For her work to uncover and often literally dig up countless clues to Iowa’s past, the archaeologist and historian Leah D. Rogers of Mount Vernon has won the 2022 Petersen-Harlan Lifetime Achievement Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Rogers started her career in the 1980s with archaeological digs in Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, New Jersey and Virginia while she was in graduate school at Michigan State University. After she earned her master’s degree in anthropology and historical archaeology in 1985, she worked with archaeology firms in in Carbondale, Illinois, and Decorah, Iowa, before striking out on her own as a consultant, conducting archaeological and historic architectural investigations for federal, state and local governmental organizations as well as private clients. She joined Tallgrass Archaeology LLC of Iowa City in 2001 and has served as its principal investigator since 2016.
Over the last four decades, Rogers has written or contributed to nearly 200 reports (roughly one in 11) in the Historic Architectural Database maintained by the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa. Her name appears on more than 240 reports in the National Archaeological Database maintained by Arizona State University, and she has prepared nearly 100 nominations for the National Register of Historic Places.
“An astounding number of resources bear the fingerprints of Leah Rogers’ conscientious, curiosity-driven research,” State Historical Society of Iowa Administrator Susan Kloewer said. “Her trustworthy work will serve future generations of researchers from Iowa and across the country.”
In addition to her scholarly research, Rogers has inspired Iowans of all ages to learn more about their local history and archaeology. She has taught workshops, developed youth summer camps and led community-based archaeological surveys across Iowa, notably the Wickiup Hill Learning Center north of Cedar Rapids and the Abbe Creek School near Mount Vernon, where she has served on the local historic preservation commission. Her portfolio includes Danish settlements in Audubon County, the Johnson County Poor Farm, Burlington’s Aspen Grove Cemetery and many others, and even a historical survey of Iowa’s team sports.
Rogers has also worked over the years with several Indigenous nations in Iowa. She collaborated with members of the Ho-Chunk Nation to identify key historical sites near Fort Atkinson and successfully rallied support to rename a Linn County park in honor of the late Adeline Wanatee, a Meskwaki artist and advocate for Indigenous and women’s rights.
The Petersen-Harlan award is one of several Excellence in Iowa History Awards the State Historical Society of Iowa Board of Trustees bestows on individuals, organizations and communities that make outstanding contributions to Iowa history. The lifetime achievement award is named for William “Steamboat Bill” Petersen, one of the society’s longtime curators, and Edgar Harlan, another curator and director who played a key role in building the artifact collections at the State Historical Museum of Iowa.
The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, which plans to honor Rogers during an awards ceremony at the start of the annual Preserve Iowa Summit, set for June 2-4 in Mason City.
The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.