Despite the growth and success of feminist archaeology, women in archaeology still face issues not necessarily encountered by their male counterparts in the 21st Century. Legacies of past discrimination, particularly the perceived and/or actual demands of family life, have resulted in disproportionate fewer women working at research institutions in many disciplines, including archaeology. This disturbing trend has profound implications for not only the direction of current archaeological research, but also the training of future scholars.

This blog is a forum for advocating for women archaeologists so that we can move beyond legacies of inequity to a future that strengthens a feminine voice in archaeology and a feminist perspective. We contend that the very practice of archaeology is skewed towards a masculine and hierarchical perspective that excludes consensus building and “minority opinions” when interpreting the past. We argue that the feminine voice brings unique and necessary elements to the discipline of archaeology, through values such as mentoring and collaboration. We also clarify that a feminist perspective is not limited to any one gender, class, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Rather a feminist perspective is a radical point of view; one that recognizes that women’s success professionally and personally is integrally tied to larger socio-political movements dedicated to the eradication of homophobia, racism, and androcentrism.

Our hope is to solicit advice, perspectives, and experiences from all realms of the archaeological profession- including tenure-track and adjunct faculty, CRM professionals, and those not currently employed or underemployed. The ultimate goal of the blog is to shift the realities of power experienced in the daily lives of women archaeologists by discussing, inventing and offering solutions to the challenges of professional life.

Monday, July 29, 2013

New Venue

As the new academic year rapidly approaches, our blog is making the leap to a new blogging platform.  We are moving to Wordpress, which should hopefully facilitate greater discussion and comment on the blog.  I am learning how to use this new interface and hope you will bear with me during this transition.  

Future blog posts can be accessed at  I hope that you will join us and also contemplate contributing to the blog!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The status of women in Cultural Resources Management-some observations.

I recently read a fantastic account of how the archaeological career unfolded for one of my mentors.  The career of this individual meandered in many different atmospheres of archaeology, from typical undergraduate training, to working for the US federal government, before finally landing a tenure track position in the University system.  This account got me thinking about all of the opportunities and hardships this person faced as a growing archaeologist and how those experiences compared to mine.

I have been practicing archaeology since 2001, my first field school, and currently work in the realm of cultural resource management.  I am self-employed but am closely connected to a First Nations owned and operated archaeological consulting firm.  I chose archaeology as a career because I love to study history and how other people, or other cultures, go about living their daily lives.  My degree is in anthropology and I feel my approach to working with heritage resources reflects many of the philosophies associated with anthropology.  I did not chose this career because of capitalistic motives, although I recognized early on that one has to make a living doing something and there was a career to be had in consulting archaeology.  My parents were career government electricians, so an academic career was never even something I had dreamed of obtaining.  I simply wanted successful a career, (and a job,) just like my parents.  But I wanted a career that I liked doing, and I was determined to make the best of it in archaeology.

My first job was working for the USDA Forest Service in Eureka, Montana.  I was thrilled to have landed this job before I even had my BA in hand.  My boss was a career CRM archaeologist and turned out to be a fantastic mentor.  She told me, “Emily, all that stuff you learned in school, forget it.  The theory is great, but we have to teach you how to find sites, record them, do the paperwork and move on to the next project on budget.”  I thought, “OK, lets go.”  It seemed really cool at the time that I was going to get paid to hike through the bush in some of the most beautiful country in the US and look for remnants of human existence (both precontact and post contact).  I also thought it was great that I got to dabble in public archaeology-a necessary component to keep tax-payers interested in funding archaeology with their hard earned cash.  To me, this was the best job I had ever had.

By my second season, I started to realize that there was real opportunity for me to climb the ranks with the federal government, (especially being a woman).  But, I also realized that if I got too comfortable, my life would become too entangled to pursue a Master’s degree, which is something that can help a young archaeologist climb to the highest echelons in government work relatively quickly.  By the end of my second year in Montana, I applied to grad school at the University of British Columbia and was accepted.

