Guest post by Anna

What does it mean to do archaeological work that respects the community you’re working in?

I thought about this a lot leading into the first day of class. The first day of a class always makes me nervous, but I was especially nervous going into class on Thursday. I was excited to get some hands-on experience but worried about the kind of impact it might have. To my relief, I had some answers to my question by the end of class and felt excited about the coming days.

Cover of: “Guide to Victoria’s Historic Jewish Cemetry” by Amber Woods

Picture of the cover of the book “Guide to Victoria’s Historic Jewish Cemetry” by Amber Woods. Which includes lots of archival work about the early cemetery. From:

One of my favourite parts of the day was when Dr. McGuire gave us some background information about the cemetery. It was interesting to learn how Jewish settlers created a community here in Victoria and contributed to the city’s development. The history of the cemetery itself was also fascinating. I live close to the cemetery, yet I had no idea how important it was to early Jewish settlers in Western Canada. In learning about the cemetery’s history, we also learned a bit about the importance of being buried in a Jewish cemetery and that they are, in many ways, a sacred place. Learning more about the community, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to work in the cemetery. I hope we can answer some of the cemetery committee’s questions in exchange for their generosity in allowing us to work there.

A theme I noticed throughout the day, brought up differently, was that this course would be more collaborative than any course I have taken before. The first aspect of collaboration I noticed was with the community. The University is not running the program alone but working with the Cemetery Committee and GeoScan Subsurface Surveys Inc. Through the partnership; the project will do a better job of honouring the Emanu-El Synagogue and the Jewish community of Victoria. This project would not be possible without the Cemetry Committee and GeoScan Subsurface Surveys. GeoScan Subsurface Surveys Inc is helping by providing training and Ground Penetrating radar equipment, and the Emanu-EL synagogue is allowing us into their space and providing support. The partnership makes this project possible and allows us to serve the community better.

Another aspect of collaboration that will be important in this course is the group work among us students. I was a little nervous about this aspect of the course; I’m sure all of us have done group projects that were a challenge. However, this course will be different group work than I’m used to. One of the first things we did in class was assigned groups based on experience level, balancing out groups to have a variety from very experienced to only a little experienced with anthropology and archaeology. Afterwards, our groups discussed some of our readings together. In my university experience, the first few meetings with a group can feel like you are pulling teeth just to get people to join the discussion, but this time didn’t feel like that at all. Instead of trying to get through the questions, there was debate and discussion over each; people brought their own experiences and opinions on readings. This excitement and passion that my classmates brought to the discussion gave me the feeling that they would also bring it while working in the field.

While this was only the first meeting, I see the partnership with the community and my classmates leading to our work being genuinely respectful to the Jewish community of Victoria. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone who will teach us something new throughout the next few weeks, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish!