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Headshot of GCPR board member Patricia McAnany Department of Anthropology

Patricia A. McAnany, Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology, is a Maya archaeologist who has conducted field research and cultural heritage programs throughout the Maya region. She is the recipient of several research awards from the National Science Foundation and of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for the Arts & Humanities (UNC, Chapel Hill), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Radcliffe Center for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Her professional interests include the intersection of ritual and economy, ancestor veneration, the creation and abandonment of place, and the cross threading of cultural heritage with indigenous identities. She founded the Maya Area Cultural Heritage Initiative and co-founded InHerit: Indigenous Heritage Passed to Present. Her current research project is a community-based archaeological investigation of life conditions for Yukatek Mayan peoples during the early Colonial period in Yucatán, Mexico.

How did you start doing participatory research? 

Dr. McAnany has been involved in archeological community engagement projects for over a decade. As she was working in the Maya region with contemporary Maya descendants on her team, she felt they had limited engagement with research processes such as publishing and decision making. She was able to start mending this gap when she encountered a donor who was similarly interested in incorporating more community engagement into archeology.

What does participatory research mean to you?

Many of her projects have been educational. She feels community engagement within archeology needs to be more than just sharing results, but rather interactive and community driven. Also, findings should be disseminated to a wider population who may not typically have access.

As she acknowledges that archeology developed from a colonial ethos, Dr. McAnany also notes that the landscape is filled with the “material imprint of the past” that should be conserved. Colonialism and tourism have glorified, mystified, and mythologized historical sites, and separated contemporary indigenous people from their ancestral remains. A critical view of the discipline is necessary to decolonize the way knowledge and practice are constructed and to move towards  co-production of knowledge.

What are your current participatory projects?

Dr. McAnany has taught graduate courses that involves participatory research such as “Decolonizing Methodologies,” “Issues in Cultural Heritage,” and a related undergraduate course called “Crisis and Resilience: The Past and Future of Human Societies.”

Here in North Carolina with her graduate students, she is also mending a gap in history through a project called “Amplifying Native voices in North Carolina history” in partnership with Museum of Southeast American Indian at UNC Pembroke. The project is providing teachers of 6-12th grade history accessible curriculum to fill the gap between the age of “discovery” of America by Columbus and the “Indian removal” in 1830. Archeology plays an important role in providing a material source of history that connects to the configuration of the Native American population in NC today.

“(participatory research is about) paying more attention to how archeological research can benefit communities or does not benefit the communities”

“… 500 years of violence, malnutrition and brutal oppression — at some point in time that has to stop and we need to get out of that. So, I think that in a small way archeology can play a part in flipping that script.”