I chose to specialize in lithic analysis as part of my graduate training.  I knew that lithics were everywhere across the globe and most of the artifacts I found working in Montana were of the stone variety (for precontact sites).  I did not choose lithics because I liked banging rocks together and cutting up dead animals.  I liked problem solving and I decided there was a real opportunity to put this artifact class to work gaining insight into past socio-economic and technological strategies.  I just had to learn how to do it. 

My big break came in 2008, when I got an opportunity to work on a lithic collection from a precontact village located in southwestern British Columbia.  The analysis of lithic tool assemblages from this project became my Master’s thesis.  The added bonus of this project was that it was part of a cultural resource management project.  This gave me much needed experience in consulting archaeology in British Columbia.  I thought this was my ticket to gaining respect with future colleagues and for obtaining gainful employment in the province. 

Interestingly, once the project was complete (which took about 2 years), my co-workers (mostly all women archaeologists) and I had to start exploring the world of consulting archaeology outside of our salvage project bubble.  We quickly learned about the good ol’ boys club and how there are certain expectations for how women archaeologists are to behave.  I personally received comments about my interest in lithics and how it is weird because it is usually men that want to learn about lithics.  I learned of female colleagues who were called ‘princesses’ in staff meetings with no recourse to the perpetrators.  A colleague in Montana relayed a story to me about how women archaeologists were systematically pushed out of a private company she briefly worked for.  I read a blog where a pregnant female archaeologist had to let her crew chief know of her pregnancy for health and safety reasons and was responded with, “I’ve never had to work with one of your types before.”  All of this took me off guard because my experience with the forest service was very positive and encouraging.  Before entering the world of private consulting archaeology, I thought that all of that sexism had either been quashed or had become very unusual.

To add insult to injury, I consistently witnessed male colleagues experiencing greater opportunities for mentorship with superiors while many women archaeologists struggled to gain respect through more traditional means such as demonstrating they are hard workers.  I’ve talked with many female colleagues who leave the industry after having children because the expectations and hours associated with the consulting industry are not conducive to daycare and school schedules-I struggle with this one myself.  I also have to acknowledge that not all of these situations are rooted in gender bias.  Consulting archaeology is conventionally rooted in the old school tradition of ‘cowboy’ archaeology.  Cowboy archaeology targets both men and women that are seen as ‘soft’. 

These observations and frustrations aside, I do feel that a new generation of archaeologists is emerging.  I have many male colleagues who are understanding and do their best to make necessary adjustments to keep valuable employees regardless of their sex, gender, or family situations.  It is not all negative, but there is room for improvement.  I feel lucky every day I am able to keep working in archaeology, look at rocks, ask questions about the past, and raise a family all at the same time.  I just hope that we as an industry continue to recognize the contributions that women make in this field and progress towards a culture of inclusion rather than one of every man for himself.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Relationship between Jobs, Curriculum, & Mentoring

When Dr. Jackson and I established this blog slightly over a year ago, one of our goals was to use it as a platform for finding better ways to mentor and prepare women for careers in archaeology. It is my belief that there are many factors that impede successful mentorship, most of which are beyond our individual control. However, it is important to identify and have an  honest discussion of these factors, if we ever hope to overcome them. Several recent and seemingly unrelated articles have come to my attention that all touch upon the importance of mentorship in some way. I will draw upon them here to help illustrate and highlight some of the ways that, in my view, we are sabotaging the success of our discipline.

There is a growing sense that many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences (and archaeology arguably straddles both worlds) are increasingly become irrelevant in the modern world. It is no secret that many universities are scaling back anthropology and archaeology departments in the United States and elsewhere. Often this occurs because universities seeking ways to streamline in the current economic climate are likely to cut those programs for which there is little perceived need or direct economic benefit. This has led some in the academy to question whether it is ethical to continue taking and training graduate students when there are simply not enough jobs for all of them. Some have suggested that a solution to this problem is to limit the number of students admitted to graduate programs.

