Ongoing data collection

The data collection for this public archaeology fieldwork course has to be one of the best parts for me. The first day had some nice weather for the spring semester as I arrived at the cemetery. It’s a fairly filled cemetery so I did get lost until I found that we would all be at a corner end of the cemetery. Richardson Rd is actually about eight minutes away from my home so it has been a friendly commute every Friday.

It was great to start off the semester with in class meetings as an introduction to the course, project and all the things necessary for the rest of the school year. I knew what to expect but also thought there would be more to collect once at the cemetery. What made it easy is that all I needed was a charged phone, a ruler, and a sheet with grave descriptions to start the day. Many details of a cemetery that I did not previously know were very interesting to me. The stone type, material, carvings, and even that most graves face to the east side.

I paid close attention to each individual buried and what family had left to remember them by. Even those that really didn’t have anything or was badly damaged has a story. At first it was difficult to walk around and not feel rude or disturbing of the area. I didn’t want to walk over anything so delicate and important. Being there really made me think of the life each person had and really what I have too, that is valuable and irreplaceable. It doesn’t matter what age or gender, there was a variety to see and reflect on. Rather than leave things on a sad note, the important thing is that data collection itself is for a much bigger picture. We are being respectful of the graves and ethical that nothing nor anyone is being harmed in the process.

The public cemetery lost records, has missing graves or are destroyed and the best thing we could do is restore it. Each grave has a number, a name, and other valuable information. It helps the county’s cemetery and the community of people who share family’s there. It’s not forgotten, but rather fragile that simply needs some restoration to improve it. The data collection process is thorough and I can imagine the time it took to flag and number each one. Over 1,000 graves and all different. Each time I collected, I became more familiar with the marker type and material and saw/learned something new. It feels good knowing that every day we added more into the project to help it grow and build with the community. Not a day felt wasted, including the short rainy days or the very hot long ones. It was important to take the time on each grave and input everything the best we would. What comes next is organizing the long extensive excel sheet and finally placing a name to a number and then mapping each one.
Great data collection experience!

Spring 2018 semester reflection

I would like to start of by expressing my joy and knowledge of the closing of this semester as another door opens post graduation. I was not aware of the the experience I was walking into when I first signed up for this course. Before this semester, I did not know that the university offered service learning classes that collaborated with the community, or I would have signed up much sooner! As an anthropology minor, it had been a while since I last took a course relative to the field so this was a great way to remind myself why I had chose it in the first place. It seems though, that the days flew by too fast for data collection than I would have liked.

Overall, the way the project stands and how it was introduced at the beginning of the semester, reflects a very promising growth. It was interesting to see the work that other students and Dr. Rowe had started before and everything that is to be accomplished. This course is a wonderful opportunity for students to be actively engaged in their work instead of being stuck in a classroom. A hands on experience really helps provide a different and fulfilling environment for those involved, that you wouldn’t necessarily get from a regular class schedule. Also, it being in the spring semester really gave us a variety of weather to work with. It made the semester interesting and informative, while also sparing some days to gather and meet in a familiar setting of a white board class.

I typically found myself more inclined to do data collection, than the mapping. Though I did see a little bit of the mapping process that took more time and focus. It was fairly easier and much quicker to do data collection of the graves for the roughly 2.5 hours at the cemetery. Everything was inputted via mobile, which made the need for pen and paper that much more convenient. At times, the ordering of the graves and the faded numbers made it some what difficult to find but once you found one, the process was smoother to continue. I was not always familiar with the stone types and materials, so having a sheet with the descriptions was very helpful. ( Access to it online would have been nice as well )
Also, the rulers with a clip were better for carrying, or at least a bag to carry everything would give a more manageable way to hold and input data on your phone. And even though it did not use mobile data to upload, my battery went by quickly so I had to make sure to have it completely charged before arriving.

One thing I wish I had or had access to for everyone, would be some brushes to clear dirt away from carvings or sunken graves. At most, I cleared what I could to have the most data for each grave number. The ones with little to no marker or information were the simplest but also an assortment of unique and interesting finds. From metal to all different stone materials and special trinkets. Common last names in the hidalgo county, and some I never heard before. There are people buried from the 1800’s and 1900’s of all ages, each with their own story.
With death there is also life, and I felt that our work really helped care and fill in missing gaps.

