The Western Illinois Society
of the Archaeological Institute of America

A Short History

by Thomas J. Sienkewicz of Monmouth College

The history of the Western Illinois Society of AIA begins in the fall of 1984 when Thomas J. Sienkewicz accepted a position at Professor of Classics at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. The nearest AIA societies were all two/three hours away, in Iowa City, Rockford, and Champaign—clearly too far away for anyone from western Illinois to attend. As a graduate student at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the 1970's, Sienkewicz had been encouraged by his archaeology professor, the late Dr. John Young, to join AIA. He have been a member ever since, even though he was not a professional archaeologist. He considered AIA lectures to be an integral part of an undergraduate experience. For this reason, he was determined to have an AIA society in or near Monmouth.

He began by inviting the late Rev. Dr. Raymond V. Schoder, S.J., to give an illustrated lecture on “Pompeii and Its Art” on Wednesday, December 5, 1984. Because of his dedication to AIA and his willingness to support these efforts in western Illinois, Fr. Schoder graciously agreed to give this lecture without an honorarium. Fr. Schoder also had close ties with Monmouth people, including faculty members Bernice Fox, Jeremy McNamara, and Doug Spitz.

A flyer announcing Fr. Schoder’s lecture includes the following statement:

No local chapter of A.I.A. exists in the western Illinois area. It is hoped that Fr. Schoder’s lecture will bring together enough interested residents of the Quad Cities, Monmouth, Macomb, Galesburg and Peoria to establish a new chapter. 

The lecture was well attended and generated enough interest in archaeological events to encourage Sienkewicz to plan a full schedule of lectures given by local speakers, including William Urban and Charles Speel of Monmouth College and Larry Conrad of the Western Illinois University Archaeology Lab. In the fall of 1985 a photographic exhibit entitled “2000 Year Buried History of London” was on display at Monmouth College.

The nascent society’s first visiting national speaker was Professor Marshall J. Becker of the University of Pennsylvania who gave a presentation entitled “The Ancient Maya of Tikal and Copan: Archaeology of the Classic Period” at Monmouth College on February 26, 1986.

By the fall of  1987 the society, centered at Monmouth, had members from a sixty mile radius including the cities of Galesburg, Peoria, Macomb and the Quad Cities. The society has also been a vehicle for collaboration among area colleges and universities. Monmouth College, Augustana College and Western Illinois University (Dept. of History) have taken turns sponsoring visiting lecturers. Occasionally Knox College has also sponsored an AIA lecture. A complete list of AIA lectures of the Western Illinois Society is available at https://department.monm.edu/classics/AIA/ProgramHistory.htm.

The Western Illinois Society received its charter from The Archaeological Institute of America at the 1999 National Convention in Dallas, Texas. See https://department.monm.edu/classics/AIA/westernillinoissocietyrcharter.htm for information regarding celebrations of this event.  Click here to see the a copy of the society's charter.

At the 2006 meetings in Montreal the society received the first Golden Trowel Award. At the 2007 meetings in San Diego the society received a prize for the best poster.