Engagements in the field: Teaching field archaeology in the context of a community-driven research project

Harrison, Rodney; Gibbs, Martin; Burke, Shane; Przywolnik, Kathryn and Sellers, Annette (2008). Engagements in the field: Teaching field archaeology in the context of a community-driven research project. Archaeological Heritage, 1(1) pp. 29–36.


This paper describes a long-term historical archaeological field training program, formalised during the 1990s as the Midwest Archaeological Survey, which developed in concert with and was largely funded by a local community in Northampton, Western Australia. While a series of crises in Indigenous archaeology in Australia have driven a new found interest in engagements between archaeologists and descent communities, we observe that the tradition of collecting oral histories and the involvement of local people in rural historical archaeologies in Australia has meant that the engagements of communities and historical archaeologies have developed as part of a different trajectory to that described in several papers in this volume; in particular, it is one which has largely not been enforced by the State, unlike the case of Indigenous archaeology. We also draw out the various collaborations that developed as a part of this project between students, project organisers and local community members. Collaborations such as this one are not only generated by community desires to understand and conserve their heritage, but the project itself can be described as a kind of shared community, generating shared understandings of the past. We discuss the role of ordinary people in the community in interpreting the archaeological remains, and the way in which each field trip was active in involving an ever broadening community of local people and students, who were encouraged to assist in producing interpretations which fed into the overall project. We conclude with a discussion of the way in which various archaeological discoveries made during the project have generated a need for a broader local interpretations of heritage and community.

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