Designing affect into archaeology

Join me on Tuesday 23 February 2021 at 16:00 GMT for an online talk hosted by Bournemouth University.

Join me for this open public seminar on Zoom at 4pm GMT on Tuesday 23 February –

A quick note to say that I have the good fortune of presenting next week as part of the Bournemouth University, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology Research Seminars series (join on Zoom). Per the line-up, I’m in great company this term, and am especially looking forward to speaking as I haven’t given a public presentation in over a year.

Speakers in BU’s Archaeology and Anthropology Research Seminars series, which started this month and runs until the end of May.

I’ve been very appreciative of my colleagues and friends who have reached out to check on where I’ve been over this time. The simple answer is that the transition into my current job has entailed the steepest learning curve of my life. It’s been very hard, and as my presentation will inevitably hint at, it has confronted me full-force with how archaeologists can and must work in allied fashion – within and between teams, organisations, industries and across borders – to grapple with immediate matters of interest to the profession and wider publics, but also to ensure that the decisions we make today – about the past, and about the discipline of archaeology itself – are informed by an expert ability to think, plan and design critically for the future.

How do we do this? I believe part of the answer lies in honing our expertise in grappling with values and affect, and through serious attention to design justice (see Costanza-Chock 2020) as well as strategic foresight approaches and critical & speculative futures work (e.g., see various contributions in Holtorf and Högberg (2021)).

More details on the talk below. It’s free, open to all via Zoom, and starts at 4pm GMT on Tuesday 23 Feb. Hope to see you there!

Title. Designing affect into archaeology: structural and methodological reparations for a more responsive and responsible discipline

Summary. Although many have called for – and attempted to enact – forms of practice that aim to repair or reconfigure our discipline along lines that are just, sustainable and equitable, these efforts often fail to fundamentally alter archaeology’s underlying structures and pernicious rote methodologies. Here, I argue that unless we consciously adopt and consistently apply a framework of design justice (Costanza-Chock 2020), long-standing disciplinary oppressions will persist. I review a number of recent propositions around nurturing care, hope, emotion, and enchantment in archaeology. I then make the case that such seemingly ephemeral concepts can be actualised in our methods, in our programmes, in our training, and across our professional and academic institutions through a purposeful engagement with design justice theory and method, borne in part of the fields of information technology and human-computer interactions. I highlight some simple examples of what a justly-designed archaeology could look like, and I conclude by pointing our eyes towards emerging initiatives that take seriously the design process, and in so doing provide archaeologists with a framework that can truly hold us to account.

Costanza-Chock, Sasha, 2020. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Holtorf, Cornelius, and Högberg, Anders (eds.), 2021. Cultural Heritage and the Future. London: Routledge.

Digital Reviews

After 4.5 years, I’m stepping down from my editorship, but the 18 critical reviews published during this time are available open access

Just a quick shout-out to the many people who I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the past half-decade in my role as Digital Reviews Editor for the Society for American Archaeology’s journal Advances in Archaeological Practice. My incredible co-editors Sarah Herr, Sjoerd van der Linde and Christina Rieth have published a heart-warming note on Cambridge University Press’ blog about my ‘retirement’, my successor (Peter Cobb, University of Hong Kong), and the 18 open access articles that we ushered into being during my tenure. These articles represent critical reviews of digital media applications for archaeology and heritage – from crowdsourcing tools (by Donna Yates), to chatbots (by Angeliki Tzouganatou), to archaeological news sources (by Adrián Maldonado), to gaming (Minecraft by Eleanor Brooke Styles, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey by Politopoulos et al., Sid Meier’s Civilization VI by Mol et al.) to the Facebook page of my current employer (by Ingrida Kelpšienė), and many more. The most recent piece, my final as editor, was just published last week: a truly fascinating reflection by Kate Rogers on the i-Doc genre and its possibilities for impactful documentary storytelling.

My co-editors’ tribute to the time I’ve spent in the editorship reminded me of some of the must-haves that we negotiated five years ago: articles must be openly accessible; authors must critically engage with the digital applications they are reviewing (i.e., their articles must feature the detrimental and uncomfortable dimensions of these technologies as much as any positive elements); a more representative demographic of authors must be sought, with a particular focus on early career professionals outside the US. I also managed to negotiate that part of my editorial fee would be reallocated to authors, meaning that I was able to offer a small financial payment for their contribution. To me, this was the biggest success of all given the labour that we know is at the core of any form of publication.

According to Cambridge’s stats, the reviews have been downloaded c.14,000 times, and I regularly refer them to folks who are looking to invest in different types of digital media but who may not be familiar with the consequences of those media. I’m indebted to the more than 18 authors who I’ve had the pleasure to work with – many of whom have become friends and whose careers I’ve seen flourish over the years. Thank you for your work which has inspired me and profoundly influenced my own practice.