When you first come into the cemetery, there is a distinction between sections of the cemetery. Others you can see are very well managed and in better condition. So I always felt that what we did each day was very important. Especially when we have gotten the chance to receive attention and help spread the history and purpose of the project. In return, being able to help family members find loved ones who could be located somewhere in the cemetery was also rewarding. What was lost could be organized and readily accessible with the on going work of the HCPCP. That’s really what made each day worthwhile and exciting to go. Each small detail was equally important to create something better. Everyone before, during and after as the semesters continue will each add on their work and gain something in return.

Ultimately with this course I have been able to know a part of a history so close to home, do work in an outdoor setting that provides experience and working together with the community to make a difference.
Being a part of the Engaged scholar symposium for the service learning poster was also a gratifying opportunity to work with a group of students eager to share the project. For what is being done should not be left unnoticed but shared with the rest of the community. These blogs especially, are an open door for us to share that experience and to connect others with the project. There is a lot to see when viewing the page but also much to fill in the process and I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the end!
The flexibility of this course allowed me to balance my focus on other classes and learn new things every Friday for class at the cemetery. Each day by filling in more information and being able to organize a rather large spread sheet of data. Its flexibility encouraged me to write these very blogs and learn new/different perspectives on articles. I think it added an extra and important touch to the hands on work, being able to read information and other students views.

With the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery project I have gained insight and knowledge of different forms of public archaeology, how to communicate archaeology, ethics, the importance of technology and community, to working together for a greater benefit.  Both at home readings and blogs with the work done at the cemetery blended well to help better my knowledge. Hopefully there is more to learn and gain from this partnership as each student and community partners share their service.

Digital techniques for public engagement

The two digital techniques for public engagement include broadcasting and participatory as described by Bonacchi. The one we currently use for the purpose of this project and open communication for students, involves a broadcast approach. It can be described as a way for students to share opinions and information for the interest of the public.

The means of broadcast are beneficial because it can provide a very detailed amount of information that is open for others to comment and discuss. It’s a great way to mention what the project is about. How the Hidalgo county has teamed up with UTRGV for students to be able to learn about public archaeology and work directly at a sight. It provides the name and course number for anyone interested in signing up as a class. Along with the project name and course description, the web page provides an outline of the cemetery. A historical approach to how the cemetery became to be, its previous affiliation and current status. There is also a map to pin point its exact location, to which you can zoom in and view better.

Other than its introduction and history, this is the page to view students thoughts and reflections on key concepts and themes that are learned each week. Its a medium for us to communicate but also to share for the world to see. This would also be a great place to post pictures of daily activities and interesting discoveries at the cemetery. This can include objects or unique grave sites that are unlike any others. Pictures of students from every semester, community partners, tools and equipment used for data collection. Sometimes a photo alone can demonstrate a lot to the public who may not be as inclined to read. It can also help with people who don’t speak/understand English, to share some things in Spanish as well. I was a little surprised to not find a bilingual source and much more photos to share the work at the cemetery.

How might the project move towards more collaborative, co-creative, or hosted methods of engagement?

Volunteering would be a form of contributory participation to build and complete data collection. What was started gives interest to students, teachers, family and the rest of the community who might like to help out in this way. Especially through data collection because it is more simple to complete and understand, rather than having to explain a lot. A fast and simple introduction to kobo toolbox would be very efficient. I think it would be a bit more difficult to encourage the public to be more collaborative in terms of organizing data through software and open access, unless there was high interest or if they are a direct community partner.
By hosting events and sharing the project from news sources, articles, blogs, we could organize gatherings or meetings for the community to be involved. They can give their thoughts and ideas that may benefit the project in a way for them to be co-creative and participate.

What benefits can 3D technology provide to a public archaeology project, and what are the potential pitfalls? Should we integrate 3D technology into our project, and if so, how?

I am personally not a big fan of 3D, but the beauty of technology is that it is ever changing and improving. 3D technology in particular, can present an enhancing experience since we live in a world where it is being incorporated more. It may be more time consuming, but once the data begins to be organized better, I believe it can add a nice detail for the project. Even if it’s only a few photos to share.

