Archaeology’s Audiences: The first public event of the Archaeology Audience Network (AAN)

Join us Thursday 11 November 2021 for our first AAN training session

Screenshot of MOLA webpage advertising the first Archaeology Audience Network event on 11 November 2021. The image shows a group of 6 people surrounding an archaeological handling kit.
https://www.mola.org.uk/archaeology-audience-network-training-session-1

I hope you might join us Thursday, 11 November, 2021 at either 16:00-18:00 GMT or 18:00-20:00 GMT for the first Archaeology Audience Network (AAN) training session. This free event is for all of you interested in audiences and public engagement with archaeology, which I imagine would be everyone working in, studying, and otherwise keen on the discipline – as well as those involved in the wider heritage sector. More information on the session and some of the underpinning evidence for it is available on MOLA’s website. We are running it twice to accommodate demand

The AAN is a collaboration between archaeological organisations in England working to bring together, learn from, and improve our use of data about audiences in order to achieve more meaningful impacts. Collaborators include MOLAthe Archaeology Data Servicethe Council for British ArchaeologyDigVenturesOxford ArchaeologyWessex Archaeology, and York Archaeological Trust, alongside a series of supporters from different professional and academic bodies. The Network will grow over time and we aim for it to be self-sustaining by the end of its formal two years of funding. This essential funding comes from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and The National Lottery through The Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative.

It’s hard for me to express how much and for how long I’ve been keen to see this type of collaboration realised. My MOLA colleague Magnus Copps (Head of Programming and Partnerships) and I began to work on the proposal as soon as the funding opportunity was announced last year. We reached out to our close working partners and affiliates who we believed would be equally enthusiastic (they were!), and from there the Network was born. The funding from DCMS and The National Lottery has been pivotal to making it possible – it allows us to collate existing data, use lessons learned (both from the categories of data being collected and from the data themselves) to formulate and test out new approaches to engagement with different citizens, and create new models for good practice around audience data, building on the long-standing good practice work of the ADS.

Our first outward-facing event associated with the Network is next week’s introductory training session on Archaeology’s Audiences. We’ve had to re-jig the schedule for the event a couple of times already, both because this is a learning experience for us, and because this first session is important for us in ensuring we fully lay out the foundations for the Network, present its context, highlight its evolving nature (which is designed to be responsive to themes and trends as they emerge), and gauge interest and reactions from different individuals and groups.

Per above, we are running the same session twice on the same day (11 Nov, 16:00-18:00 GMT and 18:00-20:00 GMT), and recording the first (less interactive) part of the session for wider dissemination afterwards. The demand we’ve witnessed for this event perhaps further reinforces not just how much interest there is in the subject matter, but also how much need exists for amalgamation of existing/past work, and alignment of future thinking and practice on matters of audience data and audience evaluation in archaeology.

As we mentioned in our Digital Skills for Heritage application, public archaeology as it is practiced within the context of the UK planning process forms a significant avenue for audiences to access ‘live’ archaeological investigations and contribute hands-on insights into UK heritage. It has access to relatively substantial sources of funding outside of the usual research and charitable grant streams. It takes place around and under the living and working spaces of all demographics in the UK. And it tends to be grounded in activities that can generate short and long-term human outcomes but that lack the enduring physical presence that comes from capital investment in buildings, restoration, or static interpretation. In other words, it is a very special field of practice, with much insight about audience engagement to share—and with tremendous potential to shape archaeological and heritage research and practice in all its manifestations.

We hope you’ll follow along with the work of the Network (email: aan@mola.org.uk, hashtag: #archaeoAN) and join us for the first session on 11 November 2021.

Blogs as exhibitionary media

My senior-level undergraduate course on Visual Media in Archaeology has been running this term—the second time I’ve taught it since I started at York in 2012. As per last year, my students are working on the production of independent blogs, and whilst I previously left the specifications for those blogs quite broad (the students simply had to tell a story about a subject of their choice), feedback from last year suggested that the brief needed to be more tightly focused.

This year, then, I redesigned the task to centre upon the creation of public blogging campaigns to promote objects, sites, archaeological features or figures of the students’ choice for an audience who would otherwise know little or nothing about them. As you can see, the students have taken a variety of approaches, and I am truly impressed by what they’ve accomplished so far, for reasons that I articulate further below. Some are using their blogs as modes of inquiry into larger archaeological and anthropological ways of thinking (My Student House, One Nation Under CCTV), archives (The Pursuit of Mitfords, The Wonderful World of Dahl), and intellectual and methodological practices (The Archaeology of Painting, Virt Arch). Some are exploring the characters of historic figures (Turpin Time, Diary of a Wimpy King)—and/or are constructing their own such characters in order to comment on and narrativise about material remains (The Cloud Man of Peru) or heritage sites (Legend of the Connacta). And still others are interrogating the histories of different buildings (The King and his Manor), towns (Toton Histories), museums (The History Shop), human material remains (What’s this Mummy Doing in Bolton?) and historic documents (The Bill of Rights 1689).

For some, this marks their first independent experience in doing class work that goes beyond traditional essay-writing. The project, therefore, has not always been easy, because live, creative production for the public, that draws upon more media than simply the written word, is exposing. Indeed, it is experimentation in the sense that Tim Ingold (2011:15-16) uses it: “to do our thinking in the open, out-of doors…[to] place the investigator, in person, right in the midst of things.” As such, any mistakes are made obvious, and everything is laid bare to scrutiny and criticism on a scale that none of the students have experienced before.

But this project is important, I would argue, because to borrow from Darren Newbury (2011), it teaches us to care. Especially as regards visual media, we are often only taught to deconstruct and critique other people’s outputs—a caustic form of practice that might hone our argumentative eyes, but that simultaneously leaves us blind to the complexities of making. Ingold (2011:224) puts it nicely when he says that the “spectator who stands at a distance, in order to make an objective study, is observationally blind.” In other words, to truly understand a type of practice—to truly see—we have to DO; we have to both look and act; we have to observe and participate because, as per Ingold, one is conditional on the other. It’s dubious, then, to teach criticism in the absence of teaching creation—we couldn’t possibly carefully and conscientiously conduct (and comprehend the implications of) the former without an intimate familiarity with the latter.

I am very proud of my students, and I’m lucky to have such an engaged and engaging group to work alongside. I’m not sure that every teacher would say that they thoroughly look forward to their upcoming classes—but I do, because it’s never quiet; it’s never untimely or peripheral to current events; it never lacks in debate or informed dialogue. I hope you’ll consider joining in on our journey by providing your constructive thoughts on the students’ efforts and encouraging them with their projects by commenting directly on their blogs and associated Twitter and social media sites. These have been risky endeavours for the students, but it’s also opened up spaces for them to push their expertise further—to create, to do, to care. I’ve been at the American Anthropological Association conference in Chicago this week where Maria Vesperi (professor and editor at Anthropology Now) said it nicely: to produce for public audiences is how you learn–you write to let go. It’s in this release, then, that real knowledge-making happens.

You can access our aggregate site here:

http://visualmedia-archaeology2013.blogspot.com/

Ingold, T. (2011) Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. London: Routledge.

Newbury, D. (2011) Making arguments with images: Visual scholarship and academic publishing. In Margolis, E., & Pauwels, L. (Eds.) SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, 651-664. London: Sage.