I’m excited to carry on as part of the editorial board of the journal – they are still stuck with me for a while yet :) I’d urge you (if you haven’t already) to explore Advances’ many articles on all aspects of professional and academic archaeological practice. Maybe you’ll even consider publishing with us in the future? Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like to explore opportunities. And thanks to Sarah, Sjoerd and Christina for everything you’ve done for me.

Critical Archiving: Expenses-Paid PhD Short Course

Join us in Paris from 13-17 September 2021!

If you are a PhD student whose institution belongs to the Dialogues with the Past network (including universities across Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Russia, Sweden) please consider applying for our forthcoming expenses paid short course on Critical Archiving in Paris from 13 – 17 September 2021.

This course has been a long time in coming, and I’m incredibly excited to be reunited with my dear friends and colleagues Dr Åsa Berggren, Prof Nicolo Dell’Unto, and Dr James Taylor to lead it. More details on the programme are noted below. The deadline for applications is not until 1 June 2021, so there’s plenty of time to prepare! Submit your application via the University of Oslo’s online system, and contact myself or for more information. Hope to see you in Paris next year!

Critical Archiving

PhD course, Paris, September 13-17, 2021

It has long been established that archives, and the databases and ontologies that underlie them, are deeply political and value-laden. These systems foster power imbalances and, to quote Hughes-Watkins (2018), are “complicit in continuing to uphold oppressive and unequal systems” via their selective approach to knowledge classification and standardisation. Within the archaeological, heritage and arts sectors, Canning (2019) and Boast and Biehl (2011) are amongst those to articulate the genesis of the problems, including our reliance on controlled vocabularies and ontologies which aim to narrow and singularise content using standards set in the colonial era, as well as a lack of opportunity to genuinely manipulate primary records, and to have those manipulations permanently layered into the metadata of the archives. We would contend that these issues are more relevant than ever in a heritage context, as a wide variety of practitioners (in the field, in the museum sector and within the academy) face the challenge of redefining the fundamental value of cultural heritage, and articulating and disseminating their research narratives to be relevant, inclusive and representative of the wider world.

In this course, we ask, how do our ‘traditional’ ontologies and epistemologies hard-bake structural fault lines (often tied to the intersection of complex gender roles or marginalised groups or socio-economic hierarchies) into the very creation of our knowledge of the past? How do we acknowledge our positionality as a discipline and allow for true diversity in the archives we construct about the past? Can digital technologies help us to do this, or are they inevitably part of the problem?

Today, digital media should give us the means to step away from pre-created ontologies to, as Srinivasan puts it, enable “users to create and share metadata according to their own local experiences and Interpretations”. Yet we still tend to strive for a single common standard that ironically obliterates the diversity of the very knowledge traditions—the local ontologies—that we wish to archive. This course aims to extend these debates around the weaknesses and possibilities of the archive (digital and analogue) by exploring emerging efforts to reconfigure archival practice.

Course Work

The course will consist of both seminars and lectures. Before the course starts, each PhD student will prepare a paper for pre-circulation, addressing her or his research project in relation to the course theme. In the course seminars, each paper will be allotted ca. 45 minutes, beginning with the student presenting a 15-minute summary of its contents. One of the other PhD students will be selected in advance as a discussant and comment for about 10 minutes, after which she or he will then chair an open discussion on the paper for approximately 20 minutes.

The participating lecturers will each give a lecture during the course, as well as participating as prime movers in the discussion of PhD presentations. The lectures will give a theoretical background to the topic as well as examples from various fields and areas of expertise. The aim is to foster critical awareness amongst students of the formation of the material they use in their own PhD projects and encourage them to question historical and seemingly axiomatic metadata categories. Through discussions, presentations and site visits, we are keen to engage with the concept of the archive from new, reflective and self-critical perspectives and to explore the possibilities of the digital format to expand and destabilise our understanding of what archives are and can be. The seminar days will be structured with adequate time for spin-off debates and networking opportunities in mind.


Dr Åsa Berggren (Lund University and Sydsvensk arkeologi, Malmö)

Prof Nicolo Dell’Unto (Lund University and Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)

Dr James Taylor (University of York)

Dr Sara Perry (Museum of London Archaeology)


1 month or 7 ECTS

Location, Travel and Costs

The Graduate School will finance and arrange travel and accommodation, and supply a daily allowance during the seminar for all participating PhD students who are part of the Dialogues With the Past Network. Two and two PhD students will be accomodated in twin rooms.


The Graduate school invites all registered PhD students to apply for participation. Please follow this link to apply for the course (in English only). From these applications, c. 15 PhD students will be admitted to the course.

For more information, please contact:

Important Dates

Application for participation: June 1, 2021. Confirmation on your participation will be sent out shortly after this date.

Submission of working papers (10 pages, Times New Roman 12, Spacing 1,5): August 2, 2021