The readings this week dealt with the concepts of communities and stakeholders. They revolve around the central questions of: Who are the publics in public archaeology? Who are we are doing this work for?
Agbe-Davies (2010) explores the use and meaning of the term “community” in two different contexts related to her archaeological work. She finds that the meaning of “community” has changed over time – from a term connoting shared interests, distinctiveness and proximity to an abstract one seemingly divorced from place or scale. Community can be used to connote shared economic, religious, or ethnic affiliation and more. She further finds that the definitions of community that you will find also depend on the group of people you ask, and what sorts of issues brought them together in the first place. How might these changing conceptions of community implicate how we identify those we should work with – the publics in our public archaeology?
Agbe-Davies further asks whether archaeologists can become parts of the communities that they work with. While recognizing that an archaeologist may not be the first person that a community turns to when they need something,
“(A)n archaeologist with her ears and eyes open, in the right fora, can begin to appreciate what members of a community might require, and how the skills and knowledge of our discipline can be brought to bear. In addressing these needs, the archaeologist has acted as a responsible member of a community, conceivably one overlapping in its membership with the kinds of bounded communities that the ideology of community keeps foremost in our minds” (Agbe-Davies 2010, p. 590).
While Agbe-Davies asks if archaeologists can become members of the communities they work alongside, La Roche and Blake (1997) argue that affiliation should be one of the characteristics that archaeologists possess before beginning a project. La Roche and Blake (1997) relate the history of archaeological investigation of the African Burial Ground in New York City. Actions of initial project archaeologists and government agencies demonstrated little concern for the unique relationships that descendant populations or affiliated communities might have for that place and the individuals buried there. After significant community mobilization the investigating archaeologists were changed, and research questions were developed to reflect the particular knowledge and interests that intersected in this special place.
Investigations of burial places are frequently contentious (as seen in the African American Cemetery example this week, as well as the entire discourse and reason for NAGPRA, among other examples). Such work must be done with respect and sensitivity, and an awareness of the historical inequalities that characterized the lives of those buried in these places. Additionally, researchers must be aware of the history of anthropological and archaeological inquiries into the lives of people who have been portrayed as Others – we do not just pay for our sins but for the mistakes and missteps of those who came before us.
As we move forward with this project and reflect upon this week’s readings, a few key questions stand out: Who are the stakeholders for the HCPCP? What communities exist in the Valley? What communities include the cemetery and the individuals as members? Are we part of the communities we work with? Should we be conducting investigations without cultural affiliation? Who are we forgetting or neglecting if we chose to work with certain communities? What power dynamics exist between communities that may have interest in the cemetery?