By Kirsten Hawley, ACUA Graduate Student Associate Member
Each year, ACUA Graduate Student Associates (GSAs) organize a panel at the SHA conference to explore different topics, especially those relevant to up-and-coming underwater archaeologists. Previous topics explored include mentorship, job searching, university programs, publishing, and public archaeology. During the 2020 SHA Conference in Boston, ACUA GSAs hosted a panel discussing women and people of color in underwater archaeology—see Aleck Tan’s blog post from last year to read more about it! One of the main topics that came up during this panel was the issue of accessibility—how can we bring underwater archaeology to a diverse audience? When discussing ideas for a panel at the 2021 conference, fellow GSA Aleck Tan and I decided to focus in on this issue, which was rapidly becoming more important as the COVID-19 pandemic set in and many underwater cultural heritage specialists were tackling issues of public outreach and engagement without in-person events. We invited underwater archaeologists from a variety of backgrounds to discuss and compare methods of virtual outreach and education, future initiatives, and ways to engage diverse audiences through these digital means. Our panelists were Denise Jaffke (California State Parks), Stephanie Gandulla (NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary), Dominique Rissolo (University of California San Diego), and Nicole Grinnan (Florida Public Archaeology Network). See the links at the end of the post to explore their work!
This was the first experience that Aleck or I had in organizing a digital panel, so it was a bit of a struggle getting started! Once we chose a topic to focus on, we spent time looking at digital outreach initiatives from a variety of institutions in order to write questions and reach out to potential panelists. One positive thing about the virtual format is that it doesn’t require travel, so we didn’t have to consider distance when pitching the idea to potential panelists. We invited panelists from a variety of backgrounds and institutions in order to ensure that we would have a wide range of viewpoints on the panel. While this is important for any panel, it’s something we paid extra attention to because we didn’t want the conversation to be monotonous. After being in digital classes and meetings for close to a year, Aleck and I knew that it was more difficult to get discussion flowing, pick up on conversational queues, and to keep the audience’s attention in a virtual setting than with an in-person event. Another way that we prepared for this was by having more questions than we expected to need. This allowed us to be flexible and lead the conversation in a way that kept the audience engaged, as well as gave us plenty of material to bring up when the conversation was stalled. Luckily, our panelists had lots to say and our audience stayed engaged via the chat function. Overall, we felt that the panel was a success and we learned a lot during our conversation!
Panelists discussed a variety of virtual methods that they have found to be successful in engaging audiences, including live lectures and video content on various social media platforms, accessible 3D models of artifacts and sites, educational initiatives with public schools, and citizen science opportunities. It was exciting to see all of the different ways that archaeologists are making underwater archaeology accessible, from classroom conversations and video lectures to video games and virtual reality! There were several challenges that came up in the conversation, especially when transitioning to entirely virtual outreach as many organizations have during the pandemic. These challenges include understanding how social media algorithms impact engagement and receiving consistent feedback on content. Everyone agreed that they were looking forward to being able to do outreach in-person again but expressed that they would continue to invest in digital methods as well.
As organizations have built up their online outreach content, some have noticed a shift in the demographics of participants. In general, moving online has broadened their audiences and engaged younger demographics. However, some populations do not have reliable internet access or a large presence on social media sites; panelists encouraged using local public radio and television and not rely solely on internet platforms. By engaging with people to connect them with the sites and stories that they love, we can build stewardship among communities. This can take a variety of forms, but our panelists show that with a little bit of creativity, virtual outreach can be successful and an important way to provide archaeological outreach and education.
When asked about what lessons they had learned while building virtual outreach initiatives, we discussed the importance of being explicit about the intent and goals of the project. For example, when building a representation of an underwater archaeological site such as a 3D model or a site plan, it is important to be transparent about whether the goal is to produce a visually pleasing and easy to read product, or representing the site as accurately as possible. We also talked about taking advantage of online tutorials, training, and interpretive materials that already exist—don’t make it harder than it has to be!
One major point in the discussion was the importance of collaborations among institutions. All of our panelists agreed that their most effective initiatives involved collaborations of some kind. Collaborations are crucial to provide multiple routes of engagement and allow archaeologists from different backgrounds and with different skillsets to play to their strengths. The most successful outreach programs engage the community and provide tangible ways for participants to interact with submerged cultural heritage in a meaningful way. Public outreach should be a priority among all institutions involved in underwater archaeology and should focus on accessibility in order to draw in diverse audiences and connect them to submerged heritage.
See below for links to our panelists’ work!
Denise Jaffke: https://www.ports-ca.us/
Stephanie Gandulla: https://thunderbay.noaa.gov and https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/jan21/thunder-bay-international-film-festival.html
Dominique Rissolo: http://bermuda100.ucsd.edu/ ; https://chei.ucsd.edu/hoyo-negro/ ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIK5STwgNd4
Nicole Grinnan: https://www.flpublicarchaeology.org/
Categorised in: Deep Thoughts