Understanding Digital Audiences for Archaeological Information

This is my post doctoral research project which I will be undertaking from the autumn when I take up my research post in the Department of Sociology at Umeå University in Sweden.If you are interested in taking part in the project, please get in touch!

Digital interaction with history and archaeology has enabled a variety of collaborative communications between the public and heritage professionals. Public engagement is conceptualized by interaction and participation by the public, yet participation is itself a contested term (Carpentier 2011; Eversole 2012), and understandings of participation “often turn on its perceived relationship to power” (Stein 2013, 355). We lack any systematic understanding of these digital audiences that would allow an understanding of potential conflation between participation and consumption, and how to provide opportunities for effective engagement between experts and the public. Bridging this knowledge gap is a significant challenge. This is a contextual challenge – how do we know who reads, researches or values what we produce as researchers? Fifteen years ago, Schadla-Hall wrote that “despite the assumption that the public in general supports the efforts of archaeologists in protecting their heritage…there is remarkably little hard statistical evidence for the level of public support and interest”. This statement still stands. There is substantial scope for the development of a concerted research programme using interdisciplinary methodologies which gathers data on the demographics and intents of archaeological audiences online. My doctoral research, alongside media studies and information technologies scholarship, indicate the impact of such cultural and technological dynamics for archaeology. An understanding of audience is absolutely crucial for the future development of the discipline of archaeology, as well as for the evaluation of the success of digital public engagement projects and academic impact.

This project is a first-of-its-kind programme of study which focuses on understanding audience engagement with archaeological information online. This project will draw upon a novel mixed quantitative and qualitative methodology in order to gather data that will allow us to better understand how organisations create, organise and monitor their knowledge exchange and performance of expertise in the digital environment. It will examine the activities of public users of such information – their motivations, intentions, needs and existing skill sets – enabling us to capture salient points about society’s interest in the past, as well as contemporary values and social practices situated around the subject of cultural heritage and archaeology.

This project will provide a unique and pioneering understanding of engagement with archaeology through digital means, both within and outside the discipline, and between professional and non-professional audiences and communities. It will explore how these audiences see, value and interact with the archaeological and heritage information presented and found in digital contexts. The project will examine the activities and interests of non-specialist digital audiences for archaeological information, and produce cutting-edge cross-disciplinary theoretical and methodological innovations for understanding how these digital communications function as representations of public interest in archaeology and within the networked relationships of social media. This project will use a variety of data collection methods through which to understand public responses to archaeological knowledge and shared cultural heritage, including ethnographic observation, online survey and the analysis of website visitor behaviour from ten European archaeological organisations. This combination of ethnographic approaches to online media alongside quantitative and qualitative data collection is unique and will provide an unparalleled depth and breadth of material on which to base the analysis. As the digital world increasingly becomes the locus for the formation of cultural identity, this research can provide the tools for bridging the past and the future. The data and synthesis produced will enable archaeologists to close the gap between public perceptions and professional archaeology, and empower communities to interact in a meaningful way with the archaeologists who research and represent their pasts.

The key objectives of this project are; a) to examine website and social media metrics data to understand web traffic and audience behavior from the ten archaeological organisations; this will provide a baseline quantitative understanding of when, where and which areas of the chosen archaeological websites, social media and apps are used, and provide useful data for understanding audience reactions to website content, navigation and accessibility; b) to identify, extract and measure opinions about archaeological topics from social media discussions; c) produce a robust dataset which will provide contextual information on the archaeological interests of the wider public, if any, and the types of archaeological information sought whilst using the Internet, gauging audience interest within the context of Europe, with a special interest in the exploration of public attitudes to digital heritage within diverse urban and rural communities; d) maximize public engagement with the project alongside academic and organisational impact and e) disseminate relevant data to policymaking bodies.

The objectives of this project will be addressed through four specific research methods:

•: Metrics Data will create a primary data collection framework and workflow for examining website and social media metrics data. This will be undertaken using information from archaeological organisations, which will be contacted and invited to participate within the first three months of the project. Data will be collected using Google Analytics over a period of 12 months, and this will be analysed in terms of use of site, origins of visitor, visitor movements, time of visits, page visits, keyword searches, and bounce rate.

•: Measuring Attitudes Towards Archaeology will capture public discussions in relation to the archaeological organisations outlined above as well as the most popular social media used by the archaeological organisations mentioned above. I will undertake a sentiment analysis of this information. Sentiment analysis is a method of text analysis which uses machine learning methods to characterize opinion, sentiment and text content. Comments, discussions and hashtags from social media platforms from archaeological organisations such as those mentioned above will be collated using the tool RapidMiner, which is the most widely used advanced analytics platform on the market, in order to gather and analyze these texts. This method will collate the information into CSV format and allow for different levels of analysis within the tool itself.

•: Digital Ethnography is an online ethnographic study undertaken over a 12 month period. The sample of anonymized participants will be chosen from postal address databases from the UK and Sweden, and will include a mix of city and rural settings. Face-to-face and/or email interviews will discuss their reading/discussion/image making/information sharing/viewing practices that relate to archaeological topics over the year.

•: Online Survey will aim to gather information on participant’s archaeological interests and user behaviours when accessing archaeological information online. The survey participants will be Internet users picked from a randomized Excel-based sample of the general population using information from the UK and Swedish postal address database. The qualitative data produced will also be analysed using Nvivo software, coded and assessed for common themes and emerging patterns of usage and behavior.

The research conducted will provide a method for understanding digital audiences in some details, and the findings from this work will be immediately and internationally applicable, important for the cultural heritage sector and beyond. The project will develop and establish links with non-academic sector partners and these will be supported to draw on the data from the project to create audience-appropriate online resources, use social media for community-building and discussion, and create effective and impactful public engagement strategies, thereby improving the impact and knowledge transfer capabilities of organisations from a variety of disciplines.

