On today’s episode we will be talking about Joan Gero, a feminist archaeologist who has had a huge impact on the field of archaeology.
Hello and welcome to Arch 365. I’m Chelsi Slotten, one of the co-hosts of the Women in Archaeology Podcast. As we are approaching the end of Women’s History month, I though it appropriate to talk about a woman who both made history, and shed light on women’s history, Dr. Joan Gero.
Dr. Gero is perhaps best known for her work creating the field of gender archaeology. This work was undertaken with several other scholars, including Margaret Conkey, Janet Spectre, Alison Wylie and others, but Joan Gero is one of the giants in the field. Her work editing the 1991 volume Engendering Archaeology with Margaret Conkey was groundbreaking. The popularity of the volume has result in 6 re-prints. That volume was a call to action for archaeologists to consider women in the past in a real and meaningful way, to investigate gender constructions in the past rather than assume they mirrored our current gender structures. It also shone light on some of the biases in the field, both historically and contemporarily. I still remember reading the introduction to that book and thinking how blindingly obvious they made it seem, that women deserved to be studied in their own right, and yet it took some unabashedly feminist scholars to point out archaeologies shortcomings and work to make them better.
This was, of course, not her first or last publication of gender in the archaeological record, and in archaeology. Dr. Gero worked to shine light on the disparities in the field, disparities that saw women get less credit for their work, be less likely to undertake field work, and more likely to work on museum collections, and be less likely to receive grants for fieldwork. She helped pave the way for future generations of female archaeologists, myself included, and made our lives better in ways we may never fully comprehend. I myself am profoundly grateful for that.
Dr. Gero was, of course, more than just a feminist scholar. She was a well known Andeanist, a leader in sociopolitical archaeology, and fiercely committed to archaeological ethics. She changed the practice of archaeology for the better, both through her influential theoretical work, and her mentorship. Over the course of her career she taught at the University of South Carolina, held visiting professorships at Cambridge University, U.K., Universidad Nacional de Catamarca, Argentina; the Universities of Umeå and Uppsala, Sweden; and the Universidad Nacional del Centro de Buenos Aires, Olavarría, Argentina, was a Professor Emerita at American University and a research associate with the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.
She was also well known for her work with the World Archaeological Congress, an organization devoted to the conservation and research of archaeological site worldwide, providing professional opportunities for disadvantaged groups, and supporting indigenous and First Nations Peoples.. She was the nationally elected senior North American representative for WAC from 1999 to 2008. From 2003 to 2008, Dr. Gero was Head Series Editor of the One World Archaeology book series. In 2003 she became a founding member of the Advisory Board for Archaeologies: The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress. And starting in 2007, she was a member of WAC’s Standing Committee on Ethics. Through all of these roles, Dr. Gero had a way of getting to the heart of complex matters, and explaining them easily. She was always an advocate for those marginalized individuals in archaeology, and worked tirelessly to address the colonialist practices of archaeology to make the field a more equal place.
Sadly, Joan Gero passed away last summer. Prior to her passing she published a book Yutopian: Archaeology, Ambiguity, and the Production of Knowledge in Northwest Argentina, discussing her years of experience in Argentina. The book is a wonderful read, for scholar or general public, and has inspired the creation of the Joan Gero Book Award, to encourage other scholars to write work of similar breadth of knowledge and ease of comprehension. This is only part of her legacy. She was an amazing woman and scholar whose work will continue to challenge, influence, and improve the field of archaeology, and those who study it, for years to come.