THEJ FORUM: A Conversation on Heritage, Archaeology, and Education in the United States

Eleanor M. King,[1] A. Gwynn Henderson,[2] and Jeanne M. Moe[3]

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This article initiates The Heritage Education Journal (THEJ) Forum – an occasional feature that considers heritage education topics central to the journal’s focus. THEJ Forums provide a place for heritage educators to engage collectively in productive discussions about issues of common concern, be they theoretical, processual, pedagogical, or anything else heritage educators want to discuss. Forums do not offer analyses of contemporary thought, critiques of relevant writings, or statements of a particular position. Their purpose is not to solve a problem, but to consider a topic from many points of view.

THEJ Forums begin with a question(s)/topics(s) of concern or interest to the readership and then invite heritage practitioners to weigh in from their own unique perspectives. In this, the inaugural forum, participants explored the complex relationship of heritage and heritage education to archaeology and archaeology education. They considered the challenges facing 21st century heritage educators today and presented potential approaches to meeting those challenges. This forum considers these issues within the context of American archaeology.

Three questions provided this forum’s framework:

  1. What is “heritage” in the U.S.? How does heritage relate to archaeology?
  2. What is heritage education? How does heritage education relate to archaeology education in the U.S.?
  3. What are the greatest challenges facing heritage/archaeology education in the U.S. today? What approaches have been successful in addressing past challenges and what new approaches might address them?       

The three of us—archaeologists long steeped in public outreach and archaeology education—posed the forum questions to ourselves and answered them individually. Then, we compared our answers. We found, unsurprisingly, that we agreed on most points. The only exceptions were when one of us brought up an angle that the others had not considered. We then merged our separate answers into a single, essentialized response to each question.

Next, we sent our responses to ten commentators, whom we selected for their experience, specialties, and career stage (early, middle, late). The commentators returned a written response to the questions and to our essentialized responses. We then shared the piece that had all the essays with the commentators, offering each the opportunity to revise/change/add to their initial essay.

The result is before you: our work, followed by the reactions from our ten commentators, and a brief epilogue that summarizes the themes that emerged. We hope this forum succeeds in laying a foundation for a productive and ongoing discussion about a very important topic and we encourage others to submit future forum ideas on important topics about heritage education in the U.S. and across the globe (to do so, see the information at end of the Epilogue).


What is “heritage” in the U.S.? How does heritage relate to archaeology?

The word “heritage” derives from the Old French héritage (ca. CE 1200), which in turn comes from Latin words meaning “heir” or “inheritance” (Online Etymological Dictionary). In modern French, the term still carries the connotation of patrimony or inheritance.

In the United States, “heritage” has become an umbrella term for a wide range of tangible and intangible elements of culture, society, and ancestry, and family, local, regional, and national identity. The term is so broad, it can be difficult to define and use in research and interpretation. More precise terms would be valuable but seem to be elusive.

Heritage links to concepts such as “tradition” and “memory.” In essence, heritage is the individual and collective stories we tell about ourselves—who we are and where we come from (King 2019; King and Epstein 2015), because “[t]o know who you are, you need to know who you were” (Chilton 2013, cited in King 2019).

Because the term connotes not just aspects of the past and present, but also implies retention for future generations, “heritage” also automatically includes the idea of preservation. This is the sense in which the term is often used in American documents aimed at protecting heritage, such as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA 1966).

One way to make sense of “heritage” is to focus on an important thread running throughout its various iterations: identity. Identities, however, are fluid, multi-vocal, and contested. They are also entangled in issues of power (Chilton 2013; Shackel 2019, cited in King 2019). Whose story are we telling? Whose past, whose heritage are we prioritizing and preserving?

In the U.S., it is often national identity that is associated with heritage – the NHPA, for instance, refers to heritage at least twice as that of the “Nation.” American national heritage is conventionally associated with the thoughts and actions of people of European descent, and there is a tendency for heritage to be linked at times with nationalism (Winter 2015). Americans privilege European legacies over those of others—for example, the peoples who lived in North America before Europeans. Americans also tend to trust written history over oral history. The pre-collegiate curriculum emphasizes this point, as the “history” of the U.S. begins with its recording by Europeans and does not include prior and contemporary oral narratives by Native Americans, African Americans, and others. Because of this Eurocentric view of America’s past, of American “heritage,” Indigenous people, people of color, and scholar activists may object to the term.

Archaeology, in contrast to heritage, is a distinct field with unique interests, approaches, and techniques, although it can be considered part of the larger heritage picture. In the Western Hemisphere, archaeology is a subfield of anthropology. Anthropology originally aimed to document all aspects of the “other,” that is, the many different cultural groups Europeans encountered as they colonized the globe, from these groups’ languages to their cultures to their physical appearances to their past. From a scholarly European-American point of view, archaeology was particularly important in the Western Hemisphere, where oral traditions predominated and there was little written history. Archaeology became a way of documenting the undocumented.