In truth, I grapple with this issue every time I talk to my students about their education and career plans. As a recently minted Ph.D., my struggles to find fulltime and steady employment are still fresh and I talk to my students candidly about them. I do not, however, think that limiting opportunities for graduate education is the answer. No one goes to graduate school unaware of the immense costs involved and the potential difficulties of finding a job afterwards. If they do, then we are not doing our jobs as mentors. Cutting back on graduate opportunities will hamper the success of our undergraduate majors, since a graduate degree is necessary for just about every career pathway in our discipline. Such a strategy will also result in fewer undergraduate majors, which only feeds the cycle of decline as universities struggle to support costly programs with few students. Rather than cutting the number of graduate students, I advocate for a critical approach to graduate education and mentorship. We must carefully evaluate our graduate programs and ask the question: What type(s) of careers do we want to prepare our students for? To answer this question, we must examine what careers are experiencing growth and success.

The job market is, in reality, much more complex than we recognize. We have to research and understand this complexity if we are to effectively mentor our students and help them find the career options that best suite them. While academic jobs may be declining, there is some evidence that the decline is not as large as we perceive. The proportion of PhDs who work in the academy has always been small, and has only declined “a few percentage points in 20 years” across disciplines. In the social sciences, this drop has been only 0.4% from 1991 to 2011! In the last 20 years, however, only around 26% of PhDs in the social sciences end up working at universities.  Clearly, the bulk of our students are not going to follow us into the academy. The much more important question is what types of academic jobs are available? As discussed previously on this blog, tenure-track jobs are becoming more scarce as temporary adjunct positions are increasingly becoming the norm at many universities. This trend has real implications for the discipline, as pointed out in a previous post, because adjunct faculty experience unique challenges and difficulties that undermine higher education. This problem deserves attention and discussion, but this post is not the place. (I invite contributions to this blog that address this issue! Please contact us.)

I want to focus on heartening statistics that indicate that some types of jobs in archaeology are on the rise! The National Science Foundation tracks such statistics and projects an increase of 21% in anthropology and archaeology related jobs. This increase is greater than expected for the social sciences in general. Where are these positions? These jobs are primarily found in non-academic career tracks in archaeology, such as CRM. If this segment of our discipline is experiencing so much growth, then why isn’t the outlook of our discipline rosy? More importantly, why aren’t our students getting these jobs?

Part of the problem lies in the fact that because there are so many qualified individuals looking for jobs that there is substantial competition for jobs. Similarly, I would also argue that most undergraduate and graduate programs are not designed to prepare students for applied careers. I feel fortunate to be part of an initiative at my university to develop a unique interdisciplinary Master’s program that is focused on applied graduate training. This program is specifically designed to provide students with the credentials necessary for government and private sector jobs. I can already hear complaints that not all programs should be applied programs. And I would agree with this criticism. But, we also cannot assume that all of our students can or want to work in the academy.

Beyond the lack of applied-focused curriculum, I also think that there are cultural factors within the academy that may drive students away from applied careers. Primarily, we must acknowledge our own biases if we are to be better mentors and help our student pursue successful careers. Those of use working within the academy often push (often unintentionally) our students to follow the same career path. Of course we want our students to become our academic colleagues, because we love what we do. However, we have to acknowledge the career realities mentioned above. The biggest obstacle to overcoming this problem is the biases against so-called “applied” archaeology that have long plagued our discipline. Since the advent of CRM legislation in the 1960s, our discipline has been divided. Anecdotally, I have experienced prejudice towards my applied experience, even advised to hide it on my CV over concern that it was a liability in certain spheres. I’m sure that many of us who have worked in government or private sector jobs have similar experiences. One of the reasons that this division exists is because there is little interaction between the academic and applied areas of archaeology, although this has begun to break down in recent years with the success and prestige of the Register of Professional Archaeologists . The recent election of Jeffrey Altschul as president of the Society for American Archaeology may also help bridge the gap between the academic and applied worlds.

