March 14, 2014 by Lorna Richardson
This thesis examines the impact of the democratic promises of Internet communication technologies, social and participatory media on the practice of public archaeology. This exploration is focused within professional archaeological communities working in commercial archaeology, higher education, local authority planning departments and community settings, as well the voluntary archaeology sector, in the UK.
This work has contributed an innovative perspective on the subject matter through its use of a Grounded Theory approach to data collection and analysis, and the use of a combination of online survey data, case studies and email questionnaires in order to address the following issues: the provision of authoritative archaeological information online; barriers to participation; policy and organisational approaches to evaluating success and archiving; community formation and activism, and the impact of digital inequalities and literacies on participation in inclusive public archaeology.
This work has made significant contributions to debates on the practice and impact of public archaeology. It has shown that archaeologists do not proactively support the interpretations and perspectives created and imagined by non-professionals within the framework of the participatory web (MacArthur 2011, 61). In the UK at least, this is frequently because the alternative interpretations simply do not exist, belong firmly in the realms of the uncanny or unreasonable, or are part of spiritual beliefs, local or family history and folklore, and therefore not part of professionally-produced archaeological data or narratives, but remain of value to the communities in which they are sustained.
This work documents a period of great change within the practice of public archaeology in the UK, and captures some of the digital ephemera associated with this shift in policy and practice. It concludes with the observation that we have not yet witnessed digital public archaeologies that have lead “to the creation and modification of social customs“ (Evrard 1997, 171).
This work has shown that whilst recognition of democratic participation and multi-perspectivalism is not, on the whole, undertaken through a process of actively acknowledging shared authority or through accommodating poly-vocal responses to archaeological information, there remains potential for participatory media to support and accommodate these ideals.