Project Archaeology Curricula and Community Collaboration

By Jeanne Moe, EdD, BLM Project Archaeology Lead, Director

As Project Archaeology launches a new curriculum this week I would just like to provide a little background information on the Project Archaeology program; the evolution of our curriculum guide (Project Archaeology: Investigating Shelter); and our 25 plus years of giving teachers the tools they need to fulfill their requirements in social studies, science, literacy, and other school subjects.

Project Archaeology began as a joint program of the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the State of Utah in 1990.  When we began planning our archaeology education program, we first examined the needs of teachers and quickly understood that they were not interested in teaching archaeology per se, but they were interested in materials that would engage students in critical thinking and cooperative learning across the curriculum.  Over the next two years, we worked closely with more than 100 educators, archaeologists, and descendant community members to produce our first curriculum guide, Intrigue of the Past: Investigating Archaeology.  In 2001, with ten years of experience under our belts, we launched a second generation of curricular materials based on the Understanding by Design curriculum development model and expanded collaboration with descendant community members.  In 2003, ten stellar Native American educators from across the nation assembled at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff to review our first drafts and to provide feedback and advice.  Their commitment to helping us develop the best materials possible for a national audience was truly humbling.  They suggested that we include a descendant community member as guide for each of the shelter investigations we produced.  It was brilliant.  It is educationally sound because it helps students connect to the past through a contemporary person and it provided us with a way to collaborate with descendant community members from across the nation.

Mr. Pratt. Photo courtesy of Mr. Pratt

Mr. Warren Pratt, a high school teacher and member of the Pawnee Nation, served as our first “guide” for the Pawnee Earthlodge investigation.  Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, anthropologist and member of the Crow Nation, guided us through the production of the Crow Tipi investigation.  Dr.

Dr. Medicine Crow. Photo courtesy of Dr. Medicine Crow

Medicine Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his military service in World War II and recently passed away at the age of 102.  Some Plains archaeologists who assisted with the investigation did not agree with Dr. Medicine Crow, but we included his perspective despite some opposition.  Mr. Gregory Jefferson was thrilled to share the oral history of his ancestors who were enslaved at Poplar Forest Plantation. His family oral history completed the investigation. Since the production of these early investigations, we have added 13 shelter investigations to our database (the Shotgun House is the most recent) and four more are in planning or production.

Mr. Jefferson. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jefferson

Each of the investigations emphasizes a slightly different perspective on the past, which is guided largely by the contributions of the descendant community member(s).  The Shotgun House investigation is the first investigation that includes the contributions of descendant community members who actually lived in the community under study.  We are thrilled to have their contributions to this amazing investigation of a racially integrated neighborhood in Kentucky. In some cases, we are asking descendant community members to reach back into the deep past, hundreds or even thousands of years, but their perspectives are no less valid for the huge spans of time.

We are very interested in producing more shelter investigations and including as many different communities as possible.  For example, we would like to highlight a Spanish colonial era house in the West, the African Diaspora in all of its archaeological variety, the Chinese experience with mining and transcontinental railroads, and the time of contact between Native Americans and European immigrants throughout the nation, to name a few.  If you are interested in producing a shelter investigation or another type of collaborative curriculum unit, please contact us.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post on Dr. M. Jay Stottman’s experience working on Investigating a Shotgun House.