Why Heritage Matters, A Career Path in Historic Archaeology: A SfAA Oral History Interview with Barbara J. Little

Barbara Little.pngThe interview deals with Barbara Little’s perspectives on heritage, feminism, and aspects of social justice in historic archaeology. Little is currently the program manager for the National Park Services Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.She is also an adjunct professor for the University of Maryland, Department of Anthropology. She received her Ph.D. at State University of New York at Buffalo. The interview was done by M. Jay Stottman and editing was done by John van Willigen.


Stottman: Okay, this is January 11, 2020. We’re at the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m Jay Stottman, I’ll be doing the interview, and we’re interviewing Barbara J. Little. 

Little: Hi Jay. ​​​​​​​

Stottman: So, Barbara, can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where were you born and raised? That kind of thing. 

Little: Okay. Sure. start at the beginning. I was born in Dayton, Ohio. I had two older brothers. And my father was a Fuller Brush salesman, so we moved around a lot. And I think probably every year, right as he moved up in the company, we moved around. But mostly I grew up outside of Philadelphia. By the time I was in first grade, we settled up there.​​​​​​​

Stottman: So, you spent a lot of your formative time in Philadelphia. ​​​​​​​

Little: Outside of Philly in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. And it was interesting because both of my folks are Midwesterners. And coming to the east coast was really different for them. It’s interesting, because you don’t think of it as very different now, but it was clearly different. And I was always made fun of because I had an accent that I picked up from my parents, of course, because we talk like they talk. But then I very quickly picked up the Pennsylvania a. I probably sound more like a eastern Pennsylvanian than anything else.​​​​​​​

Stottman: That’s interesting. because, you know, being from Kentucky, we had kids from New York come in. ​​​​​​​

Little: Like, why do you talk like that? ​​​​​​​

Stottman: Exactly. So, what were some of your influences in becoming an archaeologist? Well, why did you? How did you become interested in archaeology and how did you end up here? ​​​​​​​

Little: That’s an interesting question, because there’s so many archaeologists [who say], “I always wanted to be an archaeologist.” I never even knew archaeology was; I’ve never had a clue. So, it’s not like I didn’t know I would have had no idea, right. And that’s not the kind of profession that a girl in my generation would have been encouraged to think about anyway. But college was definitely, I mean, it wasn’t of the generation, or the parents who were like, oh, girls don’t have to go to school. Thank goodness. So, but that’s the real thing. So, both my brothers went to Penn State, so it was going to be like, I’m going to Penn State. And I wanted to be an architect. And I went to my first year of Penn State, I don’t know if you are familiar with the Penn State system at the time, at least, there’s like, there’s a main campus at State College. And then little campuses all over the state where people could more easily go from their hometown. But I went to Mont Alto in the south-central part of the state, which was a forestry school traditionally, and that had become part of Penn State’s campus. So, it was very different. And my mother said camping, you’re going to camp, what’s that? And so that, that was just like your first freshman year, you just take whatever, right? Because you get the basic stuff out of the way. But I thought, you know, that I could go to the main campus and, you know, go to architecture, but to get and this is all very convoluted. But to get out of that Mont Alto campus, after one year, I had to declare a major that was not available at the Mont Alto campus. Right. So, this actually, this is relevant, because the structure of our academic system has a lot of influence on who gets to choose what professions they have. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: Right. So, I declared myself as a French major. And I went to the Main Campus, which was great, my brothers were there. And then I very quickly went to the architecture program. Where, it was not the first time, I was told women don’t make good whatever, fill in the blank, right? So, the architecture guy said women don’t make good architects, you don’t want to do this. He essentially said, “You are unwelcome here.” So, okay. And it being the time that it was in the 70s it was I was just a kid, what do I know? I wasn't going to protest or fight that fight. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: So, I poked around for something else to do and I had a great apartment. It was a fabulous apartment, like right next to campus, but not on campus. And I didn’t want to give it up over the summer. And Jim Hatch [James V. Hatch] was offering a residential like, or I should say, commuting field school. And so, I signed up for field school. And It was like this is good. I like this. And I liked it because I could, it was outside working with my hands. But it was very, it was an intellectual activity too. And it’s like this, I could do this. I think this is cool. And I never looked back really. I mean, from the time I took field school in 1978. I just, I mean, that’s the path I took, you know, and Penn State in particular was just really good for me, because it did not have a good undergraduate program. Which sounds bizarre, right? 

Stottman: Oh, no, I completely understand.

Little: But it was like you take the courses that are, all the high-level courses that our graduate students are taking too. Because I think we dumbed down stuff a lot for undergraduates. And then it’s not interesting, because people are smarter than we give them credit for. So, in my experience, it was like to really be challenged and pushed. And to have to keep up with the grad students as an undergrad, that was formative. I’ve learned what high-quality work was. It was a bizarrely male-macho department. And that’s where I was like this. How do I do feminism here? Right? Because it was the 70s. And the women were all going like self crit. It was like, we’re going to be feminists and we meet together, and we talk about it. It’s like, Oh, my God. archaeology. Like, how unreconstructed could you get. It was amazing. So those interests melded there. But I got I thought, this extraordinary introduction and education at Penn State, and then went to…

Stottman: Now as an undergraduate

Little: Undergrad.

Stottman: So, as an undergrad, yeah. That also kind of makes you have to be a self-starter to be on your own somewhat. 

Little: But we were also in Pennsylvania, public archaeology was around. And so, in Central Pennsylvania, we had like, the regional archaeologist, and he gave us all work. And we I mean; it was it was pretty easy to get field experience. 

Stottman: Working on contracts.

Little: I don’t even think, they weren’t even contracts necessarily, then it was some. I wasn't involved in that part of it. But there was money in grants, and this idea that, you know, work should happen regardless. And it was connected to CRM. So, there might have been contracts, but there was also grant money. It is all prehistory regardless. All prehistory all completely like, of people who were gone. There was no consciousness of Native people being alive. None.

