Ben FordBen Ford, Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor of anthropology and chair of IUP’s Department of Anthropology, has been selected as IUP’s 2023–24 Distinguished University Professor.

Ford has been a faculty member in the Anthropology Department since 2009, serving as chair since 2017. His scholarship focuses on maritime archaeology with a specialization in the Great Lakes and maritime cultural landscapes, and historical archaeology with a specialization in the frontier period of western Pennsylvania.

In making its recommendation, the Distinguished University Professor selection committee recognized Ford “for significant commitment to the teaching and mentoring of current and former students, abundant and outstanding service, and meaningful and extensive scholarship.”

“Dr. Ford is a leader in the university community,” IUP President Michael Driscoll said. “He is known and respected nationally and internationally for his scholarship and research, but he has an equal passion for teaching and advising students at all levels, actively involving students in his research,” he said.

“He has served on scores of important university committees and task forces, contributing thoughtful and valuable service to IUP, including developing new programs and initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Distinguished University Professor is one of the highest recognitions offered by this university, and Dr. Ford is very deserving of this honor.”

In addition to the Distinguished University Professor recognition, Ford has received the IUP Distinguished Award for Research and the IUP Sponsored Programs Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research.

As part of the Distinguished University Professor nomination, recipients propose an academic project that they plan to complete during the year they are selected for the honor. During his Distinguished University Professor year, Ford plans to recenter his research into a new, long-term scholarly and social project titled “Heritage Futures.”

“I’ve always read the Distinguished University Professor announcements and thought, ‘wow, it’s wonderful that these scholars work at IUP.’ Joining their ranks is daunting, but I’ll do my best to live up to the honor,” Ford said. “I’m humbled and very appreciative to be selected for this recognition, and excited about the opportunity to pursue the Heritage Futures project during the next year.”  

“The goal of Heritage Futures is to leverage heritage to heal past wrongs and foster a healthier future,” Ford said. “Rather than a single project, Heritage Futures will be a working group of professionals, students, and community members that engage in an ongoing series of research, education, and outreach projects.

“For the past decade, I have completed projects that nibbled at the edges of what Heritage Futures proposes and am excited to reframe my work in a productive way that will carry it into the next decade. The time and financial support of the DUP year will allow me to launch this project,” Ford said.

“Once established, Heritage Futures will pursue grants and contracts to enrich western Pennsylvania and train students in socially conscious heritage management,” he said.

“I believe that regional public universities should be the drivers of socially aware, applied research,” Ford said. “Universities like IUP are embedded in our communities in a way that larger institutions are not and have greater resources than community colleges. The overlap of accessibility and resources (or access to resources) positions regional public universities to do impactful work. This is aided by an administration at IUP that values product over prestige in research,” he said.

“Heritage Futures will engage students in real research that develops those skills, increasing their job prospects, but also helping them be caring and productive members of society,” Ford said.

Book cover: The Archaeology of Maritime Cultural LandscapesFord is considered to be one of the world’s experts on maritime cultural landscape studies—the archaeological study of coastal and maritime landscapes to understand the feedback loops between humans and these environments. In addition to editing one of the formative books on this subject, The Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes, he has authored a monograph, book chapters, and articles on this topic.

As a result of his contributions to this field, he was invited to speak at National Park Service and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration workshops and provide advice to policymakers. He was part of the founding of the Pennsylvania Archaeology Shipwreck Survey Team, which trains SCUBA divers to record Lake Erie shipwrecks and serve as ambassadors for the lake’s maritime history, and he is working with representatives of the Seneca Nation to explore submerged landscapes in Lake Erie.

He was the keynote speaker at the Third European Conference on Scientific Diving (Madeira, Portugal) and was the 2015 Archaeological Institute of America McCann-Taggart Underwater Archaeology Lecturer.

Paralleling his maritime archaeology work is research in the archaeology of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvania.

