Outreach as Resistance


I may not have many publications listed on my CV but I do think I have a pretty good record of service, of community based engagement and learning, of outreach. During my PhD research I became very interested in public archaeology and community based archaeology. Positive and negative interactions with local community members in my study area would lead me to develop Cultural Heritage in Iringa Research Program (CHIRP). Initially we focused on designing and distributing accessible posters in English and Swahili that outlined what we were doing and why.  As we engaged in dialogue with various people about the posters and our research, we began to change how we were doing and why we were doing archaeology.


At the same time I was regularly volunteering including visiting schools and play groups, doing mini archaeology activities, serving on community league boards, planning events, and so on. Two summers in a row, I also was a Teaching Assistant for a field school that had a large public archaeology component. Now as the Lab Instructor at MacEwan my dedication to outreach has continued. I’ve been honoured to be a part of many Dark Matters events at the Telus World of Science Edmonton including, most recently, being their “Expert” for the launch of a new IMAX film relating to archaeology. (Ed.: Great not-so-humble brag Biittner! What’s the point of this? KB: I have two points! Keep reading please).

Point one:  Most archaeologists are really good at community outreach and overall most anthropologists are too especially in the context of our own field research. But we must do more and be better at outreach. Anthropology doesn’t have the same public branding as it were that other social sciences and natural sciences have. I still get people at outreach events who think I dig up dinosaurs, and the opportunity to correct with kindness and enthusiasm is why my being at an event or at a school is important.

At the most recent outreach event I did, a young individual approached me. They firmly planted their self in front of me, crossed their arms, and loudly stated that as a creationist they wanted me to prove evolution and explain how I could believe in it. I’m not going to recap our conversation, which lasted well over 30 minutes, but know that it was a civil exchange. I was excited that this person wanted to engage in discussion even though I knew very well that I could not change their mind any more than they could change mine. It was important that we had a dialogue and it reinforced why I was there, why we as anthropologists need to be out there.

Point two: Anti-evolution, anti-science voices are not new but they sure are loud and commanding a lot of attention and media and space right now. So we need to be on the front lines of the resistance.