Stottman: Right? Where did they go?

Little: Nobody asked that question. It’s like they’re just gone now. 

Stottman: Yes, exactly. So, you caught the bug as an undergrad. So where did you go after that?

Little: I got married. And I went to with my first husband, who was an engineer. And we went to Buffalo because he got a job. And I went to the department there. And I said, I want to do historical archaeology. Because I’d known about it by that time. I’d learned it existed. I thought it sounded to me like the most interesting blend of things because it presented such complexity and complexity interested me. I wasn’t interested in things that were simple. Right? I wanted things that were really hard to solve. And that had some meaning and reach. I mean, I didn't use those words necessarily then. But I really wanted to understand the world and how it worked. And the response at Buffalo was nobody does historical archaeology, that’s not what you want. It’s like, well, no, actually, it is what I want. And they, I kind of forget the sequence now, but there was some kind of interdisciplinary masters that somebody convinced me to sign up for. And it was like, well, okay, and there was a survey there. So, there was their work. So yeah, there was plenty of crew work to do, which was good. And then I applied formally and got some funding. And in my mind funding meant I could do what I wanted. Right? So, Ezra Zubrow became my advisor because he was also like a renegade, right? It’s like you can do what you want. Let’s figure out what you want to do. And I said historical archaeology and he knew Mark Leone and he said, Let’s get you like set up with Leone. He’s got this project in Annapolis. And that was like that kind of personal connection. Ezra was a really was, I shouldn’t say was amazing. He is still alive and doing archaeology. So, in the past tense, but in my education, he was very much a prehistory kind of guy, right? carrying capacity and all this sort of modeling and mathematical stuff. And he wanted to take me on because I had been kind of sciency as an undergrad, I’d done obsidian dating and, and I was good at math. And I came in with high math scores. And he thought, great, I can get somebody to do modeling. It’s like, I had an epiphany about modeling. And I just started laughing. Ezra, I said, this is so meaningless. This is so ridiculous. He got really mad at me. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Like, that’s not that’s not the archaeology I want to do. I want to do something that people will understand. Right? And mathematical modeling was not it. So, then he you know, that connection got me to archaeology in Annapolis and working with Mark Leone and that project, which was great, and very public focused, right.

Stottman: It’s a seminal project. 

Little: It is, I think of it as a sort of the seminal project for theorized public archaeology. 

Stottman: So, you did your graduate work at Buffalo?

Little: SUNY Buffalo. 

Stottman: SUNY Buffalo, and then you, you got hooked into the archaeology and the Annapolis project that way.

Little: Yeah. And I think I moved to Annapolis in ‘84ish. Blurring, that is a while ago.

Stottman: That’s a real formative period, theoretically and for historical archaeology, and for this new idea of a different idea of public archaeology, all coming together there. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your experience at archaeology in Annapolis, because it is such a formative project, with critical theory, coming in and engaging the public? And then how did that affect the way you thought about archaeology and how it can be used and how it affected and was formative for you later on?

Little: It’s interesting because it really was an important project. And there were a lot of amazing people who came out of it, right. And I want to say the first year I was there. At some point, Mark Leone had brought in, and Parker Potter too. So, Mark Leone and Parker Potter were like, together really figuring out, what does it mean to do a public program? And they hired a theater director from Baltimore, whose name escapes me at the moment with it, but it was fabulous. It was so smart to do it that way. It’s like, what do we know? Right? We don’t know how to set up the site or figure out how we are going to move people around the site? And how to actually present what we’re talking about. 

Stottman: Talk to living people.

Little: Right? Yeah. So is having that sort of theater gloss on it, or the underpinning was, I thought, remarkably helpful. And I think at the end of like, the first summer, I want to say Parker Potter asked me said you could, he said, I wanted to make you an offer. He said, “I want to put you in charge of the public programming. And then your dissertation, you know, you could do public programming and that at that time.” I said, “Listen,” I said, I'm a woman. I’m at a disadvantage anyway. And I said, I think this is looked at as pretty soft, and not very rigorous. And I don’t want to be in the position of being the woman on the site doing the stuff that nobody else wants to do. So, I said, no, I’m not interested. He was like, taken aback, right, because I’m giving you, I’m handing you this thing. It’s like, you might think it’s valuable, but it’s not right now to me, right?

Stottman: Turned into his dissertation,

Little: Right. So, I wanted I mean, I wanted something more, more archaeological, like with real data. And I was going to do the feminist thing, which I did with Anne Catherine Green and the Green family. Centering on what could have been a very traditional dissertation about Jonas Green, I turned it into like, it’s the Green family. And it’s Catherine Green. Oh, what does it mean to center her as like the actor? Not with as much theory as I would do now. But in my mind, it’s like, what feminism looked like to me then was at least that. Right. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: So, the public part of it was not. I didn’t want to take somebody else’s theory. And then just like, construct something out of it. I want to do my own thing. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: That’s a thread, I guess. I just want to do my own thing. I’m just going to do whatever. 

Stottman: We are detecting a real theme here. 

Little: Archeology in Annapolis was really I mean, it was. And still it, I mean, Mark is not working in the city necessarily anymore. But he’s the project continues. 

Stottman: It’s still going.

Little: And it’s and it’s growing. And I think the critical theory has been something that is foundational for me. I mean, I have done other things since, but it is, it provided me like the basic format for how am I actually thinking about what archaeology should be doing? Right, which was liberating. Right, archaeology should not be used to oppress, it should be used for liberation. That’s what archaeology in Annapolis taught me.

Stottman: How long did you work there?

Little: That’s a darn good question, too. It seems like forever. I went through a bunch of different roles. And at one point, I was like, the director, and there were a lot of sites going on. And then Mark was on sabbatical, so I want to say like till ‘91 or something. So, it was a while.

