Friday, October 17, 2014

MHAC10 a Huge Success for Niles and Fort St. Joseph

As many of you know, the Niles District Library was the site of the 10th annual Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference organized by the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project, a partnership between Western Michigan University and the City of Niles, MI, September 26-27, 2014. I initiated the conference in 2005 at Western Michigan University and it since been held annually throughout the region. The conference provided an opportunity for archaeologists, historians, heritage planners, economic developers, museums specialists, and other stakeholders to discuss effective strategies to manage the archaeological resources associated with Fort St. Joseph, our 18th-century French trading post that has been under investigation since 1998.
Conference attendees toured the site of Fort St. Joseph on a beautiful fall day. Photo by Cathrine Davis.
By all accounts, the conference was a huge success. Over 80 historic preservation and heritage tourism specialists, along with local supporters, were in attendance over the two-day conference. The first day began with a welcome from Niles City Administrator Ric Huff, followed by presentations about the Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project from project participants José António Brandão, Terry Martin, Bob Myers, Juan Ganum, and me. About 60 people then toured the fort site where I gave a brief overview of its discovery and investigations over the past 16 years. We then broke into smaller groups to visit the Fort St. Joseph Museum and the proposed interpretive center to be housed in the old post office on Main Street. Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee members Dorilee Schieble, Larry Sehy, Dave Bainbridge, and Carol Bainbridge greeted visitors and discussed their vision for the building.
Members of the City Council enjoyed refreshments at the sponsored reception and learned more about public and professional interest in Fort St. Joseph archaeology. Photo by Sue Reichert.

After lunch, we rolled up our sleeves and engaged in the real work of discussing the drivers and barriers to creating sustainable facilities, programs, and partnerships to bring the story of Fort St. Joseph to a larger audience. The discussion was ably facilitated by John Beck from Michigan State University and included a good mix of local stakeholders, students, and preservation professionals from academic, governmental, and private sectors. Ideas regarding goals and measures of success were also discussed and recorded in small and large groups. A consensus emerged that the program had a good track record and was well positioned to build on past accomplishments to make Niles and Fort St. Joseph a heritage tourism destination. Students in my Historical Archaeology (ANTH 3030) class will summarize the information that was gathered to prepare a comprehensive report containing recommendations for a 5-year plan in support of archaeology and heritage tourism at Fort St. Joseph. The report will be made available to the Fort St. Joseph Archaeology Advisory Committee and posted online for broad dissemination.
The Niles District Library was an ideal venue for MHAC10. Photo by Sue Reichert.
Friday was capped off by a wonderful reception provided by our partners, Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C. The keynote presentation was kindly delivered by Lynn Evans (Director of Archaeology at Mackinac State Historic Parks) who stepped in for Uzi Baram whose flight was canceled due to a fire in an aircraft control tower that halted air traffic throughout the region.

More discussion, presentations, and posters filled the Library on Saturday as many of the attendees returned and new faces appeared. A number of invited papers focused on the theme of managing archaeological heritage in the 21st century, while other contributed papers provided updates on various projects throughout the Midwest and beyond. Dean Anderson (State Archaeologist of Michigan) moderated audience questions and comments, which provided ample opportunity for interaction and exchange of ideas and perspectives. Funding for the conference was provided by the City of Niles; Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C.; Western Michigan University; and the Joseph L. Peyser Endowment for the Study of New France. Numerous volunteers contributed their time and energy to ensure a smooth flow and pleasant venue conducive to planning the future of the past at Fort St. Joseph. I am grateful to all of our community partners, students, and professional colleagues who made MHAC10 a memorable experience for all who attended.


Michael S. Nassaney, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology
Principal Investigator
Fort St. Joseph Archaeological Project