The Many Hats of Directing an Archaeology Program

My name is James Newhard, and I am Director of the Archaeology Program at the College of Charleston (SC), a position which I have held since July of this year.  This is the second time that I’ve held this position (the first time, between 2005-2008).  In between my first and second term, I served as chair of the Department of Classics (2008-2010).

In my training, I held a focus early on in classical archaeology, earning degrees in classical languages and classical art and archaeology at the University of Missouri, before graduate work in classical and pre-classical archaeology at the University of Cincinnati.  Along the way, I also worked as a staff archaeologist at the CRM firm of Gray and Pape, Inc., and held a geoarchaeological fellowship at the Wiener Laboratory at the American School for Classical Studies in Athens.

The diversity of experiences has served me well in understanding the variety of archaeological approaches and methods in play in an active, multidisciplinary program.  Charleston, SC is a unique place in terms of archaeological activity, possessing in its environs evidence for Native American, Euro-American contact, colonial, ante-bellum plantation, and post-civil war systems of organization.

CofC students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC

College of Charleston students excavating at Hampton Plantation, SC. Photo courtesy of Dr. Barbara Borg

In addition, there are significant sites of military conflict in the area (American Revolution and Civil War). All of these activities and periods of history are found both on land and offshore.  Archaeological studies by faculty and other entities are constant in the area, providing local opportunities for student engagement that few other areas of North America can offer.  In addition to the local archaeological wealth, the College is home to scholars actively involved in the Mediterranean, Near East, eastern and western Europe, and Egypt.

As in many American universities, archaeology at the College of Charleston is an interdisciplinary program, pulling its coursework, faculty, and students from cognate programs.  As Director, my role is to coordinate and communicate the course offerings provided by the constituent programs (Anthropology, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Classics, Computer Science, Geology, History, Historic Preservation, and Mathematics) to faculty and students, receive and distribute information about internship opportunities and supervise their academic components; build community across the program via social media and events; engage with departmental chairs, program directors, and deans on academic programming to strengthen the program and cognate areas; promote the research and other activities of faculty and students; lead discussions among the program’s Steering Committee in regards to curriculum design and management; advise students; recruit new students; and in general to promote academic and research cooperation across the institution and with relevant local, state, federal, and private entities in the area.  In these activities, I am provided with some administrative assistance to facilitate communication with various stakeholders and maintain records useful for tracking the program’s progress and activities.

I still retain my appointment to the Department of Classics, where I teach typically in the areas of introductory Latin and classical archaeology (focused upon Aegean Prehistory and Classical Greece, landscape archaeology, and computer applications in classics and archaeology), and contribute to discussions of curriculum, program development and promotion, and the general academic community.

As a scholar in my own right, I am involved as the Assistant Director for the Avkat Archaeological Project in central Turkey and

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey

Fieldwalking in the Avkat region, central Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey.

Peter Bikoulis and Jim Newhard review in-field database systems on the Avkat Project, Turkey. Photo: AAP Archives

the Göksu Archaeological Project in the Taurus Mountains.  My interest in survey archaeology has turned my attention to the intersections of survey methodology, geospatial applications, and informatics.  I am currently designing the computing data systems for the study of the Linear B deposits from the Palace of Nestor and a number of other informatics and geospatial topics.  Currently in the analysis and publication phases for Avkat and Göksu, I am busy with processing these datasets, writing relevant sections of the publications, and managing ‘spinoff’ ideas that are an inevitable by-product of fieldwork.

Fortunately, these various roles tend to not happen all at once.  On the appointed ‘Day of Archaeology,’ my day was spent working in one of our GIS labs on campus, where we are developing methods to refine chronological and functional information derived from survey data.  Throughout the day, there was the scheduling of several meetings with students, faculty, and administrators for the week ahead; updating members of the archaeology staff on the development of a database to track internship opportunities; forwarding employment opportunities to Classics majors; reviewing abstracts for a professional conference; and communicating with collaborators on the progress of the publication for the Avkat project.  In the early afternoon, I briefly met with several students in geospatial informatics about the status of several ongoing research projects and how they may become engaged, and reviewed the efficacy of recently-obtained 3D visualization software.

Newhard, wearing a hat

Newhard, wearing a hat. Photo by permission of author.

As an academic archaeologist with administrative duties, one wears many hats.  As I work in the field of archaeology, I find that the skills and knowledge critical to most tasks are not the ones that were the subject of comprehensive and final exams.  Archaeology is as much a process of working with people as it is with the artifacts.  No day is the same, but in most cases, the day is full with any number of activities that engages the mind, other people, and our combined understanding of the past and its applications to our present condition.

A Lego Colosseum and Other Stories

I am a Classical Archaeologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, and work as the Manager of Education and Public Programs at the Nicholson Museum, Australia’s largest collection of Old World archaeological material.  So my ‘Day of Archaeology 2012’ is spent like most others – trying to balance between museum education and archaeological research on the project I am working: excavations of a Hellenistic-Roman period theatre site in Paphos in Cyprus.


