Jared Katz

Since I was young, I intended to go into academics. Several members of my family were involved in academia, and I found the idea of perusing knowledge in order to educate a wide audience to be a very compelling career path. I was surprised, however, to find that the more involved with my research in graduate school I became, the group of people I was speaking to shrank. At first, I thought that I was doing something incorrectly, but quickly realized I was, in fact, doing exactly what was expected of me. I then made a conscious decision that I would make public outreach one of my priorities. This past fall, I spoke to several scholars about collaborating on a potential public outreach program together, but progress was very slow. It was at this point that the the UC Public Scholars Program was announced. I began my application immediately, as the program provided the institutional backing and guidance I had been looking for.

My project uses digital technologies and new archaeological methodologies in order to educate students about ancient Maya culture. Very few secondary school systems in the U.S. that I have heard of include new world cultures in their history units. Many schools dedicate time to discuss Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures, but hardly discuss Maya, Aztec, or Inca cultures at all. This is extremely problematic, as many students in the U.S. have moved from, or have family in Mesoamerica and South America. It is my goal to create a curriculum that uses a variety of engaging exercises and affordable technologies in order to allow more secondary schools to include units on ancient Maya culture.

The program that I am designing uses my research on ancient Maya musical practices, in order to help teach middle school students about many aspects of Maya culture. For part of my dissertation research, I have been traveling to archaeological projects and museums throughout the Maya area in order to make 3D models of ancient Maya musical instruments. The first week of the program, I will present each student with a 3D printed playable replica of an ancient Maya musical instrument, along with all of the contextual information about that instrument. Each student, throughout the duration of the program, will become an expert on their particular instrument. They will need to learn about the site in which their instrument was found, the techniques used to excavate it, and what the contextual information tells us about the role of music in ancient Maya culture. This one aspect of the program will allow the students to learn about the archaeological process, as well as ancient Maya culture, in a very tangible and hands on way.

New technologies are allowing people to interact with the past in ways that were previously impossible. It allows archaeologists to help make material that brings the past to life for people in a very tactile and real way. Such possibilities range from offering digital tours of ancient Maya sites to 3D printing artifacts and allowing people to play with them. I feel it is important to use these new techniques to create affordable materials that will help to educate more people about ancient cultures throughout the Americas.