresses the importance of awareness that should be allowed to all of a community when working through and for the heritage of peoples.

However, the narrative should not be written out for the archaeologist who is advocating for the heritage conservation of a community as the focal point to this overall organized development. After much reflection of the beginnings in archaeological research from the 1950s, we as scholars and specialists of the study, should establish the stakeholders of a public works project to the rightful owners. As mentioned by Anna S. Agbe-Davis in Archaeologist in Communities, “Communities provided flora within which people could assert their needs, and legitimized the authority necessary to create change.”

The Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project is first and foremost in effect to establish proper representation of the Pauper Cemetery in Edinburg, Texas. With a small portion of information pertained to the majority of these burials and an obvious lack of maintenance denotes the neglect in which people of this community and the Valley, overall face. Segregation is displayed on the layout of this burial site when noting the location of the sections at Hillcrest Cemetery. The Cemetery is still active today with a historical landmark located to the Southeast of the cemetery that is decades old and still under respectable conditions. Unlike the Pauper cemetery and the disconnected portion of the property called Restlawn, also known as the African American cemetery.

With the efforts and partnership of Hidalgo County, the Hillcrest property managers, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, we as a team are able to come together and deliver solid field work that will partake in the overall contribution for social change in South Texas (The Valley). This project aims not only to represent the lost names of this cemetery through deep research into archival record retrieved from various sources such as public/hospital records, background and medical information, and even archival record from funerary and mortuaries. By widening the spectrum of voices in this project, we are organizing this project that can satisfy all needs of the people.

What I find to be so promising for this public archaeology project is the mentality we all share for the fieldwork and collaboration associated with the location and community. By implementing digital tools such as KoboTools to record data, set up a website for active discussion and public awareness, and complete data recovery through external sites such as FindAGrave. Opening our means of resources by a wide range so that we can collect as much information to complete the data portion of this project successfully.

Before we set out to begin data collection, broadcasting and networking was discussed in class for the purpose of recruiting interested parties to also collaborate with the team. Examples such as writing to The Monitor and setting up city hall meetings was mentioned a couple of times and I found it to be very effective. These steps alone are to already be expected as an archaeologist who initiates the involvement of heritage site management. In order to successfully preserve heritage and historic sites, we as members of the project must reach out onto the community and invoke the necessity to involve local engagement onto these sites. For these local bodies are the true factors that will provide successful preservation and a positive outcome for the community, as mentioned in Uzi Baram’s “Community Organizing in Public Archaeology” (12).

Understanding local politics, heritage site preservation and what it means to the community of Hillcrest Cemetery, the HCPCP will surely work with the needs and goals expected in order to successfully organize this project where the people of this site are the true stakeholders. Looking into the case at East Bradenton mentioned by Uzi Baram’s “Community Organizing in Public Archaeology”, Baram clarifies that engaging with the community to become more involved with the preservation of heritage leads to a more secure future (16).

Overall, what this course has taught me as an undergraduate in the Anthropological field of study is that archaeology can be a very crucial tool in assessing a better future for humanity, even at a small scale. Looking to the past does not only have to allow reflection but also cause of change, more specifically, social change. I am beyond grateful to have been given the chance to get my hands dirty on-site recording data at the Pauper Cemetery. Not to mention the service learning hours being granted for our time out on the field is also noted so that I can share this bit of experience with others in attempts to promote this career path in which I am proud to take.


Site Interpretation & Community Organization

This blog post is in regards to the various methods approached by archaeologists today in attempts to engage with the public and other interest groups. References are made to Edward Gonzalez-Tennant’s “New Heritage and Dark Tourism: A Mixed Methods Approach to Social Justice in Rosewood, Florida” and Uzi Baram’s “Community Organizing in Public Archaeology: Coalitions for the Preservation of a Hidden History in Florida”. 

As we continue on this journey of developing technology at a rapid pace, methods and theory on how to approach new spheres of the public are being established such as virtual reality. As mentioned in my last post on digital techniques, i cover a topic on the modern advancements in data recording as a means to allow the public to become more involved and have accessible information on the projects that involve their very own community.

