Media Strategy in Archaeology

As I’ve mentioned before, my PhD research centres on the exploitation of visual media in the establishment of the first university departments of archaeology in Britain (circa early-to-mid 20th century).  I’ve spent the last couple of years trolling through dozens of archives around the UK (everywhere from the Garstang Museum of Archaeology at Liverpool University, to the Society of Antiquaries, to the West Sussex Record Office, the BBC archives, and more), examining instances of visual artefacts & performances being manifestly — or tacitly — mobilised in the name of institutionalising the still-fledling archaeological discipline.  My thesis ultimately focuses on such mobilisation in context of the Institute of Archaeology (IoA) at the University of London (incorporated into UCL in the mid-1980s).

IoA 1938
Screenshot of photograph of IoA exhibition flyer from 1938

The example of the IoA is perfect for demonstrating the power of tools like temporary exhibitions, museological displays, TV, photography, and other two- and three-dimensional mediums for securing buy-in (i.e., financial, physical, intellectual, political and emotive support) for the creation and sustenance of university-based archaeology, not to mention the broader discipline overall.

What is important is that, in the case of the IoA, although such media savvy is repeatedly attributed specifically to the aptitude (and ego) of the Institute’s first honorary director, Mortimer Wheeler, there is clear evidence to suggest that it is actually practiced quite independently of Wheeler both at — and before — the establishment of the IoA.  Moreover, my research is making apparent the fact that, indeed, such savvy forms part of a strategic approach to discipline-building, rather than some kind of casual or narcissistic publicity posturing, as is often implied.

Ultimately, what I think is critical about the pursuit of such enquiry is the potential relevance that it has for tactical media exploitation in the present. With this in mind, I’m interested to track down rigorous published or unpublished analyses of current archaeological projects’ publicity & mass media policies. There are various cases from the University of Southampton alone of the very effective application of, e.g., the web, television, radio and other mixed media, for the purpose of both internal and external positioning, but I know of these cases mostly anecdotally.  I would thus very much appreciate reference to detailed analytical assessments of such on-the-ground media strategies — please don’t hesitate to email me!

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