Stottman: Right? So, what kind of things did you do there, some of those roles? 

Little: I was, I think I was called administrator for archaeology. But it meant that there were, I don’t know how many sites we have open at one time. There was a field school, and it was field school director, when sometime was always collaboratively. I mean, there were always people working on stuff.

Stottman: That experience there, did that give you, serve as the background for how you’ve thought about engaging with the public, the logistical nature of it

Little: Not necessarily, yes. Well, the logistical part of some because I thought it was the lesson of bringing in the theater directors. It’s a collaboration. We need people who know how to do things that we don’t know how to do, right. We don’t need to invent stuff and then do it all wrong. Right. We can actually collaborate with people. And then the theory was really the point. Okay. And then I taught at Maryland, and George Mason some, and the public stuff was part of what I was teaching. 

Stottman: And is that some of the some of the courses you were teaching? Is that something. you brought to that position? Or is that something they wanted you to do?

Little: They didn't care what I did, right. I don’t think they cared about what I did. But I yeah, I mean, I brought it because I thought that’s where archaeology was going. And it made sense to me that there was and that’s what I knew, too, right? Like, that’s also what I knew. And then from George Mason, you know, one of the alumni there is Matt [Matthew] Reeves. And I feel like that’s like, I feel like I’m, I’m so proud of him for coming out of that program as an undergrad and then like creating the profession that he’s created is like very public focused and collaborative. And I’d like to think I planted some little seed of that. Right. And the same with Laura Galke. She was also out of the George Mason, undergraduate crew.

Stottman: I didn’t realize it; Matt did his undergraduate. He was the discussant for my session.

Little: It is so great. I mean, it’s like there’s public archaeology in whatever form it takes, it comes out in different ways. And I think that’s part of the richness of it, that it’s not just one kind of public archaeology. Therefore, somebody’s going to be on site, giving a tour, and there’s a brochure, right? It comes out in all different kinds of ways. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: And some of it is just making archaeology more accessible. And picking the projects that are not only of interest to 10 people. Right, I think that’s also been my sort of crusade, beef. I don’t really like the word prehistory, and I try not to use it, but the identities that were so strong when I was growing up, so prehistory versus historic, which is kind of ridiculous. But the non-sort of modern world archaeologists who are can be awfully focused on pretty tiny, esoteric things. And even if you're going to tell the public about that, nobody cares. 

Stottman: Right? 

Little: Why would they care?

Stottman: Yeah, now, it’s not prehistory. Now. It’s like my colleagues are saying, Native American archaeology.

Little: Right. Except that that’s historical. So, the language is a problem. Still? I think still.

Stottman: Yeah, terminology is a constant challenge for us. 

Little: Yeah, definitely.

Stottman: So where did you go next after George Mason?

Little: Taught at George Mason ‘87 to ‘89. And then I went to the University of Maryland. They were both sabbatical replacements and Ann Pavlovich had gone on a sabbatical like a two-year sabbatical at George Mason. I was very fortunate to get that. And I was grateful for that. It was really interesting to do. I thought that what I wanted was an academic job. I never really liked teaching. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: I just, I found it very difficult to do. But I loved the students. And I learned a lot from the students. So, I think that’s always the tradeoff. And some people love teaching. Good for them. And then I went to Maryland, because Mark Leone was on sabbatical. And then I was like, oh my god, I just I really don’t like this. What am I going to do? So, the profession I chose right. And then I got a term position with the Park Service. Steven Potter, who was the regional archaeologist at the time in Washington, and I had been like a liaison at the University of Maryland, because he funded students, and so I worked with him. And then he hired me to do this planning work for the National Capital Region that went off on a four-year term. And I loved it. I loved the Park Service; I loved what I was doing. Because it was for the public. The point of it was people. And I didn’t have to teach. And also, at the beginning of that year it was ’92. I taught one seminar class at Johns Hopkins. Because I really thought it’s like, okay, maybe it was just George Mason and Maryland, maybe if I did go somewhere else, I would really like teaching because I believe I was really convinced. And you know, at the time, too, it’s like, that’s the viable career option. That’s like the career that’s what you want, right to be an academic. And it was a great goodbye seminar for me. But the kids were fabulous. The undergrads at Johns Hopkins were like, unbelievable. And I thought, okay, if I don’t want to teach after this, but I don’t want to teach. But it was a great way to say “Okay, I’m done.”  

Stottman: Right. 

Little: I’m done with that. I’m doing this. So, the Park Service became really interesting to me. And then I was on this sort of short-term thing, four years, right. I guess now it wouldn’t be thought of as short-term but that is what it was, and then I had the opportunity to transfer during that term to the National Register to be the archaeologist for the National Register of Historic Places.

Stottman: Right. 

Little: And so that was great. And I went to that job, honestly, Jay, and it was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do to make this interesting? 

Stottman: Right.

Little:  Because the bureaucracy was not interesting. And so, I really worked hard to try to intellectualize it for myself. So, I wrote a lot about the register, because I could not deal with the job otherwise. Because it could have been, it could have been like, okay, I’m done. I’m going to go work in a bookstore. Like, boring.

Stottman: Yeah, that whole process is a real bureaucratic sort of thing. 

Little: Goodness.

Stottman: But it says something about you, though, that you can take a job like that and make it interesting, or at least bearable.

Little: I made it interesting for myself at least. It’s like, what does this mean? Oh, my goodness. Why are we doing this? And that was really the impetus for more of a really explicit public thinking. So, then The Public Benefits of Archaeology gave me the opportunity to step into that. And I had such a hard time selling public benefits of the archaeology book to publishers, it was stunning to me. 

Stottman: Really.