While this “othering” perspective has not completely left archaeology, over time the subfield’s task has been re-thought and reinterpreted. Because more than 98% of all human experience was never written down, archaeology has become a way to flesh out our picture of the past, giving voice to the “voiceless,” by documenting and preserving their stories, i.e., their heritage. This is especially true for peoples whose lives were never recorded, either because writing had not been invented or because they are absent from or poorly represented in historical documents.

The landscape in which archaeology operates has changed lately, as the concept of heritage has expanded across multiple disciplines. Archaeology’s mission remains the same and its practitioners continue to self-describe as archaeologists rather than as heritage specialists, but their work takes place now within a larger, interdisciplinary context. In that light, archaeology can be viewed as the heritage discipline that focuses primarily on the tangible aspects of our common past and what they can tell us about the intangible, thereby helping to tell heretofore untold stories.

What is heritage education? How does heritage education relate to archaeology education in the U.S.?

Heritage education in the United States is how citizens learn, both informally and formally, about the American past. Heritage education includes what citizens are taught (i.e., what is valued that they should learn) as well as how they are taught.

Heritage education in America is delivered informally to audiences at museums and other institutions and venues across the nation; however, there is no formal U.S. national heritage curriculum for heritage education. There are no heritage academic standards for primary and secondary schools, as there are for subjects like English, fine arts, mathematics, physical education and health, science, and social studies (Education World 2021). Only a handful of U.S. higher education institutions offer formal courses in heritage as a discipline—unlike in other countries, like Great Britain, for example. Nevertheless, heritage courses are offered in U.S. colleges and universities, and aspects of heritage are discussed in history, geography, and archaeology classes.

In America’s primary and secondary schools, heritage education enhances the subjects of history and geography, but it is not taught separately from them. Heritage is part of the social studies and is defined as “…an approach to teaching and learning about history and culture that uses information available from the material culture and the human and built environments as primary instructional resources” [i.e., tangible materials—emphasis added] (Hunter 1988).

Heritage education also embraces the intangible, such as oral history, music, and foodways. Hunter (1988) goes on to say that the heritage education approach is,

“intended to strengthen students’ understanding of concepts and principles about history and culture and to enrich their appreciation for the artistic achievements, technological genius, and social and economic contributions of men and women from diverse groups. Heritage education nourishes a sense of continuity and connectedness with our historical and cultural experience; encourages citizens to consider their historical and cultural experiences in planning for the future; and fosters stewardship towards the legacies of our local, regional, and national heritage [emphases added].”

“Heritage education” and “archaeology education” are not interchangeable. Archaeology education in formal educational contexts is modeled on authentic archaeological practice and interpretation derived from the discipline of archaeology and scientific inquiry. It sits squarely at the junction of history, geography, and science, enabling teachers to integrate multiple school subjects seamlessly.

Archaeology education in the U.S. has traditionally focused on the archaeological study of Indigenous peoples and other historically underrepresented groups. Including living descendants in archaeology education helps teachers broaden the reach and depth of American history, particularly for children in grades K-12, showing the vital contributions that diverse ancestral and historic North American cultures have made and continue to make.

The mission of archaeologists is still to discover, record, and protect the past. And while the concept of “heritage” is not needed for archaeology educators to function, by explicitly using “heritage” as a concept, practitioners can work within a larger, interdisciplinary context, should they wish to. The consideration of “heritage” prompts archaeology educators to raise questions about who owns the past, whose heritage gets to be taught, and who gets to teach it and interpret it (King 2019; Smith et al. 2010, cited in King 2019).

What are the greatest challenges facing heritage/archaeology education in the U.S. today? What approaches have been successful in addressing past challenges and what new approaches might address them?

Heritage/archaeology education in the U.S. today faces three major challenges. They are 1) a lack of understanding of the relevance of archaeology; 2) a lack of comprehensive research into best practices in heritage/archaeology education; and 3) a lack of professional development and materials distribution.

Lack of Relevance

Archaeology education suffers from the public misunderstandings that plague archaeology in general. Most people think archaeology is “cool,” but only marginally relevant to their everyday lives and unimportant to their own identities. Thanks to Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, two contemporary fictional characters, archaeology is seen as a self-indulgent pastime for people able to afford the adventure. It is always about someone else, someplace else, sometime else.

One part of the problem is that archaeology practitioners and educators are currently not ethnically diverse. If people cannot see themselves represented in the discipline, they may not find it a subject interesting or important enough to teach their children (King 2019).

Another part of the problem is linked to the fact that the Eurocentric view of the past taught in American schools is not connected to the archaeology of the U.S., which is largely about non-Europeans, though it often still reflects Eurocentric views. In other countries, such as Great Britain, past and present are not separated by the jagged scar of conquest, and archaeology is regularly taught as part of the pre-collegiate history curriculum (King 2016). In K-12 classrooms in the U.S., archaeology is most often mentioned only in relation to “civilizations” in Egypt, Mesopotamia, or Greece.

