Teaching Curation: Using Collections to Foster Disciplinary Reflection and Research Opportunities among Undergraduates

Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Conference, 2024
Patton, Katherine (University of Toronto), Thivviya Vairamuthu (University of Toronto), Caitlin Coleman (Archaeological Services Inc.) and Dena Doroszenko (Ontario Heritage Trust)

Despite decades-long acknowledgment of a curation crisis, undergraduate education in archaeology continues to emphasize excavation as central to the discipline and to our understanding of the past. Moreover, lab classes that emphasize analytical skills are more common than those that teach curation procedures. Whether consciously of it or not, this conveys to our students that collections management is not their concern, does not matter to archaeologists, and is irrelevant to the investigation of archaeological collections. Yet collections management can be much more than routine management of artifacts for storage and display; it can be a generative process that leads to object-focused interpretations and new research questions. Following Voss (2012), the University of Toronto, Ontario Heritage Trust, and Archaeological Services Incorporated developed a community-engaged, experiential learning undergraduate course focused on collections management. It emphasizes student skill development, the research potential of underreported existing and legacy collections, the sociopolitical context of excavation, and sustainability.