Mentioned in the article by Gonzalez-Tennant, it explains the purpose of this platform being used primarily for the engagement of the public and overall as a tool for education(76). By utilizing the program site called SecondLife, Gonzalez-Tennant builds assimilation of historic events in a manner of several contexts. He explains the availability the public is allowed to create an avatar and explore this program to inquire more in-depth understandings of such historic context. By creating the Virtual Rosewood Museum in SecondLife, establishes a center concentrated on the avocation and education of what happened in 1923 to the African-American community neighborhood at Rosewood, Florida(69). Thus, satisfying the intent set forth on applying new digital techniques to connect the world with important events throughout history and current events.

Reflecting on these public engagement methods executed by Gonzalez-Tennant, I believe we can apply similar tools onto this project through the continuation of blogging, broadcasting, digital data collection, and incorporating digital models of on-site artifacts onto the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project. While also incorporating new topics of discussion that pertain to the cultural significance of this site that include marginalization on several levels. As we collect data on these damaged burial sites, we must be documenting these patterns of people who were buried here and give them the representation they deserve; by documenting these burials onto a platform that will be accessible to the public.

Uzi Baram elaborates on other approaches when concerning community archaeology and how engaging with the public is crucial to social change. The most crucial point to this article is the understanding in which archaeologist are only a component to this major project that calls for organization and collaboration(15). In order to successfully create social change in a community, the motive of this project is not on the excavation and research analysis but on the relationships and power control that is understood throughout.

Baram explains the notion of decentering archaeology is not necessarily a bad thing, but allows room for the true focus of community development and historic preservation to be done(16). The focus of archaeologists being the hero of the change needs to be shifted to only a component to the overall movement of this collaboration because community leadership is involved.

For conservation to succeed in this example, collaborations in terms of building up an organization and creating coalitions dedicated to preservation have been essential; archaeological excavations and interpretations would not have been enough to preserve the area.”(16)

Archaeological Representation Through New Digital Techniques

This blog post is in regards to the newest form of public engagement in archaeology through digital techniques. Articles referenced will be to Kevin Garstki’s ‘Virtual Representation: the Production of 3D Digital Artifacts‘ and Chiara Bonacchi’s chapter on ‘Digital media in public archaeology’.

Acknowledging that society today has evolved rapidly in the advancement of technology for many reasons such as communication, representation, storage facilitation, and most importantly the consistency to live with the guidance of web knowledge. In the recent decades, a new theme has emerged in the analytical and representation of archaeological finding through this form of technology via web interactivity. Archaeologists today are choosing to communicate with other peers and large audiences through web layouts that allow them to present research, analysis, and advocate new  knowledge for the purpose of networking.

As shown, this very website is a product of this modern form of communal engagement focused to reach out and educate those affected by the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project directly. By communicating and sharing ideas on how to approach this project in collaborative measures allows you, the reader, as well as the team members of this project to stay engaged and relative to the initiatives we must take in performing this research and community development.

Another component to digital technique as mentioned by Dr. Rowe is 3D representation of artifacts. This modern form of visual representation is, in my opinion, pivotal to the community of archaeology as well as to the world. Photographs were, for the longest time, our best form of visual representation of artifacts; next to video recording. So, why is there doubt in regards to this new form of recording data (i.e. archaeological remain)?

As stated by Garstki, the record of photographs are limited when realizing that a photograph in barred with a single viewpoint that in dictated by the photographer. Also, the quality of the photograph can also alter the experience even more for the viewer when analyzing this form of archaeological record. Do 3D models inquire the same issues as photographs? No. But that does not mean 3D models unveil complete accuracy to the archaeological record. The model is captured through a mechanism that can be compared to that of a camera, cycling around the target to digitally capture its every angle. Elements of movement, lighting, and also quality involving the mechanism capturing the 3D model can dictate the accuracy of the model portrayed onto the website for the viewer to analyze.

I believe the project should involve 3D models of the graves we are collecting data from to give the community a better look onto the conditions of these grave site burials. The site we initially began recording data from located on a website provided as a data base for graves in Texas. This site listed each grave noting details and descriptions crucial for the analysis of this project but the photographs provided which in many cases were just a front-faced photo of the headstone/marker was limiting. After going on site to the cemetery and manually entering in grave descriptions for each of these graves has lead me to believe that 3D scans of these graves is necessary for the sake of representation and delivery of research onto the community in order for the accuracy to truly deliver.

