Youth in Archeology: Our Past, Present, and Future

Anyone walking through the South Common in Lawrence, MA around noon on August 11 probably noticed a group of people gathered for a ceremony.  That day, the seven teenagers who had spent their summer as members of the Urban Archeology Corps in Lawrence presented their final projects to a very impressed crowd of onlookers.  The ceremony included an original dance choreographed and performed by two of the students and a poem they all wrote collectively about their city.  The students also presented a picture chapter scrapbook that traced the history of Lawrence and posters detailing their research projects and findings.  The crowd included National Park Service employees from local parks and regional offices, as well as the mayor himself.

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The Urban Archeology Corps (UAC) is “a national program where young people age 15-26 conduct a range of archeological tasks to learn about urban national parks and their surrounding communities, the diverse histories and resources that make these places special, and public service and NPS employment.”  In this case, students from Lawrence-area high schools learned the basics of archeological mapping, excavation, and artifact analysis, and came away with new insights into the history of the city.

A few members of NMSC’s archeology team were lucky enough to attend the ceremony on August 11 and speak to the students about their findings and their participation in the UAC.  We spent a day a few weeks prior helping the students with the artifact analysis component of the program.  We provided objects from our teaching collection to the group, and talked with them about how to identify and date artifacts like pearlware saucers, 19th-century pharmaceutical bottles, and clay tobacco pipes.  The analysis also included complex questions that I delved into in graduate school, like “what does this artifact tell you about the person who owned or used it?”  The careful consideration with which the students approached this task was truly commendable.

In the NMSC archeology lab, we love to analyze archeological artifacts.  It’s our thing; it’s what we do.  We enjoyed teaching these students about manufacturing processes, decorative techniques, and what material goods would have been available to different kinds of people a hundred years ago.  (An amusing aside:  as someone who studied archeology in the low-tech 1990s and spent countless hours in library stacks, it was incredible to see how quickly these students could find exactly the information and images they needed on their smartphones!  Knife with blue and white porcelain handle?  Here’s one!  Glass Pepsi bottle with printed paper label?  Got it!)

 

What made this day really exciting and fun for us, however, was the enthusiasm with which the students approached the task.  When asked what they thought of artifact analysis at the end of the day, one young man responded, “I loved it!”  Nothing could have made us happier.

Many of the final projects presented on the South Common focused on the immigrant’s experience throughout the history of Lawrence.  Many of the students in the Lawrence chapter of the UAC come from immigrant families, and surely relate to this aspect of the city’s history.  One student’s poster outlined the Urban Redevelopment of the mid-20th century and its effects on the various ethnic groups inhabiting the targeted areas of the city.  When asked if she was surprised by anything she learned about Lawrence during her research, she talked about the integration and cooperation among different ethnic communities in the early 20th century.  Her poster read, “Lawrence will stay diverse, as we will stay the immigrant city.”

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Youth leader/program archeology instructor Dania Jordan (a graduate student at U Mass Boston) worked with this group of young people all summer, walking them through the various aspects of archeology.  Dania hosted us on artifact-analysis-day, introducing us to her crew with icebreakers and question-and-answer sessions.  We could not publish this blog post without relaying her eloquent and meaningful impressions of this program.  Dania is quoted here:

“I am a former Upward Bounder, TRiO Scholar and a McNair Scholar, and I witnessed how programs such as these transform students, give them a sense of hope that a secondary education is possible, and show them someone cares. As a result, I vowed to give back to the youth what these programs gave to me.  Groundwork Lawrence Urban Archaeology Corps allows me to do that.  The goal of UAC to me is not to necessarily recruit archaeologists, but to at least educate on what archaeology is, why it is important, and how is it relevant to them. It is important that I draw these connections with the youth because I want them to know that they, too, are stewards of history.”

Working with the UAC students for a day and seeing what they took away from their introduction to archeology was incredibly rewarding for me.  Their maturity and insightfulness impressed me to no end.  Their participation in the program encouraged a pride in the diverse history of their city that is both moving and inspiring.  My experience with the UAC – as minimal as it was – reminded me that archeology isn’t just about theories, stratigraphy, and minimum vessel counts; most importantly, it’s about people, past, present, and future.

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We are honored to share with you the following reflections on AUC Groundwork Lawrence, provided to us by the student participants and the youth leaders.  It was a pleasure meeting you all, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!

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Student Quotes:

Monica: “The UAC program influenced me to come out of my shell. It taught me new things about Lawrence and different National Parks. I hope that the next group of UAC students [is] influence just as much as I was.”

Dianny: “My favorite part of this program was being able to learn about my city. We dug up a lot Lawrence’s history and about the mills along with the water treatment plant. Some of what surprised me was how big of an effect the Urban Redevelopment had in Lawrence and how people view it.”

Karolina: “This program was productive. I came into this program, wanting to learn about my city and that’s exactly what I did. It was a positive experience and I’ll always be grateful to be [a part] of it.”

Franchesca: “I learned a lot in this program and feel that it brought me to meet new people. I loved learning about where I come from and bonding with coworkers.”

Karina: “This program was actually a good experience. I have learned many things that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. My favorite part of this program was toward the end of this program. Not because this program is ending but because I actually got to see all of [the hard work] we did within these 6 weeks come together.”

Isabella: “I personally enjoyed the program because of the fact our learning was engaging and hands on. My favorite part was all our trips and bonding we did while learning.”

Francina: “We had a lot of fun learning about Lawrence especially with the lecturers, guests and National Park field trips. There was not much that rained on my parade these weeks except having to draw and write [a lot] (I got used to it though). I loved these weeks, we [learned a lot] about the city. Knowing that the city was once a whole community, really gives hope to one day we can maybe have that again.”

Youth Leader Quotes:

Ceara:  “Honestly, UAC was life-changing for me in the sense of how I see not only pride for a community, but also how youth can empower and direct a program in a way that is both tangibly and mentally useful for them all. I am honored to have met all our students; I know it’s cliche, but they taught me a plethora of information: that the history of a city can be used to prevent judgement upon it, that even tho[ugh] negative things have created a history, it does not mean that positive can never occur thereafter, and that each story is connected by both physical and emotional pieces and artifacts.”

Bridget:  “The Urban Archaeology Corps was a life-changing experience that has greatly influenced my professional development as well as my personal development. It opened my mind to the history and issues in a community like no other I had ever experienced before, and allowed me to experience teaching history and youth mentorship in the same environment, which was such a valuable and unique process to be a part of. In future work I will carry the history and people of Lawrence and the Urban Archaeology Corps in my heart and continue the mission of this partnership between Groundwork Lawrence and the National Parks Service in opening young minds to opportunities in conservation, archaeology, and history.”

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About JessicaC

Jessica is a Museum Specialist in the Archeology Program at the Northeast Museum Services Center/National Park Service. She majored in history as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Geneseo, and has a master's degree in historical archeology from the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She is particularly interested in 18th and 19th century American history and material culture.
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One Response to Youth in Archeology: Our Past, Present, and Future

  1. Pingback: NMSC: Our Best of 2016! | NMSC Archeology & Museum Blog

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