Guest Post: Monks for the Masses

The following guest post is written by Alexis Jackson, a graduate student at Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture department.

Monks for the Masses: Why I Decided to Crowdfund

You can find my project, “Of Monks and Men” at https://experiment.com/projects/of-monks-and-men-how-medieval-construction-brought-monasteries-and-lay-communities-together.

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The Problem of Funding

In any field, one of the major challenges of graduate school (and, I believe, academic careers more generally) is finding funding for our research. Even in the most generous Ph.D. programs, reasonable funding for the summer months is limited. The problem is exacerbated for archaeologists, who are expected to travel and participate in costly excavations during the summer, often with considerably less support from universities than during the academic year. Yes, there is competitive funding available from a variety of sources, including the much-maligned NSF as well as smaller and more specific grants.

However, the majority of grants (especially those involving larger sums of money) require applications to be ABD (i.e. to be working on a dissertation project). For those in the first few years of their programs, this creates a problematic catch-22: need money to travel and research to develop a viable project, cannot apply for money without said project. Experiment.com, the scientific crowdfunding site that is hosting my project, calls these “edge cases”: situations where traditional funding structures fall short. Crowdfunding gives researchers to do two things at once: generate reasonable funding to move their research projects forward and find new ways to communicate to the public about the value of archaeology and to interest them in “real” archaeological projects.

Public Outreach and Shared Investment

How much does the public care about archaeology? The public perception of archaeology lies somewhere between the ivory tower and Indiana Jones. Public outreach is undoubtedly important, but the tone of public interaction and the form outreach takes is under hot debate: we want to spark people’s interest in history and the experiences of historical (and pre-historic) people without waving “treasure” around, as archaeologist April Beisaw argues. On one hand, we are trying to make archaeology more approachable. There is an increasing push toward open access research, which should grant a greater number of people (researchers and the public alike) access to academic publications. There are other movements among archaeologists to improve the quality of public writing about archaeology.

There are excellent websites, pages, blogs, Tumblrs, and Twitters run by archaeologists (as well as heritage groups, museums, and professional organizations) which reach out to the public. Although most crowdfunding sites, like the popular Kickstarter.com, focus on the product (“give us money and we will give you something in return”), newer academic crowdfunding websites shift the focus onto the process of research. This shift works hand-in-hand with what researchers are trying to do with the public image of archaeology: move away from splashy headlines about mysterious treasure and the rusticating corpses of long-lost kings and move toward an interest in the genuine value of archaeological research.

It is my hope that crowdfunding my project will both help me to reach a varied “crowd” that includes and interests members of the non-academic public, and that it encourages people to invest themselves literally and figuratively in the production of new archaeological knowledge.

Alexis Jackson studies the architecture and archaeology of medieval monasteries. She received her B.A. with honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012, where she studied European History, Art History, and Classical Studies. In 2011, she participated in the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project, which inspired her interest in landscape archaeology. In 2013, she excavated with the University of L’Aquila at the site of Amiternum, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Alexis’ research interests include the study of how hospitals and monastic outbuildings relate to the greater (physical and social) monastic landscape in the Middle Ages. As an S4 Fellow with Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences at Brown, she is also interested in employing GIS applications for mapping social networks that include people, places, buildings, and objects as active participants.

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International Archaeology Day and Young Archaeologists’ Day 2013 Recap

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This past Saturday, the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World at Brown University opened its doors in celebration of International Archaeology Day.  AIA Narragansett organized a range of events and activities, including a stratigraphy station; an artifact lab featuring pottery, coins, glass, and figures; and a bone lab with human and animal skeletons. We also welcomed young archaeologists in grades 7-12 (and some much younger!) for Young Archaeologists’ Day. Outside, the Archaeology of College Hill class was excavating the home of Brown’s first president and accepting volunteers; we also set up an area where visitors could take part in reconstructing the footprint of ancient homes.  And of course, the Haffenreffer Museum also had a full day of events.

Here are some of our favorite photos from the day.

Stratigraphy

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Graduate students Alba and Lexi prepare the stratigraphy station-an essential first stop for understanding archaeology!

Artifact Lab

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Postdoctoral fellow and AIA Narragansett co-president Fotini shows pottery to a young archaeologist.
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Graduate student Emily is preparing to handle some Ancient Egyptian figurines.

 

Bone Lab

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Postdoctoral fellow and AIA Narragansett co-president Suzanne and undergraduate senior Simon show animal bones to visitors.
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Graduate students Alyce and Fernando talk human osteology.

Archaeology of College Hill

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Students and volunteers dig the Archaeology of College Hill!

Of course, none of the great activities above would have been possible without the help of our volunteers-who came from the departments in Archaeology, Anthropology, History of Art, Classics, and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies. If you attended and enjoyed the day and would like to be notified of future upcoming events, please consider supporting your local AIA chapter by joining the AIA and selecting “AIA Narragansett“.

Thanks for a great day everyone-hope to see you next year!

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