“…though the past never really repeats itself, it offers lessons about the risks and opportunities of periods of fundamental change.”
The end of the year invites reflection about changes and prospects for the future. Obviously, 2016 brought considerable turmoil and uncertainty to key institutions. The past year highlighted issues of “fake-news” and disinformation, as well as widespread suspicion of science and rationality.
As social scientists, we recognize the complexity and challenge of understanding the forces behind the events of 2016. As historians, we also recognize that though the past never really repeats itself, it offers lessons about the risks and opportunities of periods of fundamental change. If anything, 2016 highlights how the conventional wisdom of recent years got so much so wrong.
Conventional wisdom saw technology and innovation as keys to prosperity and global competitiveness. Public policy promoted science, technology and engineering for narrow and short-term immediate goals. The social science jargon term for this is “instrumentalism,” meaning learning and knowledge have to have immediate practical application to be of value, while learning for the sake of curiosity or the joy of discovery represents nothing but waste. However, instrumentalism has costs. In the process of ignoring and marginalizing learning about culture and history, we lost perspective. Technology is not divorced from society and culture, and if we fail to put as much energy and care into understanding and improving society and culture, we’ll lose or badly warp any gains we make from technical innovation.
Moving forward, we urgently need humanistic and historically-informed perspectives. Archaeology provides a lens to explore past cultures and alternate ways of organizing society. In learning about the past, we broaden our horizons and that broadens our imagination about better futures.
AAI helps fill this gap. We unite learning and excellence in technology with the exploration of culture and history through the archaeological past. Just as importantly, we also work to imagine new institutional frameworks to support research and learning. Currently, the vast majority of our understanding about the human past is locked in the Ivory Tower behind expensive pay-walls. This hinders important breakthroughs and stifles progress.
Much of this research is publicly funded, paid for with your tax dollars, but has been privatized and made accessible only to a few. AAI democratizes knowledge by opening-up access to databases, images, and other excavation discoveries – primary sources that are rarely shared and vulnerable to loss.
Through our open-data publishing program, Open Context, we work to break down those pay-wall barriers by pioneering ways to make heritage accessible to everyone.
As 2016 comes to a close, we invite you to share in our mission by making a 100% tax-deductible contribution and join some of the major institutions that have supported our organization, including the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Google (via Eric Kansa), and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
We would greatly appreciate any donation amount. Every act of support will help us develop a better way to unlock our past, and inspire the future.