Little: Because at the time, it was like, nobody cares. I can’t tell you how many publishers said,      Nobody cares about the public and archaeology. That’s irrelevant. But I stuck with it. And it’s like, no, I’m going to find somebody to publish this thing. And I'm glad I did. Because I think that really changed the field. 

Stottman: I’m glad you did too, because it was a very formative book, I think, for a lot of people who have been thinking about this stuff but didn't have a way to. When I saw it, I was like, someone who thinks like me. But it's so that that aspect of working in it because I can relate to that, you know, you’re working in that sort of machine that is culture resource management, section 106, and the National Register process, and all that kind of thing. It really makes you ask, what is all this for? Because it’s kind of hard to see that when you’re in all that. And then it’s like is archaeology just for public interest? Are we just doing this for the public interest? I was always told, when I was first starting out, why do we do this? Because the law says you have to. So, is that something that was going on with you in your thinking that there had to be more there. 

Little: Right, because what is the point, but I did not see there was a bureaucratic and a not very convincing preservation point to the Register. It's not very convincing, it’s kind of a house of cards.

Stottman: And it is built on perception. 

Little: It is and right now we see some serious undermining of that perception. But I needed to figure out if we are doing archaeology just to fulfill a bureaucratic purpose, I want no part of it. But I couldn’t believe that that’s what it was for. Right. And I think there were lots of people like-minded, certainly enough people for that conference and that book. And then people who’ve come up to me at conferences, since it’s like, thank you for doing that. Right. And, you know, I’ve been teased by publishers who didn’t take me up on it. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: Since, it’s like you could have he could have had that. You could have, it’s still selling.

Stottman: Yeah, I’m sure it does. It’s a staple of all the stuff that we do now in public archaeology and engagement and all those terms that we use. So, reading, reading some of the bio that you had, that you had included, you and Paul [Shackel] included in your civic engagement heritage volume. 

Little: Oh, yes.

Stottman: And you were, and I detected a note of some criticism towards the academic process, in a way which is not popular to do, but not that it’s a sentiment that many people have. And you said that teaching, you didn’t want to teach, but was there anything else about the academic system that…

Little: Oh, it’s completely sexist. 

Stottman: Okay.

Little: Oh, good, Lord. I can’t tell you how many interviews I had. I never, ever was hired for a tenure track job, but I still kept trying to get ‘em.

Stottman: Right. 

Little: I mean, such as the power of suggestion. It’s like this being success, even though I wasn’t I don’t know, it was just like, I get sucked into this idea that that meant I would be successful. Instead of like being happy and engaged. It was just so silly. 

Stottman: That if you couldn’t land a tenure, track job that you were a failure. 

Little: Yeah. And I can’t tell you how many interviews some man would ask people, what’s your husband going to do if we hire you? So really, what? And I was told, oh, you know, you’re way too serious. You got to get bubbly. You have to be bubbly. I mean, I can I mean, and that’s just the interview process. But I think there is such and it’s still there, although I think it’s busted up a little bit because there are so many women now in the discipline. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: But when I was coming up, it was like, a friend would tell me it’s like, my god. It’s like Barbara and her all-boy band, right? Because I got these field crews. And it’s like, oh, yeah, I guess they are all men. But I just I didn’t want to like, I didn’t want to put up with it. I wasn’t going to I wanted to do what I wanted to do. And I just, I felt stymied, and insulted kind of constantly, because of the way I was talked to by certainly not everybody. I mean, there’s plenty of older white men who would not treat me that way. But there were plenty who did. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: So, I think the academic structure is pretty hard to bust through, just conceptually, it’s very, it’s very rigid by design. And it has this sense of like, well, we’re in charge of objective science. Right. And I think there’s been a kind of a turning up of the nose, the general academic nose still at public archaeology, right? It’s not serious. It’s not rigorous. It’s not theoretical. And that’s, I find that irritating. 

Stottman: Not a fertile sort of area for developing that kind of stuff, which kind of speaks to if you are in academia, and you’re doing this kind of archaeology, it’s more of an intrinsic sort of thing. You know, because you want to do it, and not anything you’re going to get rewarded for. 

Little: Right, and you better do it on like, real air quotes, archaeology also. All right. And then it’s like, you can do that other stuff, too. But you got to do the real stuff. Right? Yeah.

Stottman: So, you so you go to the Park Service, and you find it. I mean, certainly the government has its problems. 

Little: Oh, yeah. 

Stottman: But since the mission of something like the Park Service is public, you it sounds like you found a way to sort of engage that. That aspect of how you how you thought about public archaeology and that kind of thing. And then with the publishing of Public Benefits, so from that point. I know you were with the Park Service, you know, still beyond that. But did your role change?

Little: I did a lot of different jobs in the Park Service. After the National Register and NHL programs, I went to the Archaeology Program, and worked for Frank McManamon, who had a lot of women working for him, right. So, they had blazed whatever trail needed to be there. Park Service, I don’t know about always, but for a long time has had a lot of strong women archaeologists involved, not that there have not been problems, and sexism and harassment and all that stuff. But there’s also been a lot of strong women. And not like everywhere in leadership. But what also is interesting about a place like the Park Service versus academics is that there’s because of the way the government money is structured and pay scale, you know who’s making what, right. And it's not like some secret. So, it's really, it’s, it’s possible to hire women at lower grades. But it’s not possible to hire women at the same grade and pay them less.

Stottman: Right. 