3D scans may contain some inaccuracies but when compared to our latest form of visual representation (photography), it appears to take it at least one step closer to better interpretation.

“mimetic fidelity……archaeology’s consistent adoption of new media is directly tied to how well it can “mimic” what it is trying to represent” (pg.727Garstki)



Addressing Social Injustice Through Public Archaeology

This blog post is based on the issues of social injustice and how we as members of the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project(HCPCP) can identify and cancel these components out or rather expose such measures in order to establish a foundation that truly represents the people involved in HCPCP.

In the study of Anthropology as a whole, it is clearly stated that as specialists and peers of the social study we must recognize the elements of human behavior and how they affect the world today. Issues that come from these elements interfere with the growth of humanity unfortunately, and among those is social injustice. Social injustice represents the issues that lie in the ideology of certain individual’s believing that all must live according to some aspects that predetermines their lives. Among this ideology births the execution of these beliefs that have resulted in racism, genocide, segregation, marginalization, and oppression.

Being that this project at the Pauper Cemetery centers around those buried in it, it should not be taken lightly the surroundings of this area altogether. The pauper cemetery is located in the far back, presumably North, of the property in which is now owned by the Hillcrest Cemetery. To the Southeast of the property, is the historical landmark of Hidalgo County burials of officials and other notable public figures. And to the far Northwest, disconnected from the Hillcrest Cemetery completely, is the Restlawn section of the cemetery. The most segregated part of this land that notes obvious borders within burying the dead from the earlier times of the cemetery dating back to 1913.

The Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project should address these specific borders within the property and also note the conditions of these graves within the pauper cemetery compared to that of the active portion and the landmark area. There is no question as to the happening of these solid lines consolidated onto the burial grounds from the time of establishment up until the end. Segregation was clearly in play here with the layout of this land and could be the reason why the pauper cemetery is so poorly maintained. It begs the question now of who is buried within these graves on the pauper field? Clearly, the pauper field is another word for poor man’s grave but does this only inherit the impoverished or does this also include the unwanted and disrespected?

Many of the names found on the descriptions of the legible headstones read in Spanish as well as those found in the respected area of the property by the historical landmark. So, maybe we cannot assume this segregation is also based on race but maybe only that of class status. I also want to mention the importance of what this project brings to the community in conditions that are representing the one’s who were not cared for, thus contributing to the social change we desperately need in the Valley.

I do not believe the practices we have executed through the process of data collection and research analysis have in any way displayed forms of inequality. I do not say this only in part that the majority of the members of this project are apart of this community but because it is clear we are all working towards the goal of representing each and every one of these graves properly and  educating the public of the existence of these burials.


Stakeholders of the HCPCP

This blog post is based upon the readings on stakeholders in Public Archaeology. I make references to Anna S. Agbe-Davies’s Inside/Outside, Upside/Down: Including Archaeologists in Communities and Cheryl J La Roche and Michael L. Blakey’s Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground.

Our project is called the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project and i firmly believe the stakeholders of this entity are the Hidalgo County and the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley because the institution, specifically Dr.Rowe, proposed this project in not only to educate students who seek work in the field of archaeology but to also promote change and contribute to the community here at Edinburg.

The Valley occupies the vast amount of South Texas that is home to over 1.5 million people with the majority having a Mexican-American background. The predominance of Hispanic culture is expressed through all areas of exposure but what still appears to lack is history. As infrastructure multiplies and revenue steadily increases through new business, our history in the Rio Grande Valley is still somewhat patchy or misinterpreted. Much of this history includes important figures who contributed to this growth and expansion of the Valley who are very well our ancestors. To some extent, i can relate to La Roche and Blakey on the matter of community engagement being a necessity to conduct research because of authentic representation. It is important for not only the owners of this cemetery for also the communities that are linked to these graves and the location, in general. Communities such as Mexican-Americans and possibly low-income  fall into the groups in which we must involve ourselves with in exposing these changes for re-identifying and data collection.

