Public Archaeology and Education

As far as the author Moe is concerned for public education and archaeology going hand in hand, it appears that they are completely complacent with archaeology being used in the context of public education to teach students or children the importance of appreciating and preserving their cultural heritage. Moe elaborates that if the idea of introducing archaeology to children is for the purpose of instilling in them a sense of respect for their heritage, and for archaeological sites and cultural material, that it should certainly be implemented into the existing curriculum of public school education.  His justification for this is that the public school system already is set up in a way that requires of educators teachers to attempt to mold children into well-doing and well-being citizens, and consequently be partly responsible for the outcomes.

Jeppson is not opposed to the idea of incorporating archaeological teachings and principles into the public school educational system, however she does strongly believe that presenting this principle of archaeology, and only this one, fosters a negative narrative in the perception of what archaeology can accomplish, and it feels a general lack of enthusiasm for the field of study. She also argues that to present archaeology as a field that only attempts to preserve and protect culture neglects the fact that archaeology and anthropology have an ugly side or origin that, although largely perceived as liberal, is at times rarely activist or progressive or just.

As far as local education goes, I suppose that for a younger audience, Moe’s approach can prove to somehow still rile up interest in the field of anthropology and archaeology. However, for an older demographic, it is not absurd to attempt to educate them on the reality of anthropology and its origins and scholars, both past and present, as well as the importance of it for the future.

What is Public Archaeology?

To my understanding, public archaeology is for the public, and largely by the public. Public archaeology means community involvement, consideration for and preservation of local heritage, collaborative work between institutions of education and investigation, and it can also very much be activist archaeology. I think our project aligns with this in that it directly affects members of the community or the public, and it encourages the public to contribute to the completion of the project. This means that it covers community involvement and the intention to preserve something but significance to our local heritage. I also strongly believe that by putting together the pieces of the story of the Hidalgo County public Cemetery, we are inherently making this a matter of activism because we are uncovering truths about inequality and marginalization, in the history and in the present day of this community.

The lines of investigation that I am interested in pursuing for this project are the questions of social justice, like the racism and poverty that is apparent was present in the region. I think it’s important to reflect on the impacts of these acts today,  not just for the cemetery but for the people. Outside of what is already established at the moment, some of the aspects of public archaeology that I would like to more solidly incorporate into the HCPC project are collaborative work between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and museums or galleries or sister/neighboring institutions of education.

Additionally, it could be exciting to see community involvement grow with the hosting of events relevant to the culture of the region, like Day of the Dead celebrations. Community involvement could also mean club involvement, like the university’s Anthropology Club.

Digital Techniques

I think the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project could move towards more collaborative, co-creative or hosted methods of engagement by reaching out to other departments and programs in the university and exploring realms of public archaeology that overlap with Majors outside of Anthropology and outside of the social sciences. For example, computer science Majors can be invited to collaborate on the project. We can invite them to assist in making improvements to our data collection form, analyzing some of the data, or making improvements to our website use. Outside of the University, we can find institutions like museums and galleries to display, perhaps, a collection of models developed from 3D scanning. We can also compile our work at the cemetery for presentation at symposiums via multimedia presentations, etc.

The benefits of 3D technology in a public archaeology project are the ability to interpret or analyze data away from the site, the ability to share the data in a very visual and navigable way, and the ability to restore/reconstruct artifacts digitally without having to manipulate what could be organic or fragile material. For example, a 3D scan of an unidentifiable or illegible marker at the HCPC could provide a clearer reading of inscription that may be hard to pick up to the naked eye. Furthermore, having 3D scans of the cemetery can help us reach a wider audience online via interactive websites or visuals. This can help us reach people who may not even be in the area but would like to help or participate in the project anyway.

The pitfalls of 3D scans are that there is a potential for error in scanning, and its limitations in helping lie in the area you are actually able to scan. Surrounding material and matrix composition does not show up in a 3D scan. Despite these limitations, I still think 3D scanning should be integrated into the project by means of creating 3D models and providing an opportunity for digital restoration.