Archaeology is usually seen as “enrichment” and not as an important way to know about the past, understand the present, and plan for the future. Not only do people not value archaeology, but also promising efforts have been stymied by government policy. In the 1990s, teachers could use archaeology creatively as a theme to teach across different academic subjects. But in 2001, the No Child Left Behind legislation shifted instruction to mathematics and reading, leaving little time for social studies or science (Dee and Jacobs 2011). While the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (NGA 2010) allow for the inclusion of archaeological inquiry and non-fiction reading across all subjects, the Standards have not been well implemented in most states. Archaeology education could be used to meet many of the Standards, but most teachers do not know that archaeology is an option, nor do they know how to use it.

Lack of Research

One of the greatest challenges facing heritage/archaeology education is a lack of robust formal research, assessment, and evaluation regarding effective, best practice programming and materials. Despite some solid advances, practitioners (classroom teachers and informal educators) do not have a wide literature base identifying what works best and why, or what exactly people are learning. Furthermore, heritage and archaeology education do not have formally identified learning goals and expectations, and therefore practitioners do not know how to identify or measure success (Franklin et al. 2008). In informal education contexts, archaeology and heritage education efforts are scattershot. They do not benefit from a national plan or from clear benchmarks for learning (Franklin et al. 2008).

As detailed above, the goals of heritage/archaeology education are broader than educating people to value, protect, and preserve archaeological and historical sites. Success cannot be measured simply by how many people become active preservationists or site stewards.

Lack of Professional Development and Distribution

The United States is the third most populous nation in the world. Despite our relative wealth, reaching all U.S. citizens with high-quality heritage education is still a daunting task. Other challenges include the lack of training available to non-archaeologists to deliver materials and information, and a dearth of archaeologists developing materials. A lack of collaboration between archaeologists and professionals who do this kind of research and materials development for a living also adds to the problem.


Archaeology educators have long understood that they must mesh with the American educational system (e.g., Smith et al. 1992). After more than 30 years of developing and distributing archaeology education materials and assessing their effectiveness, we have made some clear progress from an educational standpoint. Many archaeology educators have partnered directly with classroom teachers to develop programming that can be folded into specific grades and specific local curricula. Project Archaeology, a national education program (, is finding ways to use archaeology to teach to the CCSS in English, math, science, and social studies. Lessons tailored to geographical regions and multiple grade levels serve varied school audiences across the country. Similar efforts have focused on archaeology abroad. Archaeology in the Community (AITC) and the American Society of Research Overseas (ASOR) recently worked with area specialists from the Hansberry Society, the Office of Resources for International and Area Studies (ORIAS) at the University of California, Berkeley, and classroom teachers to produce lesson plans on Ancient Nubia that fit the CCSS and specifically meet the sixth and ninth grade standards (AITC 2022). People who have been overlooked in the national narrative can see themselves in the archaeological record that all these materials highlight.

Now, archaeology educators must develop a substantial and widely available body of research that outlines the compelling reasons why and how archaeology and heritage should be included in the public school curriculum. Classroom teachers need to be shown the value of archaeological and historical inquiry and the power of engaging students with tangible and intangible connections to the past, or they simply will not teach it. Research to date has begun to address this issue. It has shown that archaeological inquiry can: 1) engage underserved audiences (e.g., African Americans and Native Americans) with school science (Brody et al. 2014); 2) effectively engage students with historical inquiry and interpretation (Henderson and Levstik 2016); 3) teach conceptual understanding of science inquiry (Moe 2016); and 4) integrate traditional school subjects (Moe 2017). Archaeology offers us a unique window on the past that serves to complement what students learn through other means. It deepens and broadens knowledge of that past, allowing more than just the most prominent actors and perspectives to come to the fore, and revealing the complex tapestry of interactions that led up to the America we know today.

Ensuring success requires two key actions. First, we must competitively market and disseminate the materials that we already have in the world of formal education, while strategically developing new materials and effective professional development for educators. Baseline research on learning outcomes will require grants, research venues, high-quality data analysis, publication of compelling results, and dissemination to educators. Second, we need to partner with other professionals in diverse fields and contexts (education, museums, agencies) and with local communities to finance, develop, assess, and sustain the distribution of materials. Ultimately, our success will depend on creating and developing reliable sources of funding that show a commitment to the long-term support of programs, research, training, and accessibility.

Central to all these solutions is the recognition that we do not own the past. There is strength in diversity. Varied heritages, and local and professional partnerships are key ways for archaeology and heritage to realize their full potential as vast sources of historical and scientific information relevant to humanity as a whole.

Commentator Essays

Sara Chavarria
Assistant Dean, Research Development
Assistant Director, STEM Learning Center
College of Education
University of Arizona

Archaeology is a field that was born of privileged wealth and remains dominated by those that have the luxury of “pondering” about the past. While for me, it gave me insight to my own history as a Tejana (Mexican-American) and introduced the story of the Aztec, Olmec, Maya, etc., it did so from the lens of white people writing about what they observed, how they interpreted what they saw and found, and why they were “exploring” (digging) to begin with (quest for treasure, fame, knowledge). I appreciated that it created a portal for me to learn about my “other past” and not just my European ancestry.

