For many students, field school is synonymous with adventure and immersive experiences. These courses typically offer intensive, hands-on learning that exposes participants to the work environment they might find themselves in post-degree while offering training in the basic skills needed to succeed there. For some, field school is a way to test the waters before fully committing to a particular career, while for others, it is simply an interesting alternative to classroom learning.
Traditional field schools are taught outdoors where the “learning material” is found, such as an archaeological site, geologic formation, or species habitat. But Tamira Brennan, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) section head of curation, saw a unique opportunity to teach a traditional, lab-based class on archaeological curation following the field school model.
Brennan proposed a field school in archaeological curation to the Institute for Field Archaeology (IFR), a not-for-profit devoted to providing high-quality, research-based field experiences to students from all over the world. Following the Society for American Archaeology’s urgent call for a curation curriculum, the IFR eagerly agreed to offer the first North American field school in curation this summer by partnering with Brennan, ISAS, and the Center for Archaeological Investigations (CAI) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where the work will take place.
Students spend four weeks working with collections of artifacts spanning the Paleoindian to early historic periods collected throughout southern Illinois in the mid-20th century. They complete the essential work of stabilizing and recording these artifacts to make them accessible to interested Native American tribes, researchers, and students. In the process, they learn to identify and care for various types of archaeological materials and documents, work with relational databases, discuss the ethics involved in every stage of collections, and visit some of the archaeological sites where these collections came from, as well as touring other institution’s collections.
The long-term goal in teaching curation is to expose students to the needs and opportunities that archaeology offers post-excavation while completing much-needed work on some of Illinois’ earliest and most important collections.