Little: Which is actually huge. Right? Because I think that happens all over the place. Right? Women are expected to do this much work, but they’re going to get paid less. And government pay structure makes that really hard. So, I worked for the archaeology program and then I took over for somebody I can’t remember his name, but within the same sort of umbrella organization, the Park Service for Cultural Resources. And this guy who’d left Frank McManamon shop had been doing his public outreach stuff. And so, he left, and he went to talk to Frank. So, I want that job. Right. So, we all made, that that worked, right? So, I did, I was sort of a public outreach person for the archaeology program, the National archaeology program, which didn’t mean I was in charge in any way of the interpretation that happens in parks, right, because that’s just not the way it’s structured. But that was really useful. And then after I, that was ‘99. And then, fast forward because this has been interesting, to fast forward to 2012. I left the Park Service for six months for a developmental opportunity at the Government Service Administration. Doing mobile government technology, right. And I learned a lot about like the rest of the government because Park Service is not like, we don't necessarily collaborate with other agencies. Very much like, if it’s not Park Service, it doesn’t exist. It is really interesting to see what other agencies were doing. And then I came back, and I just pestered our new associate director, to give me an office for interpretation, separate from archaeology. I pestered her and I shamed her by saying Natural Resources has one, I probably shouldn’t even say this, but it was like, I was so shameless about it. But she finally gave, she kind of gave it to me, right? She said, Okay, okay, try it. And that’s what I’ve got now. Right? So, it’s tiny. And I think it’s very threatened. I don't expect it’s going to, you know, survive this administration. But for right now. So, I'm an archaeologist running this program for cultural resources. And we do digital stuff. I mean, we do the national digital stories. And it’s not just archaeology. And I think that’s part of what public archaeology is. And it’s not just through my experience, but sort of all over the place, we cannot survive with archaeology alone. We need historians and the public historians and the cultural landscape folks and, I mean, all of the cultural resources, and maybe all have the natural resources too I don’t know. But people don’t experience the world in little bits and pieces. 

Stottman: Are you saying that they don’t experience the world as just the culture resources are at a place? Right, everything

Little: It’s everything right? And you know, others have, there’s an eagle and oh, it’s an archeological site. And there’s a building? And why is this invasive species here, and all that all the stuff that’s a place-based way of experiencing the world. So, I feel like public archaeology also has to be interwoven and integrated with the way people think about things.

Stottman: Right.

Little: And there will always be like the rabid folks, like I don't care about anything else. Tell me about the archaeology. Great. But there's not as many of them as like, people were just like, oh, what’s happening here?

Stottman: Know your audience? 

Little: Yeah, right. Yeah. 

Stottman: So, during this time with the Park Service, you’ve published quite a lot. And especially on public benefits of archaeology serves as the base of that. But can you talk about how you got into expanding that idea of who archaeology is for, engagement and activism and things that you've written a whole lot about. 

Little: So, after Public Archaeology, so that we did that conference in I want to say in 1995. And then the book finally came out in 2002. I think, losing track, that was the last, except for one or two small articles. That was the last thing I did on government time. Right, because it was actually a Park Service product, project to do that. Not that it didn’t take, books take a lot of time. So, all on government time but it was a Park Service product in some way, right. But since then, it’s just been like my split screen, right, I have an academic life, and I have a Park Service life, and I don’t do writing on Park Service time, unless it’s Park Service writing. So, I say that sort of emphatically, because lots of people will ask me, how do you get the Park Service to pay you to do such and such? It’s like, they don't. It’s like, I’m a workaholic. And I’m married to a workaholic. And that’s good. Because, like then doing stuff. But one of the so when I did, [Historical Archaeology:] Why the Past Matters. I wrote that book because I was so mad. I was so mad. That was second Bush. And the Park Service was, it was horrible. We had bad leadership from the top, not at the Frank McManamon level, right, but above him. And it was just relentlessly awful. And so, I needed an outlet. It’s like, I need to go home and be able to do things for myself, that give me hope. So, I wrote that book because I was like, it was like, there was no hope. What was happening in this Park Service? It was a severe attack to archaeology and cultural resources in general. But archaeology explicitly, for whatever reason, I don’t even exactly know why that was. Personality based? I don’t know.

Stottman: Well, we tend to piss off a lot of developers, ranchers.

Little: I guess. Maybe.

Stottman: Things like that, you know. 

Little: I don’t even know if it was that thought through. So hard to tell. So that became a refuge in a way, that writing. And I’ve always wanted to keep an academic life, not only because I’m married to an academic, and that’s like, part of identity of us. We have this academic life. And so, Right, just, adversity is not a bad thing all the time. That helped me really form my thoughts. Well, why does this matter? What is it actually, what are we doing?

Stottman: Right, hence the title? Kind of evaluating, I guess, in a situation like that where there’s a lot of political pressure can make you sort of ask those questions like you did when you were doing the National Register stuff. Like why is this important? Like you got to justify the relevancy of what you’re doing when you’re doing your job, and you think this is important stuff. And then somebody comes along, and says, you’re not important. 

Little: Right, that was the message. You’re not only not important, but you’re dangerous. Which is actually really important. Because if we’re dangerous, then we matter. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: And archeology came up in like, nation building early on, it was important for other reasons. So, it’s really interesting to me…how much archaeology matters. And I know that archaeologists will say, “I want to be I want to be an activist. I want to do this.But archaeology doesn’t really matter that much.” Like, well, it does, not only because of the past matters. But archaeology is a really radical, subversive thing? Right? It breaks all the rules. I was sitting in the heteronormative session is like archaeology is kind of queer by definition. It’s like, right, do stuff that people are not, that’s not what people do. Right? You don’t go dig in the dirt. You don’t go like creating meaning out of ambiguity, except that’s what people do every day. Everyday life, that’s all we got, ambiguity. So that I guess that’s that was formative, too. It’s like if I can, if I can write under those conditions, I can just keep going. And that that book was important to me. And then Paul and I did the public good one, whose main title I can never remember. It’s like archaeology and heritage for the public good or something like that.

Stottman: Yeah, that’s right. 

Little: I can’t think of the name of it ever.

Stottman: That’s okay. Because you published enough that you can’t remember something. It’s good.

