Training the next generation in cultural resource management archaeology 2

Digital_Classroom_Dan_HetteixI think it’s promising that the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) is strongly considering how to train the next generation. The recent conference in Quebec City had multiple events dedicated to discussing how universities can better meet the needs of the cultural resource management, historic preservation, and heritage conservation industries. This is not a new topic. The SAA Archaeological Record has addressed the divide between university training and industry needs many times in the past. I guess the fact that I’m aware and intimately participating in the dialogue is the main difference between past debates and the one that’s going on right now.

At SHA2014, I missed a panel titled “Training Historical Archaeologists in the 21st Century: Does Theory Matter Anymore?” While I missed it, my compatriots Ashley Morton and Ben Barna caught the end of the discussion. I recorded their comments, which were incorporated into Episode 25-1 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast: 2014 SHA Meetings in Quebec.

At first glance, I thought the question was self-evident. Yes theory matters, but it matters less than learning how historical archaeology works in CRM and academia. Here’s I wrote on the SHA Blog before this panel ever happened:

“Yes, theory matters. But, it shouldn’t be the sole focus of a graduate degree.

Here are my other answers [to the four questions on the blog post] since I don’t know if I can attend:

1- Every good CRM report has some sort of interpretation or synthesis. Historical archaeology is able to add historical documents and oral histories into their interpretations. Postmodern (or whatever phase we’re currently in) is awesome at creating valuable narratives from the archaeological data that is typically collected using methods based in processual archaeology. Knowledge of modern archaeological theory is essential to crafting these interpretations in a manner that contributes to the field of archaeology.

Also, CRMers always have the chance to present their work at conferences in a way that addresses theoretical issues that didn’t fit in the report. If conveying a theoretical approach is so important, any of us can do a webinar on our own laptops and post it to YouTube. Client permissions are our only limitations.

2- Postmodernism is old news. In fact, this debate over semantics only detracts from the way archaeology is executed today. Processual niches like evolutionary archaeology are trying to integrate concepts that are more closely aligned with postprocessualism (ex. hybridity, habitus, materiality, bundling, ect.). The lines are blurring, thus, the processual/postprocessual debate is totally 20th century. It’s moot and only matters to Baby Boomers. Let’s move on.

We can’t stay way out in left field like the material culture studies folks and still justify our jobs. We can tell stories, but we can’t just write fiction. Today’s CRM field methods are basically modern processual archaeology. Collecting data from a processual perspective is easier for agencies and clients to digest. But, advances in archaeological theory in the last 20 years must be incorporated somehow. That’s where the interpretations section of the CRM report comes into play.

3- Yes. Frank conversations that explain exactly how to get a job in archaeology (academia and CRM) is the best way to approach this reality with students. We also need to discuss the other careers anthropology graduates can do with their educations.

4- Make sure archaeologists know the wants and needs of the communities in which they work. Answering the questions that matter to descendant communities is the best way to answer the questions that count because the most important questions are the ones that descendants want to for themselves. This will also allow us to connect with real people, which is something we haven’t done so well in the past. With the power of the internet, social media, friendraising, and crowdfunding, opportunities to address the questions that matter to people around the world are endless. Grounding and commitment are two things that we can’t give to anyone. Those are things that each person needs to find on their own.”

I stand by what I said on the SHA Blog and only wish I’d been able to back them up at the panel. Maybe I’m wrong. If so, please email me or write a comment below and set me straight.

This SHA also had a roundtable luncheon called “Teaching and Learning CRM at University.” I did attend this one and, in anticipation of the luncheon, I lead a lively debate on the Archaeology Careerist’s Network about what I should ask the luncheon leaders regarding methods of teaching the next generation of CRMers. I’ve beaten this topic to death in the LinkedIn group, so I’ll just give you links to the discussion threads if you want to know more.

I started off with the thread “Are Universities listening to CRM Archaeology companies?” to get an idea of what group members were interested in discussing at the luncheon. I followed that up with a poll “What do you teach when you teach cultural resource management?” where group members voted and decided hands-on training was the most important thing future CRMers needed to learn in college. After the luncheon, I briefly summarized what we’d discussed on the thread “Teaching Cultural Resource Management in University Roundtable Results.”

The roundtable discussants all agreed that hands-on experience was the most important thing to learn, but stated that critical thinking skills are even more important. SRI Foundation director Terry Klein said that American Cultural Resource Association (ACRA) members have remarked several times that new CRMers lack critical thinking skills and have difficulties applying cultural resource law on a case-by-case basis. We all agreed that the ability to critically apply the NEPA and NHPA to cultural resources was something that had to be learned from experience­ a skill that begins by getting real-life, hands-on experience in college.

I think several common themes were addressed in these discussions:

  1. New CRMers need to get better at critically thinking about how archaeological resources articulate with historic preservation regulations.
  2. This is best learned through graduate programs that provide students the opportunity to actually do CRM.
  3. Nobody seems to have a good answer to the problem.
  4. We seem to be aware of examples of success (ex. how civil engineering companies told universities exactly what they needed to teach their students), but we don’t know how to use these success stories in a manner that would convince university anthro programs to change their ways.
  5. The cultural resource management industry is going to have to take the lead on this issue because they benefit from better trained entry-level employees.

In sum, I am impressed with the conversations going on at the SHA and feel like there is hope that the next generation of CRMers may actually get degrees that help them in the workplace. About 85% of all archaeologists in the United States work in cultural resource management. It’s essential that today’s students get exposure and experience with the industry they’re most likely to work in.

If you have any questions or comments, write below or send me an email.


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2 thoughts on “Training the next generation in cultural resource management archaeology

  • No One of Any Significance

    This is the best career advice for any aspiring archaeologist: get out, while you still can.

    • SuccinctBill Post author

      An what should that aspiring archaeo do? Get a “real” job? A business degree or MBA? Kiss some corporate tool’s ass until she lays you off; then, beg yourself up another corporate shit job and do it all over again?

      Archaeology isn’t a career for the faint of heart. It’s also not a job for an automaton. You have to have a brain and you have to use it everyday. That’s the beauty of archaeology as a career. Every project is different, every project is a chance to discover something mankind had forgotten.

      There arent too many career choices where you can simply come to the “office”, plop down and pull in a salary for just being there. The government is probably your best bet if that’s what you wanna do with your life.

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