PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Calling all archaeology enthusiasts. Whether an expert or amateur, student or savant, if you have an interest in prehistorical discovery and like to write, the Joukowsky Institute wants to hear from you. In a unique spin on the usual call for academic papers, the institute is holding a competition for essays on archaeology research from writers in all walks of life. The winner of the “Archaeology for the People” competition — the writer who does the best job translating research into an essay that is interesting and accessible to a broad audience — will receive $5,000.
The idea for the competition was born in conversations between John Cherry, professor of archaeology, classics, and anthropology, and Felipe Rojas, assistant professor of archaeology and Egyptology and ancient Western Asian studies, about the lack of writing on archaeology outside the academic sphere.
“Archaeology has very important and significant things to say about the human condition, how we got to where we are now and where we might go in the future,” Cherry said, “but archaeology as a discipline has not done a terribly good job of communicating its most interesting and important findings to a nonprofessional audience.”
Instead, Cherry and Rojas say, important archaeology news has been limited mainly to professional journals that reach only a specialized audience. Archaeology that does make it into mainstream culture — in the form of television documentaries, for example — tends to “dumb down” the subject or focus too much on the element of discovery or mystery, said Cherry.
“There’s often an implicit subtext that the experts haven’t gotten it right. It’s demeaning to archaeology as a serious discipline.”
Inspired to get people beyond the academic world writing and thinking about archaeology, Cherry and Rojas created the Archaeology for the People competition. The rules are simple: Submit a 5,000 to 6,000 word essay on any aspect of archaeology that might be of interest to a wide readership. No references, footnotes, endnotes, or other scholarly apparatuses may be used, and only one image can be included.
The competition is open to anyone worldwide except faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students at the Joukowsky Insitute.
The deadline for entries is Sept. 1, 2014; a winner will be announced in November 2014. A handful of top submissions will be published in the spring 2015 volume of the Joukowsky Institute Publication series (Oxbow Books).
Submissions will be judged by a panel of Joukowsky Institute faculty, with possible input from faculty in nonfiction writing or literary arts as well.
Cherry and Rojas said they’re looking for submissions that have that “driveway moment,” akin to an arresting story on National Public Radio that you can’t bear to turn off even after you’ve pulled up to your house.
While they expect to get many submissions from people with a connection to archaeology, they’re hopeful that the range of backgrounds among submitters is wide.
“We’re trying to engage a broader audience. Often the people who have been most successful in talking about archaeology are not always archaeologists. This is a little paradoxical, and I hope the competition will allow people who are not professionals to think seriously and critically and in an exciting fashion about archaeology,” Rojas said.
For now, as the competition kicks off, Cherry and Rojas are keeping their fingers crossed that their idea will get people around the globe researching and writing about their discipline.
“We literally have no idea what the takeup on this will be. Hopefully hundreds of submissions,” Cherry said. “It’s a big experiment; we’ll see.”