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archaeological Curation

ABOUT THE RESOURCES By danielle benden

From 2007-2017, I served as the Senior Curator of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My work responsibilities included teaching and so I developed and taught an Archaeological Curation Methods course. Initially, I taught the course like an independent study, where up to ten students per semester gained hands-on experience working with the departmental collections. This object-based learning (OBL), using material culture for meaningful, multi-layered study and discovery, was supplemented with reading and writing assignments. The course was repeatable for up to six credits and provided students with informal, yet guided hands-on collections experience (e.g., processing collections backlog, preparing loans, database management). Students could log a few hours per day, two or three times per week as it fit within their schedule. Very quickly, the demand for the course grew exponentially prompting me to rethink the course structure, objectives, and learning outcomes, in part to protect the amount of time I was spending per week on teaching in relation to my other job duties. The result was a more formalized course, still OBL-focused, that included structured group meeting sessions. The first third of the course was typically spent reviewing the readings, in the form of interactive lecture or student-led discussion. For the remaining class time, students developed practical skills through hands-on collections work.


In 2017, I presented an online seminar for the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) that described the process of developing a new course or integrating curation training into an existing one. In that seminar, and in my teaching, my approach is focused on thinking about the discipline of archaeology as a cyclical process ensuring curation considerations at every stage of a project: before, during and after fieldwork. It is clear that curation training opportunities, while they have increased in the last few years, remain inadequate across all sectors of archaeology. My objective for developing this curricula and sharing it freely is to fill in those training gaps, in academia but also in CRM and within government agencies.


Below is the curation course content, objectives, and list of weekly topics provided as a template. PDFs of the suggested readings and assignments are also available for you. The curriculum presented here was based on a 16-week semester course. You'll notice that there are only 12 weeks of reading. This was intentional, to provide time for field trips (behind the scenes museum tours with collections managers and curators), breaks during the semester (e.g., spring break) and time to work hands-on with collections.


The following content is meant to be adapted to meet budget and time constraints. And, if it's not feasible to offer a several-week curation course? The content is designed to pick and choose important themes if you had just one hour of professional development available, or one class period if you work in academia.




Are you an instructor who is considering teaching a class about archaeological curation? Start here!

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Wondering what materials to purchase for your next curation project but aren't sure what to get or where to purchase?


Sample policies and templates for a variety of museum forms.

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Developing a New Stand-Alone Course or Integrating Curation into an Existing One

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