Yet as an archaeologist (MA), I felt increasingly uncomfortable telling people their own history as inferred by archaeologists. Through my work in Education (Language, Reading, and Culture), I realized I was interested more in how to frame knowledge sharing in a way that was co-explored. That shift helped me see how heritage played such a necessary role in the story of history and archaeology. Heritage was voice, was real, and was owned by the individual and their community. It made it possible for me to explore how to engage young minds that felt their heritage was not valued, making it visible, and as such, a counternarrative to how they learned about the past and the evidence of the past. It was a reminder that we don’t own other people’s heritage. It also helped me facilitate the valuing of one’s heritage in everyday life, in academia, at work, at play, in politics, in religion, in society.

It seems to me that heritage education is anti-history education because it involves the community experience, while history education is dominated by the Eurocentric perspective. While, yes, it opens the door for the story of those without writing, just framing it this way (a means for non-written story), privileges the story of writing as the norm from which to compare “other” forms of knowledge of the past and being.

We need to separate heritage education from archaeology education, using heritage education as the dominant way to approach connecting to the past.

Per solutions: I think we need to consider that the way to really impact archaeology going into schools is to challenge how history teaching is approached. It is taught from a very rigid linear, timeline perspective. Within this approach, something begins only once and the earliest date is given credit (invention of the concept of zero, for example). With this linear approach, there is no story.

I find it interesting that history is about the story of humans, yet we teach it by hiding the story of humanness. Instead, we teach selective, dominant narratives of “incidents” in time—because we teach in dates, rather than teaching more from a lens of anthropology—across time and space (they are encyclopedias with “incident” narratives). What we need is to explore how to teach a story of cultures and how they become, grow, mature, evolve, blend, transform, etc. By teaching from a lens of cultural activity, we can “bounce” back and forth through time and across geographic regions. And then, how amazing would it be to teach the story of zero and uncover how it came about in the three regions within which it arose!

This activity has made me realize the importance of recognizing ‘mixed heritage.’  We tend to look at our individual heritage from a monolithic lens where one identity dominates all others. But my mixed heritage lens forces me to think about how I engage with archaeology and education, since a large part of my heritage is tied to the colonialism that harmed so many; yet another equally large part of my heritage is represented by the people that were harmed during European colonialism. Addressing mixed heritage is important when working with youth and communities, as it represents a richer story that challenges us to be aware and accountable to the past and the roles that our ancestors played (good and bad). Being open about it invites youth to be personal critical thinkers about how they situate their mixed-race identity and heritage lines.

Walter C. Fleming
Professor and Department Head
Department of Native American Studies
Montana State University
Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas

The term “heritage,” has taken on additional burdens of late that seem to make a conversation about it even more complex. In Indian Country, we tend to use it synonymous to Tribe or Nation, as in “I’m studying my Heritage language.”  But it also has become code for, “my Native ancestry, because I am not enrolled.”  So, there is that political layer.

Recently, it seems that heritage has been used to describe the not-so-defensible Southern pride in the “Rebel Flag” and racism. In Montana, efforts to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day were met with a counter proposal from the Republican side to rename Columbus Day, “Montana Heritage Day”—meaningless, since, in theory, everyone has a heritage.

It may be, then, that “heritage education” has too many nooses around its neck to be a meaningful phrase. Ideally, it shouldn’t even be controversial to talk about cultural studies!  We’ve made discussions about Critical Race Theory, which should be fairly neutral, into a major policy debate. That is the risk for heritage education.

Greatest Challenges? Successful Approaches?

From a Native perspective, tribes have recognized that Cultural Preservation is key to cultural continuity and have encouraged their members to train in fields that support that, such as anthropology and archaeology, reasoning that telling one’s own story is key to its preservation. Thus, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices depend on trained staff and informed governmental officials to make decisions on behalf of the tribe. There is, then, a certain relevance in advocating for archaeological study.

There is a sensitivity necessary, however. Tribes are not so anxious for others to conduct such study within tribal communities, afraid, perhaps, that the research is not so benign or has potential negative outcomes for the communities. There are fears that such science may not be unbiased or that such theories as the Bering Land Bridge as a migration route to the Americas, which seem pretty cut and dried, are not, in the eyes of some Native scholars.

The reference to Great Britain is fascinating in that archaeology is pretty accessible in the British Isles, at least as gauged by television programming.  Time Team, Digging for Britain, The Great British Dig, and the success of the movie, The Dig (2021), all point to an acceptance of archaeology as education and entertainment. Perhaps the difference is that timelines in England preclude contemporary communities that make digging up ancestors problematic. Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman settlement, medieval, etc., are all somewhat neutral in terms of emotional energy spent in the consideration of digging up a cemetery or burial mound.

The potential to excite any student is incredible!  We’ve seen an increase in Native students wanting to go into the sciences (like genetics, for example) because of the popularity of television CSI programs. Archaeology education can likewise cross multiple disciplines, not just in the sciences, but social sciences as well. A single seed found in situ can determine the age and origin for a mammoth (or a human, for that matter), or dendrochronology can date a shipwreck. The potential to learn more about ourselves should be the end in itself.