Ford has a long-term relationship with Historic Hanna’s Town and the Westmoreland County Historical Society, providing archaeological services and data to support the site interpretation. He recently worked with Pennsylvania Hallowed Grounds to record an African American cemetery near Harrisburg, which involved creating teams of students, professionals, and community members to work together to record the 700 graves in the cemetery.

Ford co-founded an Alabama University Press book series on restorative justice through archaeology and is leading a multidisciplinary team to identify African American settlements on Pennsylvania Park and Forest lands in western Pennsylvania.

“Part of the Pennsylvania Park and Forest project focuses on a circa 1800–1960 African American settlement near Johnstown that was led by multiple generations of women,” Ford said. “I have also guided, and learned from, several graduate students doing community-engaged projects; for example, the antebellum African American settlement of Pandenarium/Indian Run in Mercer County.

“This work has engaged the descendants of those who settled Indian Run to tell their stories about the settlement and to supplement those stories with archaeology. There is significant ethnographic, archaeological, and historical work to still be done at this site. Other students have investigated workers at several industrial sites, the Underground Railroad, historic period Native Americans, and many other resources that contribute to a better understanding of a community’s place in the past and present,” Ford said.

Ford is committed to what he considers the “three pillars of academic success: scholarship, service, and teaching,” working to weave and layer them together to achieve even greater success for IUP and for students.

“I conduct research locally but reach an international audience. Much of my research focuses on Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes, which reflects the mission of IUP to serve the commonwealth and its students. Working locally also allows me to engage students who cannot afford the time or costs of extensive travel,” he said.

Ford is the author of six books, with a seventh book under contract. His 2011 The Oxford Handbook of Maritime Archaeology was translated into Chinese in 2018, and he also has contributed to major international publications such as The Routledge Handbook of Global Historical Archaeology.

In addition to his books, he has more than 50 published works to his credit: a combination of book chapters, articles, book reviews, and reports, and many involve students as co-authors or provide a forum for students to present their research in edited volumes. His active engagement of students in research was recognized in 2020 with the IUP High Impact Practice Award for providing undergraduates with authentic research experiences, and in 2022 with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Mason Award for educating Pennsylvania archaeologists.

Ford also works with students on their own research to complete their master’s thesis work and has served on two international external PhD committees.

In addition to his service and leadership on many IUP committees and groups, he is a reviewer for a number of international journals, presses, and granting agencies, including the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, and Israel Science Foundation, as well as serving on publisher advisory boards.

Ford serves on three Pennsylvania statewide boards, including the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board, which approves all National Register of Historic Places nominations in the state and advises the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

He has held national leadership positions as the Register of Professional Archaeologists Standards Board chair and as a director of the Society for Historical Archaeology, an international organization with more than 1,500 members.

While research is a passion, student success is his motivation.

“My primary professional product is my students—more than any article, book, or external activity, students will be my legacy,” Ford said. “I spend significant time preparing for classes, teaching, and mentoring. I pride myself on providing students with innovative and difficult assignments that constantly push them to improve their writing, critical thinking, and anthropological skills, while also providing a safety net that transforms failure into a learning experience,” he said. He also focuses on group exercises to reinforce the collaborative nature of the discipline and regularly exposes students to research through credit-bearing, volunteer, and paid experiences.

As chair of the Department of Anthropology, he is committed to student success and to expanding the value of anthropology to IUP students. He led the department in endowing its first scholarship and worked with his colleagues to craft the university’s second Writing Across the Curriculum plan, create the Cultural Competencies Certificate, write an Open Education Resources (free, online textbooks) for a popular IUP Liberal Studies course, and plan an interdisciplinary forensics major.

In addition to his service to his profession and to IUP, he is in his eighth year as a member of Indiana Borough Council, until recently chairing the Community Development Committee. In this role, he has led the council in developing home purchasing assistance for low-to-moderate income families, developing a Historical Architectural Review Board, revising local ordinances, and passing a Local Economic Recovery Tax Assistance plan.