SAAarchaeologicalrecord - Society for American Archaeology

SAAarchaeologicalrecord - Society for American Archaeology





James Wiseman

James Wiseman is a Professor in and former Chairman of Boston University’s Department of Archaeology, which he cofounded with Creighton Gable. He is

also Founding Editor of the Journal of Field Archaeology.

It is long past time for archaeologists in the United States to

assert their own professional standing and their own academic

discipline. Archaeologists make their living by teaching

and doing archaeology: they teach archaeology with the

expectation that some of their students will become professional

archaeologists; they conduct archaeological research, including

fieldwork, in this country or another; they study archaeological

data generated by their own and others’ investigations and

make interpretations based on those data and their knowledge

and experience; and they write about archaeology for a variety of

readers. They may also be fine geologists, historians, anthropologists,

philosophers, and classicists, and they may perform their

archaeological activities while based in a college unit that represents

one or more other disciplines or work for a corporation or

agency that also employs other kinds of professionals. But they

are still, and usually foremost, archaeologists.

They have created national, international, regional, and topical

archaeological organizations, and they support them with their

funds, time, and thoughtful participation. The SAA, the Society

for Historical Archaeology, and the Archaeological Institute of

America (the earliest, founded in 1879), to name the three

largest such organizations, have since their founding influenced

archaeological thinking, teaching, ethics, and research, as

well as public—and governmental—perception of archaeology.

Numerous archaeological scholarly journals and several popular

magazines flourish across an even greater intellectual, geographical,

and topical range, and ensure interaction among

archaeologists and scholars in related disciplines, as well as with

the public. Professional archaeologists have been active in the

academy for almost 150 years, since 1855 when Jens J. A. Worsaee

was appointed Professor of Archaeology at the University

of Copenhagen, the first such position in history. Besides holding

teaching appointments in most major colleges and universities

in the world, professional archaeologists now find positions

in government agencies, museums, and private corporations.

What is more, archaeology is an undertaking of importance to

human society. A recent Harris poll showed that Americans

have a keen awareness of the value of archaeology for understanding

the human past, and 90 percent of those polled believe

archaeology should be taught. Nonprofessionals, therefore, and

archaeologists from outside the U.S., often express surprise

when they discover that an independent archaeology program is

a rarity at the American university. After all, in most other countries

of the world, archaeology is taught in its own department,

institute, or school. In the U.S., archaeology is so fragmented

among various departments that entering students are bewildered

and frustrated in their efforts just to find out where

archaeology might be listed—anthropology, history, classics, art

history, area studies programs, or all of them. And yet, once

familiar with the peculiarities of the particular institution, students

are attracted in significant numbers to archaeology courses,

wherever they might be found. They are the mainstay of

many departments who point to student enrollments in archaeology

to justify their own faculty expansion—and often hiring in

fields other than archaeology.

The worst aspect of this situation is that archaeology as a discipline

is poorly served by its fragmentation and subordination to

other disciplines in the academic world. An archaeological curriculum

is an obvious necessity for the profession. But how is a

curriculum to be prepared, or offered, in a department devoted

to another discipline, especially one in which the majority of its

faculty by definition must belong to other fields of study? Readers

of this essay might reflect for a moment on their own experiences

involving archaeological education and training: was

there ever the opportunity to formulate an archaeological curriculum

in your department? I mean, a curriculum that

8 The SAA Archaeological Record • May 2002

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