Ayana Omilade Flewellen
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
Stanford University

When I think about the importance of heritage and archaeology education, I turn towards a quote from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (Baldwin 1963), where he states that “To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

We are currently living during a moment in the United States of America where states are attempting to legislate the teaching of revisionist histories in our K-12 classrooms to intentionally exclude the lived experiences of Indigenous and Black people in this country. The conversation that the authors have laid out on these pages pushes against exclusionary legislative efforts that aim to curtail curriculum that has the possibility of expanding, as the authors state, “Whose past, whose heritage are we prioritizing and preserving” in our classrooms.

As the authors have brilliantly outlined, and as Baldwin attested to in 1963, the efforts to expand and teach a conceptualization of “heritage” that centers the polyvocality ingrained at the United States’ foundation is made so with an eye towards the future. As the authors stated, and I deeply agree, efforts made to teach students about the past directly impact and shape the future of this country. Archaeology, as the authors outlined, is keenly positioned to introduce students to historically excluded histories by presenting them with the tangible materiality of their existence.

The issues, of course, arise when it comes to the need for more expansive mandates from the federal government regarding standards for history/heritage curriculum, and if we narrow our scope from national to local efforts, how to teach this research in classroom settings. As these conversations continue, I hope to dive more into the “how” of this issue, specifically how professionals in the field can cultivate the need for greater K-12 archaeology educational efforts.

For those working in CRM or higher education, I’d like more discussion on how we can be a part of these efforts. Can more funding opportunities through granting agencies aid in creating K-12 educational outputs being built into research design? Do we need more opportunities for seasoned professionals and early career scholars (graduate students included) to learn more diverse modes of disseminating our research for younger audiences? After reading this piece, the questions I’m left with center on the tangible hows that we in the field can do now as we envision archaeology education for the future.

Alexandra Jones
Founder and Chief Executive
Archaeology in the Community
Assistant Professor of Practice History
Goucher College

We are all Americans and in no way have ever been treated that way. It’s obvious the education system is supposed to teach us about our collective history, yet it only tells the complete story of one group of Americans and, through omission, sends a clear message to young Americans that only certain people’s culture and achievements are valued over all the “others.”

Heritage, for someone of non-European descent in the U.S., means being taught history in which they are omitted or mentioned very briefly in the context of a specific event or series of events. We are often taught that our contributions to the development of our great nation are marginal at best compared to those of European descent.

Archaeology, as a vehicle for studying their heritage, presents a different set of problems. Archaeology historically always studied the “other,” placing people of non-European descent (Indigenous People and African Americans) in a space where they are studied in comparison to the prevailing American culture from a Eurocentric academic lens. In the last two decades, there has been some change, with archaeologists diversifying their research, centering the research in communities, and making an effort to tell the stories of people from diverse perspectives. Though the scholarship is being produced and, in many ways, has always existed in various forms of intangible heritage, the education system needs to evolve to reflect an honest accounting and study of all Americans’ tangible and intangible culture, along with local, regional, and national identity. We are in a time where heritage stories are being censored and banned from curriculums, libraries, and classrooms; yet again, our education system is centering the heritage of those of European descent above all others.

The greatest challenge to access, outside of politics, is that archaeology operates in its own academic space. Archaeologists are trained to write for the academy and not the lay public and many do not have the skill set to translate the material to a younger audience. The only way for there to be true change in our educational system is to get the Department of Education to understand the value of archaeology to American education as a whole. Then archaeology educators coming together to create a formal or informal organization/working group/collective where classroom educators, administrators, museum specialists, and curriculum developers can all work collaboratively on the lessons that can meet standards for K-12 education.

Robert Kelly
Professor of Archaeology
Department of Anthropology
University of Wyoming

It’s impossible for me to write a response without acknowledging the position from which I write it. I am indeed a privileged member of the white, middle class, fortunate-to-be-well-educated, heterosexual males. I’m also old (I’ll retire in 2023), though I often feel like a graduate student, with much left to learn. I live in very conservative Wyoming (our state GOP ousted Liz Cheney; yes, Liz Cheney). I also am writing this in a time of hyper political correctness and Critical Race Theory. It’s so easy to offend someone today, and that matters to the study and presentation of heritage.

People want their history, their heritage, to be uplifting. Going back in time, for many, is analogous to going deeper into a people’s collective soul. People look at an archaeological or historical site and say: here is who we really are. And many then wonder what went wrong; how do we get back to a past when things were better, when we lived the “right” way. How do we “make America great again”? This is an important question to consider in conversations about heritage, because the process of asking it gave us the worst president the U.S. will ever see as an answer.

People want their history, their heritage, to be uplifting, but no one’s history is perfect. The past contains things that make us proud and others that make us ashamed. The U.S. created a magnificent form of government, and yet they did this while enslaving Africans, denying women and the poor their rights, and murdering North America’s Indigenous people. There’s no way to deny the former or sugarcoat the latter. It’s part of academic culture to focus on the seamy underbelly of history, to denigrate accomplishments by citing the faults of those who achieved them. In doing so, we cancel people. Some deserve it (I lose no sleep over the removal of confederate statues), but others (such as anthropologist Alfred Kroeber) do not.

