CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship - Summer 2007
CRM Journal

Book Reviews


CRM on CRM, Charles R. McGimsey on Cultural Resource Management

By Charles R. McGimsey, III. Fayetteville: Arkansas Archeological Survey Research Series, No. 61, 2004; 222 pp., photographs, illustrations, index; paper $30.00.

This volume chronicles Charles R. McGimsey’s professional career in archeology and cultural resource management over the last four decades using his own annotated papers and speeches. This period is unparalleled in the history of American archeology in terms of changing that discipline from an exclusively academic undertaking to one closely tied to government activities and policy, and McGimsey was closely associated with that change.

McGimsey accepted the sole position in archeology at the University of Arkansas in 1957. As Raymond H. Thompson, a colleague of McGimsey, once told this reviewer, archeologists at this time were expected to “dig in the summer and teach in the winter.” Such was not to be the fate of Dr. McGimsey.

By a series of odd circumstances—some of them humorous—McGimsey received a request to draft state legislation for protecting Arkansas’s archeological heritage. With no experience in drafting legislation, he relied on his academic training in classification and organization of excavated data to conduct a survey of existing state archeological legislation. He was amazed to find out how few states actually had legislation in that field and, of those that had legislation, how ineffective that legislation actually was. From his investigation, McGimsey recognized the need not only for protective legislation in Arkansas but also for an adequately funded state archeological organization to implement that legislation. By 1967, McGimsey had helped pass state laws creating the Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS), a state antiquities act, and, most significantly, state appropriations to support these programs.1

To build support for the programs of the AAS, of which he became director, McGimsey reached out to Arkansans interested in archeology. In 1960, he helped establish a state archeological society open to professional and amateur archeologists and, in 1972, began an amateur archeologist certification program to teach archeological techniques and foster communication between the profession and the tax-paying public. Concerned about the potential impact of proposed federal activities on the archeological resources of the Mississippi River Valley—the largest river system in the United States—he worked for more than a decade to help promote and pass important federal legislation so that, in his words, “archeologists can now work with agencies during the planning process, determine site significance, and stand a reasonable chance of obtaining funding for necessary investigations.”

Building on Arkansas’s state-wide archeological initiatives and emboldened by the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966, which required federal agencies to assess the impact of their activities on cultural resources, McGimsey began to look at federal agency activities that might endanger archeological sites throughout the Mississippi River Valley. As he later recounted in his book, Public Archaeology (1972), the extent of federal activity in Arkansas alone was poised to eradicate thousands of years of prehistoric remains in just 20 years. He became one of the first archeologists to quantify this threat and propose a national archeological research program to address it.

McGimsey’s reputation and experience in cultural resource management attracted the attention of Ernest A. Connally, then in charge of the National Park Service’s newly formed Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP), who called upon him to advise on the protection of archeological resources. McGimsey proposed a national program of archeology administered by the National Park Service and based on the AAS model, that would require all federal agencies to survey their land holdings and collect data from threatened sites according to OAHP standards.

In a nationwide speaking campaign that took him to every regional archeological conference, McGimsey worked tirelessly to acquaint archeologists with federal legislation and cultural resource management practices. Such efforts, as he readily admits in this volume, were only partially successful in achieving his vision of a national program. In his opinion, the failure to implement such a program was due to “the strong and powerful institutional culture of the NPS with its balkanized administration of near all-powerful Regional Directors and Park Superintendents…[who] were not enthusiastic about losing personnel and programs to Connally’s newly formed OAHP.” By the mid-1970s, most federal agencies had hired their own resource specialists, adopting many NPS standards for survey and data recovery, and developed programs more in keeping with their primary organizational functions.

That is not to say McGimsey was unsuccessful in his efforts. He played an important role in the passage of the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (AHPA, P.L. 93-291). Through this one piece of legislation, federal agencies gained authority to expend funds for cultural resources survey in advance of public undertakings, provide up to one percent of project funds for data recovery, and produce reports and curate artifacts recovered during the excavations. The success of McGimsey’s programs in Arkansas was the result of sustained funding by the state. Likewise, the success of federal archeology since the 1970s was due to AHPA, which authorized funding for archeology.

McGimsey’s interests went well beyond legislation. He worked with academic institutions to train graduate students in resource management and compliance activities related to Section 106 of NHPA. This shift in emphasis changed the basic organization of many departments of anthropology. “Archeology now has three segments,” McGimsey notes, “teaching, research (in academia, public agencies, and private groups), and administration.” Today, archeology administration is a popular career option for many graduates. As early as 1977, McGimsey enlisted cultural anthropologists to help evaluate the effects of Section 106 on distinct communities: In short, he anticipated the growing interest in concern for Traditional Cultural Properties.

This reviewer noticed that McGimsey’s published works and commentary are generally silent on the National Register of Historic Places. Some people interviewed for this review felt that McGimsey opposed listing archeological sites in the National Register. In his proposal for a national archeological program, he had called for separating archeology from history and architecture, believing that archeology ought to concentrate on “the recovery of scientific data and identification of significant archeological resources.” In a paper distributed privately but inserted in this volume, entitled “The National Register and Archeological Resources: One Present View from the States,” McGimsey stated that the—

National Register is, and will become increasingly, an important planning tool. But it cannot and must not be utilized as the sole place to look in determining whether a project is going to adversely affect archeological resources. Endeavoring to evaluate every known site against Register criteria would clog the system.

Of course, anyone acquainted with the Section 106 process today will understand that McGimsey could not have foreseen the increase in the number of archeologists working in federal agencies and State Historic Preservation Offices. Even with that expanded work force, however, the large number of resources presents its own challenges.

Those who have said that McGimsey did not support the listing of archeological sites in the National Register may have oversimplified things. His papers from the late 1970s demonstrate he recognized the importance of supporting a unified yet multidisciplinary resource management approach. In 1977, at a National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers meeting, McGimsey campaigned to keep archeology within the OAHP. This reviewer is personally aware of AAS-initiated archeological site and district nominations to the National Register, and he has worked with the AAS staff on National Historic Landmark nominations for the Menard-Hodges, Eaker, and Parkin sites in Arkansas.

This volume is interesting because it not only covers the professional career of one archeologist and resource manager who has worked at the state and national levels but also reviews the life and work of an individual who had perceived an impending crisis in American archeology and achieved a great deal over four decades to help reverse the situation. Many professional archeologists working today in administration have benefited from McGimsey’s contributions to resource management legislation and policy.

McGimsey’s volume will be of interest to those attempting to understand how the resource management profession has evolved over time, simply because he was so intimately involved in shaping the course of the profession over the last four decades. The reader must keep in mind, however, that CRM on CRM is a personal account of that evolution. This reviewer hopes that McGimsey’s book will inspire those who had worked or interacted with him during this formative period in resource management to produce their own chronicles.

Mark R. Barnes
Southeast Regional Office
National Park Service

notes

1. Arkansas ultimately established 10 regional archeological positions at public institutions around the state. .
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