Robert Rohe returns to the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) behind the lens and a with a different view. Rohe spent nearly a decade working on the East St. Louis Mound project, and will be working in production and graphic design in the American Bottom Field Station documenting excavations at some of their sites for outreach and training purposes.
Robert recently answered some questions about his work, both past and present, what he wished more people knew about archaeology, and advice for those just starting in the field.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at ISAS?
I previously worked for ISAS during the East St. Louis Mound project for about 10 years. I assisted in various areas of analysis until eventually finishing my stint there working with a team researching, analyzing, and editing the historic report volume for the project. Currently, I’m working in production/graphic design for publications, as well as editing and historic research. I’ve been working with the American Bottom Field Station documenting excavations at some of their sites for outreach and training purposes.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I don't know that graphics and photography/videography is necessarily an "area of study," but it's what I find most interesting right now. At East St. Louis, I was permitted to do documentary photography. I’d been doing some outreach talks at local schools and there was this glamourous, hollywood idea of what archaeology was. What I wanted to capture at the site was an accurate portrayal of the work we were doing. As well, I’m interested in street photography and wanted to apply those skills to the excavation block.
This time around, I’m hoping to, again, illustrate the job as accurately as possible, but also hopefully dig deeper with video into methodology and the whys of what we do.
What tools are indispensable to your fieldwork?
A camera and a computer. For photography and processing, sure, but more so documentation, reference, data analysis, and data management.
What do you wish more people understood about archaeology, and specifically, historic resources and historic architecture?
Archaeology in general: Once something is dug up, it’s dug up. Meaning that if we didn’t do our work and things just got built, that history would be lost. In the same token, we have to be skilled at what we do and mindful of what we’re doing because we don’t get to call a do over on this pit once it’s out of the ground.
To historic resources specifically: Most of the resources we look at can be accessed by the general public. Sure, we pay for some specialty services; however, if you’re curious about the history of the home you live in, you could go to your local county courthouse or library or whatever institution is housing that information and research it. There are genealogical societies out there doing independent research with their own sections in some libraries. I hate the thought of gatekeeping information.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
If you have the opportunity, diversify. See how all the parts work together. Not only is the knowledge good to have for your own work, but being self-sufficient can be helpful when resources available for your use are limited. Wearing a few hats can be beneficial.