Local Archaeology vs. the National-Geographic-NSF-sexy funding grab

Mark Dawson’s April 2012 post “Why I Chose not to Get a PhD” post has been one of the more popular postings at Ethnography.com.   There is also a good comment stream at the end of the post with a number of “attaboys,” and “that’ll tell’em Mark!”  Such posts seem to appeal to the existential angst that afflicts anthropology in a world of budget cuts.


The most recent comments to the post are by Bill who has worked for the National Park Service and US Forest Service.  He writes of the drift of universities in his area away from the nuts and bolts of local heritage preservation.  He writes of the difficulties in getting graduate students (MA and PhD) to work with the wealth of data that has been collected, and the difficulty in getting the local anthropology departments to “throw” MA students at what the NPS and USFS need.  His words are more vigorous than mine:

Take my state [in the United States], our “main” land grant university anthro department just hired a small crew of archs that focus on early hominid sites in Africa, Europe and the Levant and they let the only local-focused arch professor retire w/out back-filling his position w/ another Precontact archaeologist w/ the same local emphasis. That’s reekin’ National-Geographic-NSF-sexy “funding grab” instead of doing what’s right. There has been a “local” arch-prof in that department for almost, if not over, a century and now that’s done. We have two state universities w/, I’d have to say rather “vibrant” CRM-based graduate degree programs w/ lot of local emphasis… but they’re all terminal MA programs. I went for an MA at the “big school” in a similar “terminal MA” CRM program but now there’s no real local emphasis anymore and they didn’t let us even do thesis work….


I would also add that this is not only a problem in Archaeology.  There are many local communities in the US which deserve an ethnographic, linguistic, or other study in the same way that local archaeological sites do–all four fields of anthropology are effected by the quest for NSF funding to study exotic locale.  This tendency translates into job descriptions when big name university when Anthropology Departments seek new Assistant Professor positions.   The logic seems to be, why hire a local grad student who has a family, and is studying the immigrant group down the road, or working for the forest service, when you can hire someone from Harvard who is studying left-handed Lithuanians? Or the social structure of lemurs in Polynesia?  You can always pull the local in with adjunct money, but there will never be another chance to get that Harvard student who might even pull in the big bucks from NSF/National Geographic!!!!

Bill wrote much more about the tribulations (and value) of local archaeology—I urge you to scroll down to the end of the post to see what he has to say.