AAIA Classical Archaeology Seminar
James L. Flexner | Sydney
What if it’s all just archaeology? Generalists, specialists, & the stories we tell about training students for the field
Many Australian students come to university with a sense of archaeology as a signifier for distant times and places. In part, this is an artefact of the secondary schools’ curriculum, where exposure to archaeology is part of a Eurocentric approach to ancient history focused on the civilisations of Greece and Rome. Whatever the cause, students often come to us with an implicit expectation of travel to distant locations to explore the ruins of exotic societies. Exposure to the archaeology that lies under foot directly within the everyday environment is less common. Yet there is a long history of Australian students training locally before taking their skills overseas. Furthermore, the largest current employer of archaeologists in New South Wales is in the consulting industry, where historical archaeology is arguably the most prominent discipline.
From 2016-2021 a series of field schools run by the University of Sydney and collaborators trained over 200 students from at least five different universities in archaeological methods on colonial sites in Tasmania and New South Wales. While some of the training was specific to the time period and materials to hand, much of what was offered provided students with broad-based training in field methods that can be adapted around the world. These experiences provide fodder to ruminate over some broader conversations in archaeology about what (and who) we are training our students for, how specialised an undergraduate education can or should be, and what our students might actually want out of an archaeology degree.
James L. Flexner is Senior Lecturer in Historical Archaeology and Heritage at the University of Sydney. In July 2022 he begins an ARC Future Fellowship on the topic of ‘Archaeologies of community and colonialism in Oceania’. He has done extensive fieldwork in Hawaii, Vanuatu, and Australia. His next project focuses on the Gambier Archipelago in French Polynesia. His most recent book, Oceania, 800-1800CE, was published in the Cambridge University Press Elements Global Middle Ages series.
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