We live in a time of terribly deep political divisions. It seems if you are not fully on one side, then you are the despised enemy; that there are no gray areas. And yet heritage cannot always take sides. It must occupy the gray areas. And that is the challenge of heritage today.

Allison K. McLeod
Project Manager
Afendras Archaeology
Norman, Oklahoma

Drs. King, Henderson, and Moe have impressively combined their knowledge and distilled the broad, ongoing conversations about archaeology and heritage education into a few core concepts. The authors state the importance of professional partnerships in our collective mission to improve the state of heritage education in the United States.

I agree, and I believe that working with partners in public education, especially teachers, is necessary if we want to see change. Teachers are central to children’s education—a perfect curriculum for heritage education could exist, yet students’ learning of that curriculum would still depend on the teacher’s delivery of it. It is not archaeologists who know the best ways to teach students about heritage—it is teachers. If we want to embed heritage and archaeology into the United States’ public education system, whether through curriculum development or though policy and legislation, we must partner with teachers and let them lead the way.

We know this is easier said than done. The authors’ comments on the perceived lack of relevance of archaeology to the public, and to public education by extension, are particularly poignant. Long has archaeology been undervalued as an educational tool. This is due in part not only to archaeology’s glamorization and lack of diversity, as the authors mention, but to far-reaching ideological underpinnings of educational policy and legislation. School subjects that pertain to heritage, particularly social studies, are afforded much less importance to education compared to STEM fields.

For instance, elementary school teachers in Oklahoma are severely limited in their ability to teach social studies amid pressures to focus on subjects like reading or math—subjects on which state testing is conducted each year—to the point that some teachers cannot teach social studies at all. Recent legislation and public debate regarding Critical Race Theory in education in several states, including Oklahoma, are also indicative of the broader ideologies that underlie educational policy and contribute to the difficulty of systematizing heritage education.

To see the state of archaeology and heritage education improve, we must address the general attitudes (especially among policymakers) that have resulted in the devaluing of social studies. This begins with gaining meaningful insight into these attitudes and ideologies. We are anthropologists, after all—we are equipped to do just that.

Sarah L. Miller
Director, Northeast/East Central Region
Florida Public Archaeology Network
Flagler College
St. Augustine, Florida

In reading this article, I found myself remembering a time I thought deeply about the future of archaeology education and the need to push our discipline further. Since that time, my work as a public archaeologist has taken me down different paths—of heritage, community-based archaeology, and relevance.

Lumping and splitting aside, are we helping? Whether it’s under the umbrella of “heritage” or “archaeology,” our practice has been very extracting: literally mining artifacts, surveying respondents, trying to wiggle our way into the school calendar. We need to stop extracting and start aligning to the communities with whom we work. How can we use our skills to answer the questions they have? Without this, we are coasting without a rudder.

What is heritage? What is heritage education? In our Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) programs, we have to unpack for the public what heritage means. One of the more eloquent responses when asking a focus group to help define coastal heritage was: “You can’t separate them. The coast is our heritage, and our heritage is the coast.” From the public we gather that heritage is a sense of place, it’s something tied to the environment, and it’s something that is, whether you have taken time to form it or not.

King et al. found a key phrasing: heritage education in America. I prefer that over American heritage. Putting America first is difficult in conversations about heritage.

What are the challenges? The article states “we are on the right track,” but I question where that track goes and if it’s the right track for archaeologists to pursue.

For the past 15 years, I have developed archaeology education curricula and worked in and with the schools. Teachers’ favorite go-to is still to incorporate archaeology as a field trip (which they can no longer afford) or invite an archaeologist in as a guest speaker. This illustrates the time commitment teachers have. During the pandemic, how did archaeology fare in the public schools? With zero field trips and nil guest speaking opportunities, we fell very close to the bottom of necessary services for distance learning.

I still think Barton and Levstik (2004) were correct in saying that the purpose of social education is to prepare students to participate in a pluralistic democracy. Our democracy has changed so much in 30 years, and the topics relevant to citizens today also have changed. Heritage education in America needs to answer a problem to be relevant. We don’t dig without a research question; we should not propagate educational material without a research question such as: what is the problem this curriculum will help solve today? Climate Change. Black Lives Matter. Abandoned African-American burial grounds. Serving diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Many working in this liminal space have found a home in the Journal of Archaeology and Education. A glance at the most popular papers shows that archaeology educators care about pedagogy, students, online teaching, and technology ( We must also include contributions by the Society of Black Archaeologists. The Tulsa Syllabus ( (Odewale and Slocum 2020) is an advance in our practice of integrating curated lists on racism, historical trauma, and the search for mass graves. The authors didn’t dig into these topics without answering the question: is this information relevant to heritage education in America today?