However, we cannot pretend that this divide does not exist. We must acknowledge that an applied career rarely carries the same level of prestige as an academic career. It is precisely this stereotype and bias that causes our students to steer away from applied careers. “We should not be surprised when students internalize our attitudes (implicit or explicit) and assume that the 'best' students will be professors and that for everyone else ... well, 'there's always public history.'” Ironically, “the people who feel most betrayed by the idea of "alternative careers" are the people closest to finishing their dissertations and going out on the academic job market”. This is clearly an issue of mentoring, coupled with a lack of recognition of the potential avenues and contributions of applied careers in undergraduate and graduate curriculum. If our discipline is to thrive in the future, we must recognize that the academic cannot exist without the applied, and vise versa.

After this brutally honest discussion, I’d like to end on a positive note. I do not believe that archaeology will become a thing of the past, as some forecast. Rather, as prominent stories of amazing archaeological discoveries flood the news and internet, archaeology will continue to be something that catches the imagination of the public. However, it is our responsibility to connect in real and concrete ways with the public, administrators, and policy makers, so that they can understand the value of archaeology beyond monetary measures. Savvy universities are realizing that archaeology has an important role in connecting institutions of higher education with the communities in which they are situated. It is up to those of us working in the academy to positively influence academic programs to illustrate the relevance and need of what we do to outsiders, as well as our students. In general, I am optimistic about our discipline’s future. But we must acknowledge present realities and enact real changes if we are to alleviate current and future suffering of those seeking to make a career in archaeology.
~Sarah Surface-Evans

Friday, January 11, 2013

Are we coming full circle?

Recently while reading Mary Ann Levine’s “Presenting the Past: A Review of Research on Women  in Archeology” (in Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, 5(1): 23 -36; 1994), I realized that my situation is not necessary so different from women of the first and second generations of Americanist archaeology, that is, of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. This is despite the fact that the article is 19 years old. While women in academic posts were rare, other career avenues became a way for them to practice in the field, including among others, museum and government positions such as the NPS, and independent research. Granted, such avenues held little of the prestige of academia, and that is still true today to a large extent I would argue. More important than prestige from my point of view is the much greater difficulty, though not to say impossibility, in procuring research funds as an independent scholar. No matter how much one is willing to do on a “volunteer” basis, there comes a point for those of us who are not independently wealth when some work (electron microscope analysis, x-ray fluorescence analysis, remote sensing) simply will not happen without funding.

These observations and experiences relate to what the writer shared in the August 23, 2012 post “Welcome Back to the Classroom!” In relation to that post as well as this one, I too, served my stint as an adjunct before re-entering CRM, which in turn has been hard hit and less than steady employment in these economic times. In addition, government positions, which I have also held in the past, are hotly sought after and as difficult to land in the current economic climate as academic positions. The situation runs the distinct danger, and I would argue is already there, of being that postulated by the economist Robert Reich in his book Aftershock in which he points out that in such an economy colleagues who otherwise serve as a support group for each other end up fighting for the scraps of employment that remain. While academic opportunities shrink, other public and private sectors offer some options but are not the fields of opportunity they once were as the opportunities there shrink, too. I point this out in the hope that we will actively support each other rather than look down on or feel at odds with those with whom we are in fact competing for any open positions.

Still, I continue to look for research opportunities and visit archaeological sites of interest to me and of value to my work. My recent trip to New Mexico led me to some “ghost towns” (some with more the ghost quality than others, which have simply become very, very small towns), including Hillsboro with the ruins of a late 19th c. jail, of interest to me as in extension of my jail research in Michigan. Such pursuits help keep me professionally and mentally alive, if not wage earning.
                                          Alexander and I in the Hillsboro, New Mexico jail.
                                          Hillsboro was located on a major 19th c. cattle trail.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Got Stress?

Thanks to a colleague of mine, this recent Forbes article was brought to my attention today. This article suggests that being a professor is the "least stressful job" of 2013! According to the author, "people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five." Ironically, I read this article while working on a Saturday afternoon (trying to squeeze in an hour or two of writing while my children nap). In my career as an archaeologist, I have also worked in the private sector and government, neither of which ever approached the sort of stress and long hours of my current academic position.