Online platforms

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Considering that we are in a time of technological growth, using a platform to present the project is a well thought of decision. Till the beginning of the semester, I had not heard of WordPress before. It provides wonderful insight into the cemetery project, that I would in no other case be informed about without this service learning course.

On that note, the project itself is best represented by the university, professors and its students. There was an article posted on the UTRGV website of the kick start of the project, why it began and the history of the location.The UTRGV website itself, is a great place to start on what an archaeological course can provide for enthusiastic anthropology majors. As well as the type of project and the students involvement with the community. An article in itself doesn’t seem to justify the ongoing work that is being done on the project, including the experience it provides for the students. A home page of the project (wordpress) was a great place to start and it is beneficial that the link to these blog posts was included in the article. Had I not known about the project name, my first thought would be to look under the department and their ongoing research but did not find the HCPCP, which I would have liked to see. With the continuation of the project from students and the help of the university, the project is set to learn and improve.

This platform is appropriate because it allows for students to voice their opinions and work, while also giving feedback and information to the rest of the community. The work being done has given interest and allowed more light into the project, by means of articles, news, student service learning poster…

But where can one find WordPress and the page on the project?
Having an actual web page on the utrgv website, would be a great place to find this page. Contact information, links and comments section. 

As long as the collaboration of students and the community remain involved, and updates continue to highlight the importance of this project, then it will uphold its sustainability. Working equally and respectfully.

We must reach out to the people of the community and eager students, in all aspects. What we gain and how our presence helps a rather unforgettable place with many loved one’s resting place. We must allow ourselves to speak openly and in return provide a source for others to feel comfortable and have open opinions. Any views and resourceful information can merely benefit the growth of this project.
Its content on the web page can provide, information of the service learning course, including what service learning is (community engagement), whom to sign up with, detailed information and history of the project/cemetery and all of its providers, and of course, what the overall project hopes to accomplish at the end (3D map of entire grave site, all accountable grave sites with names, etc.)
This is what I hope to see as the semesters progress and additional information, restoration, is done to benefit the community as a whole and all of us included in it. It is wonderful to see the progression of people working together on an idea and to be a part of its growth as we all work together.

To whom we communicate to

Mitch Allen’s article introduced me into a better understanding of the type of audience archaeologists speak to and how those words are communicated to a much bigger audience. I’m sure this applies to all fields, because really, only we are the masters of our specialized field. Much of what we say can sound like jargon to the general population. As Allen says, “the general reading public forms the vast bulk of those casually interested in archaeological information.” Yet, the rest are from a “hidden” audience much more engaged in our commitment to express our scholarly knowledge. How we balance the two and reach our intended audience, is how Allen suggests his ten rules.

The audience described by Allen and to those we speak out to regarding the cemetery project are very similar. In a way I feel that we may get more interest from the general public, especially to those whom have been effected by our presence at the cemetery. They wonder what we are doing and why we are there. Why does each grave have a flag marker and a number. Why is the focus solely in one part of the entire cemetery and not the rest. These are some of the highlights that can hook a reader into wondering what exactly is the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project.

We should be explaining an introduction to the history of the cemetery, its previous name & meaning, location on the map, when it was built, how active it is and the range of people buried there (1800-1900’s). The history and purpose of utrgv students engaging with the community to help restore, is really the insight of the story. People can watch from afar and wonder what it is what we do on our phones, the pictures we take, measurements…

In the end we hope to have data restored and organized with a detailed 3D map, but really the beauty comes in all the hard work that it takes to get there and ultimately present a nicer picture to others. Often we see the end result but don’t take in the process and I think its interesting to share the ongoing work and commitment that represents the project. By providing facts, pictures,  blogs with a students voice and point of view, we can “talk in plain english”, and “to a single reader”. Others can be just as engaged and informed while leaving an open door to share their thoughts.
Pictures speak a thousand words and I think we can portray a lot with even pictures alone. Perhaps some unique graves, or interesting finds. Of course without disturbing or disrespecting anyone. The format we should be portraying is knowledgeable, ethical and reflective. For those who may not be far deep into archaeological interest can still read and be captured by our many means of communication and information that keeps them coming back for more. What I believe we hope to achieve as a group, is to get more people involved and informed through out the entire process so that we each may learn and grow for the benefit of the community/project. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: one or more people, hat, grass, child, outdoor and nature

Communities, Stakeholders,

The fact that the meaning of community can change, or rather what it represents, demonstrates the importance of differences within a certain “community”. I would like to point out the picture used for the blog, and the sign that is being held. It says, “Black ancestors matter”. It is relevant because in this context, one would assume that all ancestors matter. So I believe it’s important to also be aware of the shared meanings of what community stands for.