Teresa Moyer
Archeology Program
National Park Service

Archaeology can truly be used to teach anything that everyone needs to know. This rare quality in comparison to other disciplines makes it flexible enough for structured curricula and informal learning focused on archaeology, or the medium for teaching skills and concepts within other topics. In these ways, archaeology can be a common flavor and a normal part of a learner’s experience.

Archaeology teaches quotidian skills, like spelling and grammar, or handy things to do with geometry. Its vocabulary tracks with the skill of decoding unknown words through their Latin roots (see: archaeologist, petroglyph, palynology). Learners using excavation reports practice diagramming sentences and proper grammar, and edit complex information into common English. Archaeological methods take learners through the process of making measurements or creating right angles and squares from string. These are basic things taught through archaeology.

Another opportunity is using archaeology to inform behavior. Archaeologists know first-hand which materials break down or remain intact in various circumstances, as well as the ways these materials imply the values of a people. For instance, archaeological findings test common assumptions about the rate at which paper decomposes. Learners might discover the relative and surprising ways that paper and other materials behave over time to drive discussion about consumerism and waste disposal and changing a culture of disposability into something more sustainable.

Something else everyone should know is how to read and interpret a law. Students in the United States typically study in civics class about the legislative process and its role in democracies. They more rarely, however, learn to dissect the components of a law, such as its purpose, definitions, or the actions assigned, authorized, or directed. By learning to read a law, such as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (a relatively accessible federal law), students may better understand what a law is, how it works, and why it applies to them and the society in which they live.

Archaeology also plays a valuable role in epistemology, leading learners through the process of how we know, what we know—or what we think we know. For example, the historical arc of archaeology demonstrates its use to justify national policy. Some of those policies, we recognize today, supported racism and violence against Indigenous and Native peoples to support a patriotic narrative based in taming and conquest. Epistemological study through archaeology contributes to improving science literacy, cultural literacy, and ethics to explore the implications of the uses and abuses of information.

While archaeology education is typically viewed as a way to teach history and social studies, it is broadly applicable to all kinds of things that everyone needs to know. What other ways can educators find to integrate archaeology into their lessons?

Elizabeth Reetz
Director of Strategic Initiatives
University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist
Iowa City, Iowa

Coming from the perspective of an archaeologist of 20 years who also obtained an M.Ed. and has been steeped in Environmental Education fundamentals for 10 years, the concept of heritage education initially feels more distant and foreign to me. I think this is because it is such a broad term that covers so many different elements, whereas archaeology education really is more defined, as the authors point out. When I describe what I do for work with peers and colleagues as archaeology education, they understand what I mean. I agree that the terms “heritage education” and “archaeology education” are not interchangeable. So, although I do not feel as connected to “heritage education,” the authors provide compelling reasons for me to reconsider.

Heritage education is highly interdisciplinary, has a larger professional base, more research to utilize and from which to extrapolate, and more opportunity for partnerships with those who can help professionalize what archaeology educators do. “Heritage education nourishes a sense of continuity and connectedness,” and archaeology education can do this, too! But only if we address some pretty significant challenges.

The three major challenges addressed in this paper, in my opinion, are strongly linked to lack of funding. But which is the chicken, and which is the egg? Very few archaeology organizations have dedicated, paid archaeology education positions. The few that do woefully underpay their education or public archaeology staff and prioritize funding for their scientific specialists, not valuing the high degree of specialization and expertise required (and often additional professional development and education obtained) to effectively educate and communicate archaeology to the public. Most archaeology organizations delegate education and outreach to volunteer staff who add these duties to an already heavy slate where fieldwork, analysis, budgeting/scoping, and reporting take priority. Without prioritized time and funding, the establishment of goals and outcomes gets skipped; assessment is not even thought of; the focus is solely on the delivery of the event, lesson, or product; and we repeat the decades-long cycle of feeling under-valued, lacking professionalization, and struggling to expand both our relationships with formal educators and our own professional research base.

Archaeology education, and thus heritage education, cannot become better integrated into the American educational system until the archaeology profession prioritizes funding for these experts. We cannot develop quality curriculum and new materials for teachers unless we are adequately funded. We cannot provide professional development or train non-archaeologists to deliver materials and information unless we are adequately funded. We cannot assess or evaluate the impact of our education and outreach programs unless we are adequately funded.

Many people “land” in a position of an archaeologist who does education because they recognize the importance and often have some talent, skills, or experience that benefit this position. Very few people study or train with the goal of being a professional archaeology educator, and because of this, many of us lack knowledge in heritage and archaeology education theory and fundamentals. How can we address the lack of ethnically diverse practitioners, or even more practitioners, when our profession is primarily something we become versus something we strive to be? I have more questions than answers.

Jack Rossen
Project Director
Commonwealth Heritage Group
Memphis, Tennessee

What is heritage?

I view heritage as a collective and accumulated view of the past and its contributions to the present. We must recognize that heritage is also perceptions of the past. Heritage is fluid and malleable. It is constructed, manipulated, distorted, revised, and debated. It is subject to politics, economics, and culture wars. My experience in Hawai`i highlighted the political volatility of heritage. The National Park Service presented one heritage: Hawai`i as part of a collective U.S. heritage. Meanwhile, the state and counties present a heritage of a proud kingdom that resisted and was stolen and subjugated by international capitalism and geopolitics. Institutions related to missionaries presented Hawaiian heritage as brutal and cruel, but saved by missionaries, including the necessary destruction of the native political and cultural system. There are competing and incompatible heritages.

