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Applied Experiences in Teaching Anthropology by Katherine Erdman

Recently, I have come to realize that I am most motivated by research which has a direct impact in the community. This was something lacking in my doctoral studies as I explored a challenging, but isolated topic benefiting my own interests. I wanted to return to the community-focused values of my childhood, but on a larger, more impactful scale. After earning my Ph.D., I shifted my concentration to public archaeology where I focus on how to get people excited about archaeology and heritage in ways that are accessible and age-appropriate. I explored this in an edited volume called "Public Engagement and Education: Developing and Fostering Stewardship for an Archaeological Future" (2019), and developed various educational opportunities for different communities.

Heritage is a global matter, one that is changing and becoming more inclusive. It is no longer an isolated matter worked out by museums and governments, but rather, one which involves voices from multiple stakeholders who have a say in what elements of heritage are important to them. Learning how to bring together diverse voices and make heritage meaningful to the public is key to its protection and preservation. This is the primary focus of a new course I am offering this summer, Applied Public Heritage. The course incorporates a new interdisciplinary research project I am working on with colleagues from NU and Karaganda State University titled, "Central Asia’s Gulag: Mapping and Managing Penal Heritage in Kazakhstan." For the first part of the course, students will spend 3 weeks in the Karaganda region participating in an archaeological survey of a prison camp within the Karlag system where they will learn how to document and make maps of buildings in an effort to preserve them for the future.

Archaeological survey is visible and curious work for those observing the process. During our time in the village, students will talk to members of the local community about what we are doing and learn which aspects of this heritage are important to them, and we will also visit a local school to share what archaeology is, and why preserving local heritage is important. While it can be hard for some to revisit traumatic periods in history, such as this, archaeology and preservation of physical spaces from the past can give a voice to those who cannot tell their own stories.

Applied Experiences in Teaching Anthropology by Katherine Erdman

During the second part of the course, students will assist with supervising PASTs (Promoting Archaeological Sciences to Students), an archaeology camp I developed last summer with the Anthropology Lab coordinator, Madina Makulbekova. We introduce local children to fundamental concepts in archaeology and they excavate at our Outdoor Anthropology Laboratory with real archaeologists. Student supervisors work with the children and learn additional techniques for communicating and teaching archaeology in a more hands-on way.

By working with diverse communities in different settings, NU students will build stronger communication skills—how to talk about recent history and archaeological heritage, but also how to listen to the voices of others—and receive real-time feedback about what works and what does not. Applied experiences like this will prepare them to make heritage meaningful to others and create a more inclusive future where people have a say in how their values are preserved and communicated within the community and beyond.

PASTs 2023 participants excavating and mapping at the Outdoor Anthropology Lab.