Stanford University

In Solidarity - A Message from the Director

We return for a new academic year at the Stanford Archaeology Center in difficult times. Those of us sheltering in the Bay Area have had to deal recently with smoke-filled air from wildfires, and archaeology has been hard hit by the impacts of Covid-19. As a lab and field-based discipline, the activities of our students and researchers have been severely restricted in the response to the pandemic. This is especially a challenging time for those embarking on careers and seeking to complete PhDs. Opportunities for research and openings for jobs and postdocs have diminished. The University, Departments and the Center are doing all they can to mitigate and provide support, while also being confronted with difficult choices.

The recent violence targeted at Black and Indigenous communities reverberates through the centuries. The horror that we feel today fuels a determination that change must be made, a shift from words of support to concrete action and accountability. We are determined at the Archaeology Center to do all we can to play a significant role in relation to the BLM movement and other movements by and for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color at home and in our areas of research. Beyond support as individuals, archaeology and heritage can have an important role in memory and justice work.

As archaeologists at Stanford we have tried to build a diverse body of teachers, researchers and students although there is more that could be done here. Many of us are re-designing syllabi so that our courses do more to decolonize the discipline and enhance the promotion of social justice.

Outside of the classroom, the Archaeology Center has implemented several initiatives to promote systemic change. The Archaeology Center was slated to host the TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) 2020 conference in May but this was postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic. We have decided to hold the 2021 conference remotely. The faculty and student committee that is planning TAG 2021 has also decided to change the focus of the entire conference to issues of social justice. In light of the on-going acts of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence that testify to the immediate need for systemic social change, the TAG 2021 conference will ask how archaeology can contribute to equity and social justice. In recent years, archaeological scholarship has helped to destabilize the racial and geographic exclusions on which the discipline was built, interrogating how and what we study and who studies it. Nevertheless, TAG still recognizes the need for more lasting change – not only by untangling the colonialist underpinnings of our theory, but also by examining the praxis, pedagogy, methodology, and knowledge distribution within the discipline.

Along the same lines of concern, the Stanford Archaeology Center has also been involved in an ongoing collaborative committee with other archaeology centers across the United States, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Society of Black Archaeologists and the Indigenous Archaeology Collective to promote systemic change within the discipline. This partnership has generated a number of urgent discussions across universities about pedagogy, curriculum and capacity-building and has also resulted in a webinar series that addresses these topics. The SAC will host one of these webinars in January, preliminarily organized around the theme of epistemology and questioning the archaeological canon and curriculum.

The Center’s cultural heritage collections, held by the university and managed by Christina Hodge, are an important part of this ongoing work. We have recently advertised a postdoctoral position in cultural heritage and material culture collections. The focus of this pilot initiative will be research on African ethnographic and archaeological materials in the collections. Our recent inventory revealed they include over 300 objects from 10 countries and unknown locations across Africa; plus over 800 artifacts from ancient Egypt and Nubia. Knowing more about these materials, and doing a better job connecting them with communities at Stanford and beyond, will help counteract the marginalization of African and diasporic cultures and histories. The African heritage artifacts from the collection have much to say about Black history and the role of Black lives in the history of the university.

In addition to these actions, several of our faculty and students conduct research on slavery at different times in the past. Others explore the role of heritage in identity and memory formation in different parts of the world. Many have made significant contributions to community and indigenous archaeology, for example with particular reference to the Chinese-American community and local Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. Students have been actively involved in outreach and community participation with diverse groups. The Stanford Archaeology Center takes seriously its commitments to social justice and we will be doing all we can to promote archaeological responsibilities in these domains.

It is important that we make our commitment to being an inclusive and welcoming academic setting for all, but also to take action to change practices.


Ian Hodder
Director, Stanford Archaeology Center