Skip navigation links

Jan. 9, 2019

Stacey Camp: Field-based learning

Jan. 9, 2019

Stacey Camp is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program.

Hair soaked and hands shivering, I tugged my raincoat’s hood over my head and craned my neck over an archaeological screen full of dirt in search of an important find. I peeled off my rain-drenched leather gloves and used my fingertips to peel layer upon layer of soil and sediment from something solid.

As my peers complained about the rainstorm swirling above our heads — a quotidian occurrence in Ireland — my attention was redirected to the sliver of history I held in the palm of my hand.

Beneath the detritus, I cradled a small ceramic fragment of a teacup used by an Irish family in the 1840s. I learned that this teacup fragment was part of a much larger story of British colonization and imperialism, of starvation and of Irish citizens’ abject suffering.

I also learned that Ireland’s Great Famine past was still very present in the minds of Irish nationals. By talking with community members and observing the outreach events run by the professor leading the archaeological field school, I learned that the artifacts we recovered held just as much meaning in the present as they did in the past and were symbolic of continued social inequality in post-colonial Ireland.

That archaeological field project, which was run by Illinois State University’s then professor  Charles E. Orser, Jr., was eighteen years ago, but the memories of it remain fresh in my mind. It was one of the few opportunities I had as an undergraduate to apply what I learned in the classroom to the real world.

I not only learned about archaeological field and lab methodologies, but I also learned how to undertake historical research, how to present research to and collaborate with the public, how to work on a team and how to live and travel on my own in a foreign country.

Today, as an associate professor of anthropology and director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, or CAP, I continue to draw upon that field experience to ensure my students learn how to apply the theories, concepts and methodologies they are taught in the classroom to the real world.

Field-based learning provides students with the opportunity to witness and personally experience the challenges and nuances of working with the public and the past. It allows students to see firsthand how data is gathered, generated and interpreted.

Often field-schools are cost-prohibitive because they require students to leave the state of Michigan or the country. CAP is unique because it addresses this issue by providing a field-based experience to students on campus. Professor Emeritus Lynne Goldstein founded the program to help MSU students obtain professional experience in managing, studying, excavating, documenting and interpreting the history of Michigan State University.

This summer (May 13 - June 7, 2019), I will be directing an archaeological field school here on MSU’s campus where students can experience nearly the entire gamut of fieldwork without leaving East Lansing. The Campus Archaeology Program field school will involve both traditional forms of archaeological instruction, such as how to survey, map and excavate an archaeological site, and interdisciplinary modes of studying the past.

These interdisciplinary approaches to studying MSU’s above and below ground heritage include mapping/GIS, archival and historical research, and public interpretation and outreach. Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to apply to the field school as are non-MSU students.

More information about our field school can be found on our blog or by emailing me. If you can’t participate as a field school student, we hope that you will join us at one of several public outreach events that will be publicized on our blog, Facebook page (@capmsu), Twitter (@capmsu) and Instagram (@capmsu) in 2019.