This past week, I attended the 48th annual meeting and first ever virtual meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association. I entered with more than a bit of hesitance about spending another chunk of my week interfacing with Zoom, perhaps even more reluctant because I had heard how awkward and stilted the Zoom conference could be. What I experienced was, sure, a bit awkward in comparison to the normal conference ritual but ultimately, very rewarding.
Sharing my research with the public is one of my favorite parts of the job. I love answering questions because it helps me to think about why the things I study are important. It also helps me to think about the way I study the past.
Typically, outreach happens in schools, community centers, and museums. I usually sit behind a table and bring artifacts or other hands-on items to share with students (and parents!) of all ages.
During the pandemic, we can't hold indoor events at all. Most museums are closed. Many schools will reopen fully online, including the entire school district where I'm writing this in Michigan. Losing outreach opportunities does seem like a minor concern compared to many other consequences of the pandemic. Nonetheless, it's something that I've missed a great deal. Who doesn't love a good field trip?
That's why I was especially glad to participate in a collaborative, NSF-funded outreach Polar Literacy Program that brought research into students' homes with Zoom. A panel of education experts led by Jason Cervenec at Ohio State University and Janice McDonnell of Rutgers University brought together a cohort of Arctic and Antarctic researchers to craft data-rich learning experiences that could be accessed through a zoom meeting.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic, a time of record job losses, and a growing consensus that we live in an oppressive system of white supremacy that feeds off of silence and complicity of those in power and all who are white. Archaeologists study the complex narratives of the past, narratives that are frequently manipulated to serve racist ends that continue to perpetuate systemic white supremacy.
I want to acknowledge that we as archaeologists, and I as an Alaskan archaeologist, have not done enough to counter the white supremacist narrative that permeates the discipline to this day. Black lives matter in archaeology. Black histories matter. Indigenous lives and histories matter. I cannot stand by as Black and Indigenous histories are subverted. I aim to be more vocal about the ways white supremacy plays out both in academic scholarship and more subtle ways throughout the discipline. I am excited to be part of a growing movement of archaeologists who aim to actively shift the narrative away from white supremacist ideologies.
If you want to learn more, there are lots of places to start and continue learning about the ways white supremacy shapes archaeology (and what you can do to dismantle the systematic oppression of BIPOC histories). These are just a few that I have found helpful in the past few weeks:
Bree is an Alaskan Archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming