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Insight: Reforming Academia Volume 51 Number 5, September/October 1998
by James Wiseman

[image] (Ray Bartkus) [LARGER IMAGE]

Gordon Willey of Harvard University tells an instructive story about how he came to choose the University of Arizona to study archaeology, the field he had selected for a career at 16. Since he had gone to high school in California, he expected to attend the University of California, Berkeley, but he found no listing in its catalog for a Department of Archaeology. "I did not know at that time," he recalls, "that archaeology often was subsumed academically under classics, fine arts, or anthropology headings." Not finding what he wanted at Berkeley, he turned to a catalog from the University of Arizona and found that it did list a Department of Archaeology, which he duly entered in February 1931, setting out on what would become one of the century's most distinguished archaeological careers.

Nearly seven decades later, archaeology's status in the American academic world has improved only slightly, and what is taught lags well behind modern practice. That the principal archaeological organizations in the United States are considering revisions of archaeological curricula is cause for optimism. The eventual recommendations arising from several committees, however, would have greater force if they came instead from a joint task force, made up of professionals from all the archaeological organizations and principal constituencies. Since there seems to be such broad interest in reform, perhaps now is the moment for effective, cooperative action on a curriculum that would reflect the concerns of the entire profession.

See James Wiseman's online feature "Archaeology in the American University" for a full discussion of how advances in archaeological practice and research are poorly reflected in today's archaeological curricula and what steps should be taken to improve the training of archaeologists in the future.

JAMES WISEMAN, a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY, is professor of archaeology, art history, and classics at Boston University.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America