So you want to be a Roman bioarchaeologist…

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wanted to dig up the bones of dead Romans for as long as you can remember.  (Well, except for that brief period where I wanted to dig up dinosaurs and the even briefer one where I thought I might become a mathematician.)  But if you live in the southern U.S. like I do, you’re certainly not discovering Roman skeletons in your garden all the time.  What does a Roman bioarchaeologist do every day?  Generally, teach, research, and talk to colleagues and the public about teaching and research.

Osteology Field Lecture

Sometimes I get to teach osteology in the field (Tuscany, Summer 2004)

Teaching.  The great thing about the American incarnation of the discipline of anthropology – something I didn’t honestly learn until graduate school – is that it’s what we call four-field: it combines archaeological, biological, cultural, and linguistic approaches to understanding humankind, past and present.  As a university professor, it means that, in a given semester, I teach undergraduates about genetics, monkeys, and cultural relativism more often than I talk about my own research projects on the ancient Romans.  But the amazingly diverse subject matter of my typical Introduction to Anthropology course also means that I can draw from almost any topic in the week’s news to illustrate my lectures and to foster discussion: How does the hubbub over the “gay caveman” from the Czech Republic reflect our preconceived notions about sexuality?  Why does anyone care if Shakespeare – or any Elizabethan Brit – smoked pot?  Who polices American gender norms, telling us that little boys can’t paint their toenails pink and little girls shouldn’t pretend to nurse their dolls?  In teaching students about anthropology, I try to teach them to question the ideas we take for granted and to critique the categories that we often think of as inherent and immutable, to let them see that every culture has its own rules and is a product of its own time.

Roman Woman with Healed Broken Nose

Roman Woman with Healed Broken Nose

Research.  I’m not going to lie – fieldwork is the best part of my job.  Who wouldn’t like digging up dead Romans by day and eating pizza in the shadow of the Colosseum by night?  While teaching gives me the thrill of watching students who have never been exposed to anthropology realize they love it, holding the bones of someone long-dead and reading their biography from their bodies still gives me chills.  After two millennia, the Romans introduce themselves to me, telling me where they were born, showing me their scars, and complaining about their arthritic knees.  It can be hard to listen to the woman with a fractured nose (a victim of domestic violence?) and especially to the babies who didn’t have a chance to grow up because of a simple lack of antibiotics and multivitamins.  And yet, as the field of bioarchaeology has advanced and incorporated the techniques of chemical analysis, my research on the ancient Romans has gone beyond the wildest dreams of my 12-year-old self.  I’ve gotten to identify immigrants to Rome and to investigate their lives in the largest urban center of its time, a topic the historical sources rarely discuss.  I’ve gotten to find out what the average Roman ate, and to see that their childhood diet was actually quite different from what they ate as adults.  And I’ve gotten to work with an array of amazing international archaeologists and anthropologists along the way.

Outreach.  The final piece of my job is not mandatory but is becoming increasingly common.  In his keynote address at the American Anthropological Association meeting last fall, the archaeologist Jeremy Sabloff pointed out that there are no academics representing the face of anthropology.  We no longer have a Margaret Mead or a Franz Boas. Moving the discipline forward in the digital age, he said, means that it’s going to be “public or perish.”  So why be content with the few dozen people who will read your dissertation?  Being an academic today is about putting yourself out there as an expert, being the face of some topic, the person who can explain the importance of an anthropological concept to students and the public.  I have tried to take up this challenge with my own blog, which I envision as a public form of the informal communication that I have all the time with my colleagues.  Through blogging, I have started discussions with people in my field, in other academic disciplines, and outside of the academy completely.  It’s also been useful as a way for me to work through my plot bunnies (or academic otters), those nagging ideas that may not be fully formed but need to get out so that I can focus on one thing at a time.  Fortunately, other academics are also choosing this route to public engagement, and projects like Day of Archaeology allow us to contribute to a broader discussion of what the discipline means and how best to show others our enthusiasm for it.

It’s certainly not easy being a bioarchaeologist in academia, juggling several facets of our work on a daily basis and multitasking like mad.  But the rewards are fantastic: not just flying around the world to excavate in exotic locales, but watching students have “a-ha” moments after a heated discussion about evolution, and explaining to the public why we anthropologists don’t single out the privileged few who “shaped” society while ignoring the millions of others who actually made that society function.

I may not be a dinosaur-mathematician, but I’ve discovered that my childhood dream of studying the dead could come true with a little hard work.   I will continue to define myself broadly as an anthropologist and narrowly as a Roman bioarchaeologist for as long as I can.

 Kristina Killgrove currently teaches anthropology at Vanderbilt University, researches the Romans at Gabii, and interacts with the public through her blog (Powered by Osteons) and her Twitter feed (@BoneGirlPhD).