Archaeology and an Interdisciplinary Digital Age

By Maria E. Raviele
Evaluation Officer, IMLS

I recently attended the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin and primarily attended symposia related to digital content and methods, public archaeology, and education and outreach. Since joining IMLS I have been mentally noting places where these topics intersect. The symposia I attended and colleagues I talked with highlighted a greater intersection of archaeology with museums and libraries beyond the obvious connection that artifacts from archaeological excavations end up in museums and repositories.

Archaeology is a destructive science. The process of excavation destroys the archaeological record, and by necessity archaeologists must be precise in recording information. This means note taking, field forms of various types, photographs, and mapping. Archaeologists use databases to track items in the field and in the laboratory, and to record artifact attributes. These databases must be created and updated to ensure artifacts are placed in the correct context. Without context, an artifact offers little information of its own. Before archaeologists even reach the field, they draw on the work of others, and they know future archaeologists will rely on their documentation. In other words archaeologists must be archivists (broadly defined) if they hope to contribute to collections and have their work used by other researchers.


An author mapping an excavation level during fieldwork in 2007,

The author mapping an excavation level during fieldwork in 2007


Digital methods, including linked data, are increasingly common across the humanities and social sciences. Archaeology is no exception to this trend (c.f. ADS, DINAA, and Open Context), and in many ways archaeologists have been at the forefront of incorporating digital methods and tools into their work. (For those interested in this history, Digital Archaeology is a place to start, while Archaeology 2.0 is demonstrative of recent issues.) The overlap of fields relying on tools such as 3D scanning and printing, geospatial web mapping and timeline programs, online digital data, libraries, and repositories, and the suite of tools used in the digital humanities is expanding. Additionally, the move toward open access and online publishing, as well as related concerns about digital and analog content preservation, indicates archaeology is at a point where relying on the expertise of those already doing it, e.g., librarians and archivists, seems essential.

The issues faced by people working with digital content, tools, and methods are similar regardless of discipline. Concerns around access (public versus specialized), interoperability, proprietary software versus open source, and sustainability are addressed by many fields, but librarians and archivists should be considered the go-to experts. The recent IMLSFocus meeting on a National Digital Platform touched on some of these issues and highlighted the necessity for a conversation not only within disciplines, but across disciplines as well.

Archaeology is a great example of an interdisciplinary field, drawing on geology, geography, ecology, economics, environmental science, physics, chemistry, and more. Changes taking place in archaeology serve to illustrate the importance of leveraging digital tools to benefit scholars and practitioners alike. While conversations across disciplines are happening among individual scholars, it may be time for broader cross-disciplinary discussions on common issues.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Collections Care/Preservation, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Comments Off

Reach Higher at Your Museum or Library this Summer

By Susan H. Hildreth
Director, IMLS

We are so proud of our National Medal winners and the community members they selected to come to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the award with Mrs. Obama. The White House ceremony took place a few days after Mrs. Obama announced her Reach Higher initiative encouraging kids to take charge of their futures and complete education beyond high school and encouraging communities to support teens.

In recognizing this year’s winners, Mrs. Obama noted all of the ways museums and libraries are stepping up, year round but especially during the summer, to keep teens engaged and excited about learning.

One example is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s community member, Chidi Duke. At the age of 11, Chidi was introduced to Brooklyn Botanic Garden through Project Green Reach, a science enrichment program led by the garden in his Brooklyn elementary school. His role in the Children’s Garden grew progressively and he became a leader and mentor to younger participants. Chidi is now a student at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He continues to be a part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden as an instructor for teens.

Chidi and Scot receive the medal from Mrs. Obama

Left to right: Chidi Duke, Brooklyn Botanic Garden President Scot Medbury, Mrs. Obama.

Community member Avree Walker is another success story. Avree says he grew up at the West Las Vegas Library branch of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. The library introduced Avree to a world outside his neighborhood and inspired him to pursue his passion for dance. Today, Avree is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and is a dancer with Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre. He gives back to his community and library by working with youth at the library as both a choreographer and a producer.

Avree and Jeanne receive the medal from Mrs. Obama

Left to right: Avree Walker, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Executive Director Jeanne Goodrich, Mrs. Obama.

Mrs. Obama encouraged libraries and museums to reach kids they might not see so often, and we are delighted that together with the Association of Children’s Museum we are piloting a new effort to provide reduced admission for anyone with an EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transfer). We hope to expand this opportunity to museums of all disciplines in the future.

Museums and libraries are core community institutions with all kinds of camps and learning opportunities to keep kids connected and active during the summer.

  • The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Maker Jawn is dedicated to mentoring youth in some of the most underserved communities in the U.S.
  • At the Providence Public Library, in Rhode Island, the Teen Tech Squad is hitting the streets with iPads to photo- and video-document their neighborhoods this summer. They’ll digitize content from the library, remix it with what they capture, and learn how to build a digital exhibition experience featuring all of their content.
  • This summer, Native Youth in Action, a service learning program at the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, in Santa Rosa, will create datasets for an interactive Geographic Information System (GIS)-based map exhibit and expose youths to science careers opportunities.
  • In New Haven, Connecticut, a diverse group of high school students who are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences participated in Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History’s free, academically rigorous program focused on science literacy, college preparation, and career awareness to get them ready for summer internships and college opportunities.

Let us know what your library or museum is doing to help kids “reach higher” this summer, and visit to learn more.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Director's Messages, Education Support, National Medal for Museum and Library Service | Comments Off