I personally believe it is essential that we as conductors and members of this project affiliate ourselves with the families and the city we are working with. As mentioned in the McGhee article from the prior week’s readings, he mentions that the purpose of this project should not be labeled under research project but as a community organizing and/or development. Like that of the CHAPS program, this Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project is to represent the one’s who have been forgotten through neglect of maintenance and the socioeconomic struggles that led for these individuals to be buried in the conditions that they were.

The conditions of most of the graves found at the Pauper field indicate low-income that result in alternative materials used to build markers for these graves as well as inscriptions because headstones could have been a luxury; and to be frank, still are. So it is imperative that we keep in mind the many roles we play in order to achieve the success for this project such as community engagement, local historic reformation, a solid relationship with the groundskeeper who have allowed us to conduct research on land, and actively speaking on the topics and issues that surround this project through media and publication.

As far as power dynamic within the communities we have been and will be working with under HCPCP, it may not be known exclusively that any community and/or relative to a passed one located on the cemetery can play a huge part in data collecting and verifying documentation in site. This is why it is crucial that we spread the construction of this project within communities in the city as well as on campus at University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley to recruit others who can provide quality information.

The existence alone of this project having to due with re-identifying and representing past history respectively under the provision of the county shows that there is a purpose in this work to really create a positive narrative for the Valley.

Ethics on Community Projects and What Public Archaeology Truly Stands For

This blog post is based upon the readings on ethics in public archaeology. I make references to Fred L. McGhee’s Participatory Action Research and Archaeology and John H. Jameson Jr.’s  Purveyors of the Past: Education and Outreach as Ethical Imperatives in Archaeology.

What comes to mind, when first discussing ethics and moral responsibility one takes under the context of ownership in dealing with public works, is the commitment this individual or group has established upon taking on a project. Also, what are the goals they aim to achieve in undergoing a project that consists of two or more groups?

McGhee discusses the roles project leaders take when conducting research for/by the community. Also, a direction of development for the community  must be taken into account when applying this research to academia if that is the institution in which the archaeologist(s) is being represented through. It is important to always have a clear vision and purpose that correlates to the community when working through a collaborative measure. Moreover, this method of research is better known as Participatory Action Research (PAR), aimed to establish or reform social change within the community of reach. So, it is very important for these PARs to conduct these project with and by the owners of the subject matter whether it be tangible or intangible.

Although PAR is viewed as extreme in other’s eyes, I  completely agree and support the notion of collaborative research. As archaeology has evolved dramatically since its height in the sixties, efforts have been made to modify the roles that are played by these researchers and the communities they interact with for their work. Quoted from page 216 in McGhee, “Participatory research is not a research project; it is a community organizing and/or development project of which the research is only one piece.”  McGhee emphasizes the purpose of PAR and community archaeology altogether. It is most clear that the theory and method of public archaeology is being redefined to ensure rightful ownership and decision to those who deserve it.

For our project at Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery, i believe it is important that we maintain consistency with communication and actively work through this partnership with the Hidalgo County and Edinburg city. Since day one it has been made clear that this project is to bring light to those forgotten and to reconnect any missing ties that have become of this lost at the pauper cemetery.  We must let it be known to the community of our current work through either media or publication to try and get more coverage on this project.

The differences of Public Archaeology interpretation in both Jameson and McGhee include the duties as a public figure and/or specialist while the other focuses on the complete immersion of mandate to the community. Jameson covers the purpose an archaeologist should establish when involved in public works, especially under the column of education. Mentioning the responsibility of not only completing a project to spread insight to those willing to learn but to also collaborate and speak to the community leaders such as mayors and representatives.

Misinterpretation has long been an effect of Hollywood and just a vast majority of people concluding archaeology to be a career and purpose that it truly isn’t. In this sense, i can tie this idea to McGhee in doing these projects for the sake of the people and social change. Both propose the duty of getting actively involve even if that is not the experiecne or specialty you have as an archaeologist but for  the sake of Public Archaeology it is dire to always get in contact with community leaders and officials to work together to establish something new and clear.

Both of these articles do in fact shape a better direction or at least an understanding, to what a Public Archaeology project should cover the basis on. Although i feel McGhee emphasizes more delicate matters on indigenous rights and community ownership, both him and Jameson advocate the true power and change that may come from outreach.

As McGhee most amazingly puts it on page 218, “In its most radical manifestations, PAR is about revolution.”