The people in public archaeology are those that our work may both benefit and affect. In this case, it would be the region around which we are doing current work on. The Hidalgo county public cemetery and its family, friends, whom this project can reach. The cemetery shares its grounds with different communities, yet perhaps all from the Hidalgo county area. Which has a high community of Hispanics, as you will find many common last names at the section of the grave site where our service learning takes place.  As a local Hispanic myself, death and life are celebrated and appreciated greatly. Although I can share a common belief with the rest of the community, not everyone may have the same belief or understanding of our engagement with this project. With that being said, we must take into account the communities changing conceptions and work for the general good of the people. Identifying the community and its shared ideals may come easy, but I can see how some issues may arise within the same community of people who may think a little differently.

Helping others find loved ones or disturbing the peace? That’s a question I wondered from the beginning but there are so many great benefits for ourselves as students and the community who we collaborate with. So who are we doing this work for? Well, for us but also for the county that has many burials of family so close to home in need of restoration. It may also be safe to say that the students, the county’s cemetery and the families are the stakeholders.  I have attended for the Spring 2018 and have not heard or seen any complaints but rather received great interests. I can agree that even though we are working together, it is crucial to understand and respect the community around us. It’s easier for me to say and understand since I have lived here my whole life, but for others who do not share the same community in the RGV, the term is still integrated into other groups with their own shared interests.

If I were an outsider looking in, I would prefer that people get to know what our community stands for without making assumptions and understanding any differences. I speak predominantly on the side of the cemetery we are marking, knowing that others may be neglected but also being aware that the boundary we are crossing, if any, is in that of our own. That is the people we should be working with in a respectable manner that benefits the project and the rest of the community. Another great part of the RGV, is that we also have diverse communities that all share this one cemetery. They can all visit family in their own way.

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Public Archaeology & what it means to me…

The 7 different types of Public Archaeology that are pictured by Gabe Moshenska, provide a great insight into the prosperous world of public archaeology and its growing influence towards the public and current/future archaeologists. When asked directly, what public archaeology means to me, one must first have a better understanding of what it means, in itself. I think it is important to know that it is not meant to be “an exhausting list” but rather a nice platform of what it represents. It’s flexibility further emphasizes critical key concepts that are needed of its representation.

Public archaeology means that archaeologist and the public can work collectively for the benefit of society. Professionals can work separately in a public sector, educational setting or individuals seeking open archaeology, popular and by the public. What I see in common with most, if not all of these certain categories is, whether you are a professional archaeologist or working as an individual, it ultimately benefits the public overall as each coincide. What raises the question are its ethical issues. In what ways are both parties benefiting. Is one or the other being affected. Can it be truly defined as public archaeology?

This semester, the HCPCP has provided me with some hands on experience and knowledge. As a service learning course alone, its description speaks a thousand words. What better way to understand public archaeology than to work directly with and for the community. In collaboration with the Hidalgo county, we are able to provide assistance to them while also gaining educational experience for us students. Not only is it influencing our personal growth and future career paths, but we are also able to give back. This project is also made readily accessible to the public by means of a Blog, as an introduction to the project and to keep the people informed on ongoing work. It is a wonderful partnership with exciting progress.

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What lines of investigation are you interested in pursuing?
My interest lies more towards working alongside the public and in open archaeology. I have learned that working together with the community is more beneficial and rewarding. It is usually in the best interest of both parties and it is great to see the amount of work that can be done when people are working together. I also think that ethical issues may not arise as often due to its universal consensus. Which I am sure is not so simple but still very collaborative. While in open archaeology, it allows people to be informed and possibly involved in important work that is being done. Even if some people may not agree, there is still a potential open understanding that people can view and speak freely. In a way, both of these are very informative and educational. You can gain experience and knowledge from both aspects. In the end, isn’t that what public archaeology is all about. It is not limited to these or seven categories but open to a broad range of approaches, ethical and practical engagements, and working with and for the public. This is my understanding of public archaeology.