The enchantment of the archaeological record

A case for flipping archaeological practice around from a crisis-led model to an enchantment-led model…

I have the great fortune of presenting tomorrow at the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual conference, hosted this year in sunny Barcelona. I’m in an incredible session called Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies, featuring some of my heroes and professional inspirations (Friday 7 Sept, 14:00 – 18:30, Room: UB220, Hashtag:#S363). You can read many of their full papers online on Colleen’s website.

As it’s the culmination of many years of my thinking, I’m not able to circulate my 8000-word paper (it will hopefully be published in full very shortly). However I have tried to distil the argument into a few slides, copied below. In distilling the argument down so much, I’ve had to make a lot of generalising statements (a few of the most blatant of which are highlighted via *an asterisk). I do not claim there are no exceptions, and I am certainly not the first to put forward aspects of this argument. What I am hoping to do, however, is draw everything together into a workable model of practice that is not grounded in the discipline’s normative crisis mode of operation. This is my first attempt at articulating an enchantment model for archaeology.

While there are literally hundreds of people who have worked with me to refine these ideas, I need to explicitly acknowledge Katrina Gargett, Sierra McKinney, Sophia Mirashrafi and Angeliki Tzouganatou, whose research endeavours are allowing us to test some of this model in practice. I am indebted to you all.

I hope to see everyone in Barcelona or otherwise discuss these issues in other venues!

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #1

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #2

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #3

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #4

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #5

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #6

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #7

Sara Perry @archaeologistsp #8

Of brains, material culture and other cool things…

The YouTube trailer for our Brains exhibition at the Wellcome Collection has recently gone live (see above), so now seems like an appropriate moment for a blog update.  Much of my involvement in this project was in the original planning and sourcing of objects—and the writing of labels for those objects—so I’m very keen to see how the whole show has come together.  It opens on 29 March, and I’ll be hanging around the exhibition quite a bit until its closing on 17 June (so please say hello if you see me!) owing to related research.

I’ve alluded to that research before, but I’m collaborating with the fantastic Dr Richard Wingate, a neuroscientist at King’s College London, on analysing the use of real human tissue (generally human brains and spinal cords) in medical students’ education.  The intent is to tease out—via interviews, focus groups, and associated methods of participant observation—the significance of learning from the ‘real’ thing (human remains themselves) as opposed to other means like models, illustrations, videos, 2D and 3D renderings, etc.  Via engagement with both students and faculty/staff, we’re studying how experts and experts-in-training relate to ‘authentic’ human material, what such authenticity means to their professional and personal identities, and how their access to human remains resonates pedagogically and ethically—e.g., as regards mastery of the subject matter, and relationships to other humans.

This project has implications not only for medicine, but for material culture studies and archaeology, teaching and learning, ethics, philosophies of practice, embodiment, expertise, and anthropology overall.  Richard himself has a long history of negotiating at the intersections of science and the humanities (read more on his blog), and I’ll be contributing to some work that Richard and others are spearheading at Somerset House in London in the upcoming months; namely, the Between project which brings together an incredible and completely inspiring range of scientists and artists for debate, display, discussion and exchange.  The exhibitionary component of Between is previewed here:

Beyond this work, I’ll be out and about in the UK quite a bit in the next couple of months, so I do hope that I run into some of you at the following events where I’ll either be talking, discussing or assisting in some capacity:

One last note that I’ve just finished teaching my Cultural Heritage Management (CHM) MA module, and I have to say that I had the loveliest group of intellectually-engaged and enthusiastic students.  York’s CHM and Digital Heritage courses attract a student body that is diverse both internationally and in terms of academic background.  This makes for a productive and thought-provoking learning environment, and I’m actually quite sad to see the term end.  Thanks to all who made the module such a success, and thanks to my colleagues, friends and family for your continuing support.