Little: That was really interesting to write because it was the same thing. It’s like, what is the public good. And the connection of archaeology and heritage more broadly, although most of that book is archaeology examples, because that’s what we know. And would have been like a 500-page book if we really tried to do heritage, which is huge.

Stottman: Right. 

Little: But I hope the principles make sense to folks. What I have been finding too, is that it’s so important. It’s that collaborative thing, and it’s collaboration across disciplines. And it’s not mugging other people’s literature. As it been put to me sometimes, but actually seeing what, what are the philosophers talking about? What are the ecoactivists doing? What are they saying? What resonates with me so that I can like, see how it connects to everything else that’s going on? I feel like a lot of activists, and I generally write people like to invent new things, partly because and this fits me too, it’s so much work to figure out what else was going on. 

Stottman: Right.

Little: Let’s create something new. And I heard John Lewis say, once the Congressman to people in an audience who said, somebody asked him a question, it’s like, well, what, what should I be doing? Right? I want to I want to help. And he said, “Don’t start any new organization. Don’t do that.” He said, “there’s a lot of them. Find one that resonates with you and work for them, do something for them, volunteer for them, give them money, whatever it is.” He said, “But please don’t start a new one.” Which made me laugh. It’s like guilty, right? Not for, like starting an organization. But exactly those problems. Like why do we reinvent the wheel? 

Stottman: Exactly. 

Little: Instead of finding what somebody else is like up to. And like, connecting to it?

Stottman: Yeah, making those connections? 

Little: Yes.

Stottman: So that experience has gotten you thinking about doing this activist kind of stuff. I mean, you have written a lot about that. And I think, to me, it sounds like you went to archaeology to mean something. You want your archaeology to matter you know. How do you see this concept within the current structures that we have in archaeology, like the academic, the government, CRM, those kinds of things? Because you can’t come to this conference and avoid civic engagement or community archaeology. 

Little: Right, right.

Stottman: How is that going to work within these long-established structures that we have to operate in? Because you are better than anyone knows, knows the difficulty of negotiating, negotiating those structures?

Little: That's a good question. Wow. So, I think part of what’s happening is, there’s a lot of      cooptation going on. There’s a lot of, oh sure, sure do public archaeology. And it’s deradicalized that way. It’s reformed. It’s just come on into the fold. And it’s like, of course we share information. But I think the way you’ve talked about activist archeology and the way that it has come up, I think in a powerful way is like it is actually radical and can the point is to radically transform the discipline. The point of it is not just to add to, but to paste on the flowers.

Stottman: Right. Good analysis. 

Little: It’s like feminist archaeology, not to just add women and like stir. It’s not if that’s not what public archaeology is for, but it is very easy because of the vernacular kind of language we use. can seem like, well, okay, we're doing public archaeology if we teach somebody to flint knap in a Boy Scout camp.

Stottman: Right.

Little: I know nothing. I got no problem with teaching people to flint knap. I think that’s fabulous. That’s great. And I don’t want to completely normalize the process either. You know, and I love the sound of all of it’s good, right? There’s nothing that … Some of it’s stupid, but it’s all good in some sense. Right.

Stottman: Or a lot of it has been there, done that.

Little: Been there done that and you don’t want it to become like face painting at a festival, right? It’s like, you got to go to the sandbox dig because you already got flowers on your face, like find something. And I want archaeology to stay a little strange. And I guess that’s my challenge in thinking about how ubiquitous it has become.

Stottman: Right.

Little: How do you still like people understand it’s not just like oh right we find this thing. And this is what it means. And it’s like a page from a book. Because it isn’t. That's not what it is. It’s ambiguous, and it’s strange. And your whole life is like this. And the categories that you think work don’t work. Right. You can blow things up with archaeology. 

Stottman: And they mean different things to different people.

Little: But it needs to keep being of radical potential, instead of disappeared into something we do because it’s kind of cute.

Stottman: And normalizing it, it is becoming normalized is a real possibility. Right? It could be a threat to it.

Little: And then it would look like success, right? Yeah. Look at us. Look, we did. Every school kid learns about archaeology. Great, but what did they learn?

Stottman: What are they learning. How are they using it? What effect does it have on them? This is why I think your books bring that element to it, because you have that real practical sense of being academic and in that government setting that really creates that. 

Little: I was thinking about this actually the other day, because I’m trying to finish another book. And it’s like, I got to take vacation time. And when am I going to do that? Because of course, Park Service is falling apart, right? They’re being hollowed out, and it’s just a disaster. But I was, I was thinking about how, at the same time, as you know, I lament, right? I couldn’t do, I couldn’t write what I write without that. I couldn’t do it if I was in an academic position, I wouldn’t. That’s not where my head would be. Right. Not because I’m not broad brushing academics in this way. But I know where my head would be, I would be off in some theoretical neverland, doing whatever feminist thing I was doing, and come with me or don’t. But the Park Service setting and the federal setting, it’s like, we have to talk to everybody. Even if we really don’t like them. Because it’s America. And that has kept me grounded in a way. And it’s not like I’m going out and doing the tourism stuff. That’s not what I’m doing. Right. But the setting is such that it’s like, it’s not you can’t pick and choose. Reality is what it is. And you have to be really clear-eyed about what country we’re in. Yikes!

Stottman: So, how do you see this relationship because this interview is, obviously, for the Society for Applied Anthropology. And, of course, archaeology, and especially what we’ve been doing in archaeology has very strong roots or relationships, however you want to phrase that, with cultural anthropology and applied anthropologists, I wonder if you can speak a little bit to that relationship at all? Or has that been influential to you at all? Or do you think it’s something that would be important for students?

