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Home arrow The ACHP Interview: Dr. Julia King, associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, expert member ACHP

The ACHP Interview:

Dr. Julia King, associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at St. Mary's College of Maryland, expert member ACHP

With the recent Society for Historical Archaeology conference concluded, and former chairman John Nau receiving an award, it is time to speak to the ACHP’s archaeologist council member Dr. Julia King about the profession and why its influence on the work of the ACHP is so strong. Dr. King provides great insight into the necessity for archaeology to be well represented on the makeup of the ACHP and how the subject influences much of the preservation profession.

ACHP: Dr. King, when did you first become familiar with the ACHP?
JK: Almost certainly as a graduate student, in the standard, “Introduction to Historic Preservation” and “Intro to CRM” courses. I remember studying all of the cultural resources laws and trying to keep them straight! I'm still trying to do that!

ACHP: When were you appointed as a council member?
JK: I was appointed to the ACHP in June 2003.  Just before the appointment, on April 1, April Fool’s Day, I received a voicemail from the White House asking me to please call them at my earliest convenience. What a surprise! And what an honor it has been to have served on the ACHP.

ACHP: The Archaeology Task Force—was it your idea? You certainly have made a mark with it. How do you come up with the tasks the committee will work on?
JK: The Archaeology Task Force was one of the most remarkable projects in which I have been involved.  It wasn’t my idea, but former ACHP Chairman John Nau’s idea, and it was long overdue. I think Chairman Nau had been hearing a lot from archaeologists that so much Section 106 work involves archaeology, and that archaeology issues could be better represented on the ACHP. He moved to make that happen shortly after his own appointment by asking the President to consider an archaeologist for one of the Expert Member slots.

The Task Force—which was formed in 2005 and concluded its work in 2009—focused on a set of issues that needed addressing. Perhaps the most critical of these issues was the development of the ACHP’s policy on the treatment of human remains, burial sites, and funerary objects. What an extraordinary effort that was, involving Pete Jemison (former ACHP Native American member), Agriculture, Defense, Interior, Transportation, NCSHPO, and NATHPO, all participants in the Task Force. The policy document we produced is, I strongly believe, an important and thoughtful document, one that recognizes the role of consultation in the decision making process. The Task Force wanted it to serve as a model, and I think they succeeded in that goal. Similarly, the policy on archaeology, education, and heritage tourism, for the first time, articulates certain critically important principles to consider in the Section 106 process for educating the public about the results of Section 106 archaeology.

Once the Task Force had completed its tasks, it was dissolved and Chairman Nau moved to create an archaeology subcommittee of the Federal Agency Program Committee. The purpose of the subcommittee is to consider archaeological issues and offer its recommendations about these issues to the larger FAP Committee. As my time winds down on the Council, I hope that a new member will take up the charge and raise the visibility of archaeology even higher under Chairman Donaldson’s leadership.

ACHP: Why in your opinion is it important to have an archaeologist on the ACHP?
JK: The archaeologists who approached Chairman Nau about greater archaeological representation on the Council are right—much of the work done under both Sections 106 and 110 involves archaeological resources.  Above-ground structures and features represent only a portion of our nation’s surviving cultural heritage. Just because it is seemingly hidden doesn’t mean it’s not as important or as inspiring as a house or monument. I think about the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, or the work done by my colleague Doug Scott at Little Big Horn. The archaeology of both places has led to dramatic reinterpretations of important events in American history. Both projects demonstrate that archaeology is about much more than artifacts, and a skilled archaeologist can “read” a site and its soil layers not just for the information it contains but the story the site can tell—stories that sometimes challenge old stories about what happened in the past. An archaeologist brings this perspective to the table.

ACHP: What can be done at the ACHP to further the impact of archaeology?
JK: Archaeologists recognize the important role the ACHP plays in the historic preservation field. The ACHP is uniquely positioned to educate preservationists who may not be archaeologists about the importance of archaeological resources. Similarly, the ACHP can play a role in educating archaeologists about preservation policy. I am often surprised, for example, about the confusion that exists out there about the role of the ACHP. The next step may be to create a dialogue about archaeology not just within the Council but between the Council and the practitioners –perhaps through the professional societies.

I am also excited by some preliminary conversations I have had with members of the Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA), and how ONAA can foster better collaboration between archaeologists and Native Americans in the Section 106 process. I think such an effort will dovetail with Chairman Donaldson’s agenda to address Native American issues. These are exciting times for archaeology and preservation.

ACHP: Do you feel enough people in the country know about the importance of archaeology when thinking about the preservation of the historic places that are special to them? How can we get the word out to the general public about archaeology’s importance?
JK: There can always be more done to publicize archaeology and its community and educational benefits, but I do think that, today, there is a far greater awareness of archaeology and its value than there was, say, even 10 years ago. I also think that, after decades of archaeological research in this country, we are at a point where databases are of a sufficient size that researchers are able to ask questions—big questions, the questions that count—about the past. These “big questions” aren’t just for archaeologists, either, but are about who we are as a people, as Americans and as members of diverse communities and governments (including tribal governments) that make up the nation.

ACHP: Are there certain conferences or events that you think the ACHP should participate in to raise the profile of the profession?
JK: The ACHP has been participating to a greater or lesser extent in archaeology conferences, from the Society for American Archaeology to the Society for Historical Archaeology and the American Cultural Resources Association. Indeed, I’ve attended these meetings many times on behalf of the ACHP. The ACHP has organized sessions, offered training courses, and invited feedback concerning the work of the Archaeology Task Force. While resources are always in short supply, participating in the archaeology conferences can provide a great forum to keep up with the discipline and a forum to educate archaeologists about the ACHP.

Updated February 16, 2011

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