Engaging with Public Online

I think the most effective social media outreach for our project at the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery would most likely be Twitter.  I say this not only because of the writings of Lauracuente and Rocks-Macqueen but also because of my personal experience with social media and its reach.

For this blog post, I reflect on the findings of unofficial class surveys in my history and political science courses in college. Without fail, every time I took one of these courses the professor would always ask the class to answer where they get most of their news from and which media or news outlet they frequent the most. Again, without fail, the majority of the class would answer that they did not watch the news or deliberately read any newspaper and that one of their most frequented news platforms was Twitter. I think this news may have been disappointing to these professors dedicated to policy, old and new, but it could be good news for us. I don’t think we should hesitate to take advantage of the popularity of this platform if it will result in great community involvement. There is a high volume of traffic on Twitter, and a lot of kids, believe it or not, are looking to get in touch with their roots and the history of the RGV.

In addition to that, I follow a couple of anthropology and archaeology related forums and accounts on Twitter myself, as well as some accounts that share things to do around the Rio Grande Valley. A lot of people use this platform for the same reason: to find things to do and to make local connections. I personally think we should not pass up on the opportunity to reach a wider audience with the local users of Twitter. As far as casting a wider net goes, Twitter is a sure-fire platform to help us pick up some volunteers or curious onlookers. I’m confident it could even help us catch the attention of some icons of Hidalgo County, or perhaps future sponsors for the restoration processes.

Social Justice and Archaeology

Some of the forms of marginalization or inequality that the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project should address are poverty (economic disparity) and racism. This is due to the fact that Hidalgo County public cemetery is the final resting place of a largely Mexican-American population as a public cemetery and it also hosted many low-income families as clients for the burial of their loved ones. This is further evident in the fact that the cemetery used to be called the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery– or poor man’s cemetery. Furthermore, across the way from the Public Cemetery lies Hillcrest, a private cemetery that coexists on this open plot of land, but is visually very different from the public cemetery it is known to have once owned. This says something of the funding and the care placed into these plots based off of their price and their interred. Behind Hillcrest is another clue to the inequalities of the history of the cemetery and the region. There you can find Restlawn, an African-American cemetery that only lies cast away in the corner of this open plot of land because of the history of segregation in this area and across the country.

We should address these forms of marginalization by providing contextual history and making these connections for the public. Their education on the matters could be crucial to addressing the marginalization because it is them who it has affected and the project should stand to, not only restore records but also to lend a voice to the public and the community members with family interred in the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery.
Some of the practices that may inadvertently reproduce some of these inequalities are the exploitation of the project when trying to publicize it, the lack of participation by community members that aren’t students enrolled in a course requiring them to work on the project, and the possible continued neglect of the graves by the county. I think some of this could be counteracted with community involvement, and perhaps proper (news) coverage of the history of the cemetery (since it is a large informative platform that can tell the story of the HCPC and reach a more diverse audience than perhaps academic work can).

Final Reflection Essay

Going into this class, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had signed up for. I was a little intimidated by the prospect of working in public archaeology because I was somewhat scared I would like it. All I knew about the class was that it was largely based off campus and would demand different work from me than a standard classroom setting would. As far as the course goes, it is exactly what I had always hoped to do in this region and so much more. I think I am mostly surprised that throughout the course of this semester, I heard no mention of the fact that a graduate student from TPA was actually the person who marked and restored a great part of the Restlawn cemetery across the way from the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery. I first heard about this student’s work back in 2013 when I decided to purchase a newspaper one July morning. I remember setting my heart on doing work like this in the future, and it was a moment I knew solidified my interest in anthropology in general. Fast forward to the end of this semester, and I got to experience some of that same work that this student put into the restoration of Restlawn Cemetery.