Little: One of mine, I use some of Erve Chambers stuff a lot, because I think he expresses things clearly. Right? About particularly his sort of contrast, but also is like, you have to be both objective and you also have to be nonobjective. You have to both be a scientist and an artist, right? 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: You have some kind of objective distance, but you also have to be completely engaged and involved. And that’s like the anthropological challenge. Always right. But it’s also the human challenge. Because you, you’re going to you live your life, and you can live it in your head and like be distant from it, or you can like, okay, I’m engaging, and I’m involved. 

I still have to make sense of it because it doesn’t make any sense. Right. So, I think one of the challenges now, with public archaeology, or active archaeology, or whatever it is, right, yeah. I just learned that there is slow archaeology, I don’t really understand what that terminology means. What that is about? Somebody told me it meant it’s a contrast against fast capitalism. It’s like, well, they could have come up with a better term, because I don’t know that that’s going to mean anything because I don’t know what you’re talking about. Like, are you slow because you didn’t get your report finished. Is that okay, now? I still have to do the report.

Stottman: I’m glad somebody else didn’t know what it was. I was trying to figure that out too.

Little: Like, somebody just tell me. I think our challenge, and this is a country challenge. It’s a personal challenge, it’s an archaeology challenge, is to somehow figure out how we actually take intersection seriously, right? Because we’re talking about queer archaeology, and we’re talking about anti racist archaeology. And we’re talking about feminist archaeology. And we’re talking about like, it’s going to be on the recording [sounds of hitting on table] I’m knocking on the table, all these categories, and everybody has their self-interest. And that’s not helpful. I mean, I completely get it, 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: I completely and utterly get it, but it’s not where we need to go. And it’s part of so I’m writing this book for the series, the American experience in archaeology and whatever, whatever it’s called, the archaeology of social justice. And this is where I’ve come into the service because there are so many interests. But all of them are actually underlined, underline under laid, I don’t know what the word is, by equity. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: And it’s an equity that has to be for everybody. We can’t be doing an archaeology that just replaces the power structure with another unequal power structure. Which is always the danger. It’s Orwell's Animal Farm. four legs, you know, four legs good, two legs bad. If that’s what we’re after, I want no part of that. I’m not interested in a different hierarchy. I’m interested in a heterarchy that honors equity, that’s real. And that’s not going to be easy. Because people have their interests and their complaints, their very valid complaints, and their desire to be recompensed. And all that stuff. And how did you get there? If this idea and I was in some somebody the discussant said exactly the right thing in response to a comment when somebody said in the heteronormative query archaeology session, something about the cisgendered white men being the bad guy. And Chelsea Blackmore said, you know what the most important thing we all can do is to be self-critical. Look at ourselves first. Look at what we’re doing, she said, because there’s nobody in this room who feels oppressed, who is not also oppressing. And that’s, and that’s really true because it is way too easy to say who are we going to blame now? Blame doesn’t get us anywhere except into where we are in the country. With the white pride crazies doing their white pride thing. And so, it’s that not white people can be complicit, but they’re not the evil empire. So, that’s where I feel like there’s some social theory converging into intersections, and what does justice mean? And archaeology needs to be in that conversation, too. But to get past all the labels we’ve given it, because I can say I’m a feminist archaeologist. Can I also be an anti-racist archaeologist? Can I be in favor of like power for named whatever? I want to be in favor of equity and whatever that means? And I don’t know, I don't think we know what a non-racist, non-sexist society looks like. Nobody’s ever seen one.

Stottman: Right. What’s that supposed to look like? 

Little: And it doesn’t Yeah, it doesn’t. I’ve had people say to me, I know what it looks like it’d be it means to me that like black people have opportunities. Like opportunities for what? For the same kind of like, private climate crisis inducing jobs that everybody else has had? That’s not, no, it doesn’t look like that it looks like something else. And I don’t know what it looks like. 

Stottman: So, through your education you have a sense of your influences there. What kinds of things have influenced the way you think about the world of archaeology and that kind of thing. What do you read? Anybody in particular has been very influential in forming how the way you think. 

Little: They’re well outside of archaeology? It would be the poet’s, right. Because I really feel like intensity. I said this to Matt Reeves the other day, that it’s, in my mind, and the way I experienced poetry and archaeology are generally very much very similar. They’re very similar. And partly because they deal with such deep ambiguity, right? Because our poetry is trying to express things that cannot be expressed. I mean, good poetry is striving towards the silence that is the ineffable. And archaeology is expressing what we can’t know. Right? So, it’s really so, I find poetry really very helpful in sort of in structuring my thoughts. I also find art helpful, right, and necessary. I was I have been, and particularly thinking about this justice book, and I need to actually acknowledge in some way, I’m deeply influenced by Suheil Bushrui, who was at the University of Maryland for a while as the Bahai chair for world peace. He was here for years, and was very, and I said to him once, and he since he passed away, about four years ago, very important leader in the Bahai community, had been some high-up minister in the Lebanese government, when, in 1989, when the President was assassinated, and he and his wife had to flee Lebanon, and came to the University of Maryland, as a scholar, and a Bahai scholar, his conception of the world about love, right, and love being and he was a poet, and he encouraged my poetry, which was nice. But he was relentless about the radical force of love. And that’s, that’s deeply influential. So, I’m sure there’s others, but that’s what comes to mind.

Stottman: Okay. So, do you work with students now?  

Little: I’m on committees? Yes, I’ll sit on committees and work with students. I usually try to limit it to one PhD committee at a time. And so, I’m on a public historian’s committee right now from Middle Tennessee State. Who is so fabulous. She submitted her final, so she’ll be defending in a little bit. But I find that it’s almost essential to me to have some kind of student relationship continuing. 

Stottman: Right. And you found a way to do that in that nonacademic setting. A thing we haven’t covered here. Well, how do you think of archaeology and that? And this is sort of riffing off the previous question I asked you. How do you think of archaeology and archaeology’s relationship within anthropology? So, the idea being that some people think of archaeology as being an example or domain of applied anthropology. So, [unintelligible] just wondering where your thoughts are on the relationship of archaeology, and especially the kinds of stuff that we did in relation to the rest of anthropology.

