Sunday 19 July 2020

Communicating Archaeology

I think the discipline of archaeology in Britain has a crisis in communicating its values. The PAS in its outreach merely shows it as "digging up old things" and "telling stories about old things", the FLOs in their social media outreach tend to concentrate on "on this day [historical event happened]" and then picking a find as an illustration of the historical record. And the museums for the "Festival of Archaeology" think it is enough to post a picture of an object and challenge the viewer "guess away, say what you think this is (and we'll tell you what it really is tomorrow)". Here is another of these from Wakefield:

I fail to see what kind of educational outreach these stupid "I am an expert" guessing games are anyway. I don't know what kind of answer they are expecting to get. So the "expert" can pat those who say "axe head" on the head and poke fun at the ones who said "neolithic sex toy". In any case, there is just a photo (not a very good one), no scale, no idea what the three-dimensional form is, no mention of the material, on what basis are you expecting people to take part in juvenile guessing games? Why cant they present an object from the collection and just explain its significance in an engaging manner? Note that all of these methods of "outreach" place the archaeologist in the place of the gatekeeper. The trite guessing games do not place the audience in the position of a co-constructor of knowledge. Maybe British archaeology needs to rethink its public engagement formula?


Brian Mattick said...

Point of info: it is the landowner not the archaeologist who is the gatekeeper.

And an excellent one, if properly informed.

Why isn't he properly informed? Beats me.

Hougenai said...

It is a sad indictment of the dumbed down approach that museums in general have adopted.
In the case of our local municipal museum, research was always encouraged and supported, with the museum itself central to archaeological work of the time (to 1980). Now it is only visiting researchers who require access to collections, local archaeology is hardly supported (at one point a fully archived excavation, report and finds, from the only prehistoric structure on Cumbrian dunes, was refused to be accepted fifteen years later.) During the same period several special funds were raised to buy in detected finds.
The Borough now sees the museum primarily as providing something for tourists to gawk at while being fleeced of their hard earned. Even the purpose built lecture and studio space and a full floor has been let to the local shipyard HR dept.
OK things change, but not always for the good

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