Heritage education

Education is primarily conducted within established and conservative institutions. Certain perspectives on heritage support the economic and political interests of those institutions and others do not. Institutions may want to present the appearance of enlightenment in terms of heritage education more than a real commitment.

Hawai`i again. I moved to Hawai`i to help build a fledgling master’s degree program in Heritage Management. The goal was to help Native Hawaiians gain the Western credentials needed to work in and influence heritage institutions that were dominated by non-Native people. We recognized representation as a key issue. That is, the idea that heritage may be presented in many ways that highlight particular political perspectives and/or hide the darker sides of history.

My work with Native Hawaiian graduate students ran into political problems that led to my firing, and a few years later, the dissolution of the program. What happened? The university was economically involved in the TMT telescope project that ran into powerful Native resistance. The “politically correct” attitudes that allowed the development and implementation of a native-oriented heritage management program may have become problematic.


A key challenge is: how to empower the people whose heritage has been distorted or submerged? How do we help these people gain access to representing institutions (schools, museums, parks, etc.)? This can be done by challenging powerful institutions like universities to develop and maintain heritage management programs.

We need to build ally networks to broaden support for better heritage representation and management. We need to further explain what are proper and improper ways to be allies, including discussions about appropriation.

We must actively fight the anti-science backlash and restore heritage education (beyond American History class) to secondary schools. The anti-science movement ebbs and flows in power in the U.S. In the 1970s, it took the form of the “scientific creationism” movement, which sought to remove evolution from high school science textbooks and in general water down science and humanities education. That movement succeeded. Anti-science is back in full force with the anti-vax movement and critiques of Critical Race Theory (whose critics mostly have no idea of its content). Secondary education on heritage is so distorted in Hawai`i that many young Native Hawaiians have internalized the self-loathing negative stereotypes of ancient Hawaiians (that they were cruel, savage, and needed to be civilized).


As the comments in the previous ten solicited essays illustrate, we have only begun the conversation about archaeology, heritage, and education in the U.S. The readers’ comments reflect their diverse personal and professional perspectives and their lived personal experiences. Some chose to respond to the questions we posed to ourselves; others used our essay as a springboard to discuss their own ideas about heritage education/archaeology education. These run the gamut from discussing the philosophies, beliefs, and values that undergird their perspectives to suggesting tangible and granular approaches for addressing challenges and offering solutions. Some commentators also critiqued our essay, giving a nod to statements or concepts that aligned with their own, but also highlighting where our ideas and their ideas diverged, taking us to task for not considering a concept or perspective they considered important.

Common themes in these ten essays included some that we touched on in our own. For example, they wrestled with defining heritage education and archaeology education and describing the relationship. Many authors acknowledged the impacts of America’s established and conservative educational institutions on heritage education/archaeology education, and the political context within which these two disciplines exist and must work. Several raised the issue of representativeness, discussing, as we did, the Eurocentric history that dominates American history and the continued marginalization of minorities by a process of “othering.”

More concrete/practical common topics included a discussion of archaeology’s strengths and its unique way of crosscutting disciplines, teaching skills and concepts outside the typical subjects of history and social studies. Several authors considered the issue of how to teach heritage education/archaeology education, given the current state of the American educational system.  Restrictions on what can be taught when, and a lack of appreciation for heritage and archaeology can make it difficult to engage schools and teachers.

A few unique topics raised by our readers deserve mention here. One author questioned the role of heritage education/archaeology education and its relevance. This commentator issued a call to change our approach—from extracting information from communities to answering questions that are relevant to those communities. Another author highlighted, as we did, the role that funding, or lack thereof, plays in heritage education/archaeology education, and how that impedes our discipline’s ability to move forward. The same person noted the significance of recognizing that heritage educators and archaeology educators are professionals deserving acknowledgment of their unique educational and experiential training.

In short, our essay and the remarks from our ten diverse commentators have provided a wide-ranging discussion with no intent to solve a problem. Rather, this initial THEJ Forum has opened up a conversation among diverse heritage education/archaeology education practitioners to explore ideas we might hold in common and has started to outline issues of common concern. It is a beginning, not an ending. In time, by pursuing similar conversations within these pages and outside of them, we hope that a consensus will emerge concerning the major challenges everyone faces and the best ways to meet them.

We invite others to consider these issues and to propose other issues that would spark a lively and substantive discussion. We look forward to seeing those forums in future editions of this journal. You may send your comments, or ideas for new forums, to the THEJ editor at:

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[1] Department of Sociology and Criminology, Howard University, Washington, DC, U.S.A.;

[2] Kentucky Archaeological Survey, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY, U.S.A.;

[3] Institute for Heritage Education, Bozeman, MT, U.S.A.;