Little: In my mind, I think archaeology would not, there would be nothing there if it weren’t anthropology. And I say that also knowing that I probably now know about half a percent of what cultural anthropologists actually do. When I go to the AAA meetings, like, Oh, my God, I have no clue what’s going on here. But conceptually, and sort of the purpose of the discipline, I think, I don’t think archaeology has hope if it’s not an anthropology, and I don’t care about archaeology, I don’t care about anthropology that’s not applied. I can ignore this stuff that people don’t feel like they need to share in some way or use. 

Stottman: It has to have a purpose, right? And it goes back to the things that really brought you in here.

Little: Right.

Stottman: What is it for? And Who is it for? 

Little: Right, it’s very important.

Stottman: Can you think of any particular influences within archaeology? Who were particularly formative for you?

Little: Oh, wow. Well, I just went to Bob Paynter’s panel yesterday, where people were just lauding him, right, Bob Paynter, certainly, but for that whole sort of those guys, right, Bob Paynter and Randy McGuire, and Tom Patterson, and those folks who are really theoretical pushers. It’s like, we’re going to make this happen. And they’re all with your different kind of strengths and, but clearly their cabal. All right, right.

Stottman: Yeah. There’s similar Marxist background, right, very influential.

Little: And certainly, Leone in the same kind of category, Meg Conkey is more recent. Elizabeth Brumfiel was a phenomenal thinker, right? I still miss that she’s not here anymore, giving us like her thoughts. Trying to think of the folks coming up, some people for different kinds of reasons. So, there are and I’m trying to dig back to when I was coming up, like because it’s like. Jim Hatch taught my field school. And he was never a particularly productive writer. But was a teacher. So, in that way, it was remarkably influential, I mean, always very generous with his time and cared about students and whether you got it.

Stottman: Right.

Little: Right. I thought Eric Wolf was like one of the most amazing scholars, right. And I remember meeting him at one point at some talk. Ezra Zubrow had taken me to this talk. And Eric Wolf was there, and he said, let me introduce you. And I was afraid I was like, Oh, my God. I can say they’re cool. And we just had a conversation for a minute or two. It wasn’t anything. And I said, well, that was really nice. It’s really nice. And this is always stuck with me. Jay, As you said to me, “the good ones don’t have to be assholes.” Because so many famous scholars really are jerks. And I thought, well, I don’t want to be a jerk. I don’t want to be an asshole. I  want to be a good one. I mean it’s not like I’ve ever actually had conversations with him. And it says work obviously, as I can write me a lot, but, but just that really brief interaction about how you treat people who are just coming up like, Oh, look at you. You’re famous.

Stottman: Exactly. How do you deal with it? 

Little: Oh, you know, I’m so I’m, I’m just so tickled. And it’s usually young women who will come up and say, thank you for doing whatever. And I try to be nice. I’m no good at remembering names. So inevitably, if they see me later, it’s like, hopefully, they don’t get insulted or anything.

Stottman: Well, I mean, do you have any, anything else that you would like to add? This is pretty much all the questions I have you know, about, you know, about this kind of work? And, and, you know, where do you think it might go?

Little: You know, I kind of wish I knew more about how it was being taught, as opposed to how it’s being written about? Because I, because I really don’t know. Yeah, and I feel like that’s, that’s just a gap for maybe all of us, right. So, people come out in different kinds of schools. And sometimes we have a clue how their education has been in some and mostly we don’t. 

Stottman: Right. 

Little: So, I feel like that’s a big gap. And I’m kind of curious about how that actually works. How do people learn about this stuff? And do they? And sometimes I do think that there is some sense that, oh, this is the easier route. So, I’m going to do this. And it’s not the easier route.

Stottman: Doing this kind of work is really hard. It takes a long time. A lot of relationships maybe that was slower. But yeah, I agree. I mean, I think about the same things, too. It’s like, Well, you know, how are we going to prepare students for doing this kind of stuff? Because certainly, the traditional way of educating archaeologists is not going to do it. So, so how do we do that? And I think, you know, talking to Paul earlier, you know, I get a sense of, you know, the way the way he thinks that should be done and what he does at Maryland, but that is certainly not the norm. You know, take those ethnography classes, right, and take those applied anthropology courses and those kinds of things, develop the skills, you're going to need to be a public or outreach or engaging engagement archaeologist, you know, because you don’t really learn those in field school too often.

Little: No, no, and it’s, and it’s the only time you really have the opportunity to do is while you’re in school. Yeah. And I think a lot of folk’s graduate, it’s like, well, why should I? I should? Like, yeah, you should. should have done because it is more. And that’s back to the [unintelligible]. How is it anthropology? You can’t like do public archaeology, if you don’t have a sense of how anthropology is done, right? You can’t do it effectively.

Stottman: You can do it, but…

Little: Or some allied thing, right? So, you know, public history can relate to oral history. They don’t necessarily like do the ethnographic stuff. I feel like they should if they’re missing out. Yeah.

Stottman: And it is a lot about collaboration. You know, we talk a lot about collaborating with communities, but you know, collaborating with our colleagues, collaboration all the way around. It has to work. It’s true. Otherwise, I don’t but thank you. Well, thank you so much for agreeing to do the interview and I'm really glad I had a chance to learn more about you.

Further Reading

Little, Barbara J., and Paul A. Shackel. 2014. Archaeology, Heritage, and Civic Engagement, Routledge.

Little, Barbara J., editor. 2002. Public Benefits of Archaeology. University Press of Florida.

Little, Barbara J. 2016. Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters, Routledge.

Little, Barbara J., 2023. Bending Archaeology toward Social Justice: Transformational Action for Positive Peace. University of Alabama Press.

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