For example, some of the methods I got to use for the restoration of the Hidalgo County records of the Public Cemetery were online forms, GPS mapping, and spreadsheet/data processing. The online form turned out to be pretty convenient for the purpose of taking in data for the individual plots. The practicality of recording grave marker details via our phone was probably what lead to what I assume is an exponential improvement in input efficacy. I appreciate that the familiarity of our phone usage could help us record the grave measurements, marker conditions, inscriptions, and document the presence of grave offerings. From what I can recall, the majority of the gravestones were made of concrete/cement or a combination of materials where the former made up the majority of the marker. As I collected a lot this data, I anticipated all of the statistics that could be derived from our collective work. Being out there, rain or shine, felt pretty rewarding once the semester came to a close and we looked back on the hundreds of graves we put on the map this spring.

Another collection/recording method I got to work with this semester was the total station. Initially, I was taught by my classmate how to use it from the recording tripod, but I really enjoyed working at both ends of the station. One work day I got to record the points from the scanner tripod, and the other day I worked from the prism, or point of interest. It was obvious that setting up the prism required more than just moving it around the four corners of each plot. The days that obstacles stood in the way of mapping the coordinates from the total station, we would move trees to get our point read. This would make for some questionable bending of branches and jumping around, but all in all, I look forward to the results on our cartography medium. Although the results are not complete, I still would like to browse the map for future reference and look forward to connecting the located grave plots with the information we have compiled into spreadsheets.

Although I only worked with spreadsheets once throughout this semester, I look forward to possibly working further with this data in the future. I think that, although it was just one job, I learned a lot about doing work efficiently. Data cleanup proved to be one of the most fun aspects of this course. Analyzing what is left to clean up after inputting data into our forms told me that the system we have as of now definitely has room for improvements. This was apparent in the repetition of data sets and the missing data sets that failed to go through the forms. I hope to continue working on the data. finding the demographics of the cemetery, finding potential correlations and the implications for the community. I certainly hope I get to learn what this can reveal about the history of this cemetery and its business–knowing it used to be called a pauper cemetery already says so much to us anthropology students, but I would like it if it were as obvious to the community members. What was immediately apparent to me was the variation in attention and care that was put into the maintenance of the separate cemeteries on this square of land, and I feel like I speak for a good portion of my classmates when I say that it’s something we hope changes in the future. I think ultimately releasing or sharing these statistics can move more people to involve themselves in this public archaeology project, and will increase the likelihood of the change we hope the community makes in the preservation of this historic cemetery.

Something I didn’t get much of an opportunity to work on was dealing with the public eye or publicity for the project. The only family member to come my way while we were working on recording graves was a woman I had to redirect to Dr. Rowe because it was our first day out and I had yet to develop dialogue for what I was actually doing out there. In inclusion to that, I felt like I hadn’t contributed enough to the project, at least not as much as my veteran peers, to have any authority in speaking to the inquirer. What I was able to do was a poster presentation on the course as a service learning class. I had worked with Engaged Scholars before, and I must say I greatly enjoyed working with them once again for this group effort. It felt really great to hear the director of the program’s input on the HCPCP project and it was a privilege to represent Dr. Rowe’s work for that afternoon.

Any future direction for me in regards to this project looks like a continuance of my volunteering and potential re-enrollment in the class for the coming semester. For the course itself, I know Dr. Rowe and future volunteers for the project, myself included, would greatly enjoy use of the Ground Penetrating Radar for identifying unmarked graves and an opportunity to have the human remains detection dogs revisit. The ultimate goal of creating a permanent public record for Hidalgo County is within reach. I don’t doubt that the enjoyability and learning opportunity of this course could lead to it possibly being picked up in the future with other cemeteries. The hands-on archaeological experience within the RGV and affordability of the course as an option in our degree curriculum made the course all the more exciting. In the end, I know that what I didn’t get to experience this semester, I am sure I will get to see if I stick around until this project’s end.