I took a few moments away from writing to share this article because I think it raises an important problem: most people do not understand what academics do. As anthropologists, we are especially susceptible to this mischaracterization because our discipline is seen as a highly esoteric pursuit. While it may not seem important that outsiders view academic life incorrectly, such wrong-headed perspectives can be damaging to our discipline and for higher education in general. For example, there is growing talk of providing financial dis-incentives for student interested in research-oriented and academic careers.

I also have to wonder where this perception of academic life comes from? Are WE (meaning academics) responsible for creating this myth? If so, then we should try to correct it.

Many academics posted comments in response to the Forbes article. A brief skim through the comments reveals several responses from people in anthropology/archaeology.

For example, Kathleen, wrote:

"If I were you I’d publish a retraction for this one. Few professors get paid for the summer, even though they spend it writing. My archaeology prof partner teaches every other summer–a field school in the desert, where she led crews of students in 110 degree daily heat for four weeks. The class takes her months to prep for, arranging housing, food, transportation in addition to the regular course planning. She’s had tenure for years, but still spends her (unpaid) breaks writing for publication in her field, grading, inventing and re-inventing her courses, and answering a wholly unreasonable amount of university-related email. She’s one of the most stressed out and hard-working people I know. We live in a small house in a big city, and she makes only slightly more than your listed average. How nice it must be to teach in one of those idyllic little low-cost college towns, but that’s not the reality for profs who teach in urban colleges and universities.
I myself work occasionally as an adjunct professor, and for the one class I’m teaching this quarter, I’m being paid 3K before taxes, total. For this, I will spend about 20 hours per week in class, office hours, grading, and preparing for class. I’m doing it because I love to teach, but when I was asked to do it, I almost said no. Why? Because it’s waaaaaaayyyyyyy too stressful for the money paid. Adjunct profs make a LOT less than tenured or tenure-track professors. Most make a living doing other things, and teach on the side.

So no. Being a university professor is rewarding, but it’s not at all low stress."

Anthroprof responded:

"Most faculty do NOT get paid over the summer – we are on nine-month contracts that are spread out over 12 months. So, 1) that is why academic professor salaries are lower than the private sector, and 2) faculty on a 9 month contract are under no obligation to do any work for their institution over the summer.

That of course is not the reality. My summers actually present a break from committee work and classroom time to engage in other responsibilities necessary for me to KEEP MY JOB. That is, writing research articles, monographs, and books, getting caught up in labwork/data collection, traveling to nearby libraries for research, or fieldwork, not to mention the endless grant applications to keep this activities funded (the university generally does not do this, we have to get external funds to support the research that the university expects us to do to keep our job). I also still am engaged in “teaching” activities – overseeing independent studies, supervising graduate thesis data collection, writing recommendation letters, preparing for the next year’s classes, mentoring and meeting with students as I normally would throughout the academic year.

What most people don’t realize that the contracts of most tenure-track and tenured professors stipulate how much time they need to spend on various activities – for instance, I must spend 40% of my time on teaching (which is not just lecturing in front of the classroom or grading papers, but also working with graduate students on thesis data collection, overseeing volunteers or independent study students in my lab, writing recommendation letters, etc.), 20% on service (academic committees, student advising, etc.) and 40% on research. So in reality, what people THINK professors do is actually a very small subset of what we ACTUALLY do.

The fact that we are not required to be in our offices from 9 to 5, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year does provide some wonderful flexibility. but I also put in 60-80 hours a week (that is a very accurate estimate, particularly if you are overseeing a lab) – and that includes being in my office well before 9, well after 5, on weekends, and during the summers, when I am not contractually obligated to do so, nor am I getting paid for my time."

Do you think that academic life is mischaracterized? How might this also contribute to the difficulties female scholars experience? Please share your experiences and thoughts.
~Sarah Surface-Evans

10 Jan, 2012: I am adding a link to another blog post responding to this article. The author, Audra, provides a lot of great information and some strong opinions. Also, this article by Anthropology professor Kate Clancy, does a wonderful job describing the changing nature of the academy and what she terms the "raw deal".