Carpentier, N. (Ed.). (2011). Media and participation: A site of ideological-democratic struggle. Bristol: Intellect Books.
Eversole, R. (2012). Remaking participation: challenges for community development practice. Community Development Journal, 47(1), 29-41.
Schadla-Hall, T. (1999). Editorial: Public archaeology. European Journal of Archaeology, 2(2), 147-158.
Stein, L. (2013). Policy and Participation on Social Media: The Cases of YouTube, Facebook, and Wikipedia. Communication, Culture & Critique, 6(3), 353-371.


Archaeology As Political Act

Even though the superscription of archaeology still generally takes the form of a dedication to the long-dead, it was now perceived to be an activity conducted by the living among the living and even on the living… archaeology was a profession bearing all the obligations and rights of any other social actor in the present. It was at least as political as banking, civil engineering or commercial publishing. Often, in fact, it was more sharply and immediately political than any of them (Ascherson 2000, 1).

Ascherson, N. (2000). Editorial. Public Archaeology, 1(1), 1-4.

How Are We Talking About Archaeology?

Do you have a transcript of a talk or paper you have given to the public about any aspect of archaeology that you would be willing to share with me and Ben Marwick at the University of Washington for a piece of research we are planning on the use of archaeological terminology and jargon in public engagement?  This research will be using a ‘distant reading’ approach to the material and will be looking to quantify the use of specifically archaeological language and terminology. All material used as part of the analysis will be anonymised. This is a preliminary piece of research, just to test out the tools and the concept, and no value judgements are being made!

If you are willing to help, please email me: l.richardson@ucl.ac.uk

Punk Public Archaeology at the SHA2015

Here’s my abstract. Feeling that I’m going to be, as usual, pouring cold water by being a miserable Brit. Thoughts welcome.

This paper will view British public archaeology through the lens of the specifically British experience of politically energetic and aggressive militant working class sub-cultural phenomenon of punk rock, which asked questions about social issues such as unemployment, racism, sexism, identity and militarism, and the contradictions inherent within a Punk Public Archaeology approach in the UK.
It will situate the DIY aesthetic of British Punk Public Archaeology as a cultural expression within a dominating capitalist economy and discuss the ethics of volunteer labour, prosumer commodification, the lack of state responsibility for archaeological product and the ability of Punk Public Archaeology to effectively challenge exclusionary “cultural violence” (Galtung, 1990, 292).

Report from the EAA Working Group on Public Archaeology

During the 20th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Istanbul, the Working Group in Pubic Archaeology held its second round table and meeting. The topic was ethics, as agreed the previous year, and a priori acceptance was great with 17 proposals of which 14 made it to the final schedule of the session.

This year we have complained a lot about the organization of the meeting, with a chaotic system that messed up proposals, and absurd requirements like having to send a paper to get time for introduction and debate of the session. This is why we could not wait more for substantial changes in organization.

Sometimes our wishes come true, but not in the way we expect. We had a productive round table with around two hours of debate, but not because we could schedule more time, but because 50% of the scheduled speakers did not show up.
Some had good reasons, but others did not even notify us. Moreover, out of the five public archaeology-related sessions of interest for the Working Group during the entire conference, two overlapped on Thursday and another two on Friday, making it impossible to attend half of the relevant sessions. If this report of the meeting is not talking about the ethical side of public archaeology, then we have to conclude that the meeting has been a failure, and we need to rethink.

This is why the Working Group has made three proposals to the EAA board (written as we did not have the opportunity to speak in the Annual Business Meeting, nor to report, or ask in the final questions).

1. Overlapping Sessions. The Committees and Working Groups do not only debate their interests during the meeting, but also work in the interest of their members. This is why we should have a say in the scheduling of sessions to avoid overlapping. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid it, but we can at least help to minimize the damage.

2. Round Tables. A round table is synonym for debate. A traditional session with a different name is not a round table. This is why we propose in future we hold real round tables in a format in which we get 2-3 hours to debate. People can send their proposals to participate too, but in a format in which the schedule is not tight and we can actually do a round table, with a maximum of 5-7 speakers and the participation of the public.

3. Introduction and Debate. Sessions need to be introduced and debate should be compulsory. This is why 15 minutes for introduction and 30 minutes for debate should be scheduled in every session. If we do not encourage that and limit the session to polite questions after a talk, we miss our goal to foster and support open discussion, at least from our point of view.

As the Working Group needs to have a chair and a secretary to head the organization of sessions and communicate with the EAA board, next year there will be elections, and all of you are more than welcome to participate. Decisions on any matter that affects the group will be still taken as an assembly and communication will flow as it has done to date, but the role Lorna and Jaime have been playing these two years needs to be continued, and elections are essential for that.

Going back to the session on ethics and public archaeology, the session was still productive and some interesting topics arose. It was made clear that there is a need for commitment as professionals, as we do good archaeology, we need to do good public archaeology too. This is not an easy duty, but worth undertaking, and that is why planning and management are core elements in the implementation of any public archaeology project.

Timing and funding were raised as the biggest challenges for our future, and the ethical practice of public archaeology. Philanthropy is the new funding scheme and it needs to be considered how this might be prejudicial for a project and its sustainability, a recurrent word that is central for the success of any public archaeology project. This is why archaeological teams have to engage in the long term for public archaeology projects, and planning must be clear and reasonable to be able to cover properly all the goals and timetable. In order to achieve the professionalization of public archaeology, commitment cannot be the only heart of a project and only through working with people and governments can we address this issue.

The political side of our practice in terms of agenda is crucial for the set of clear roles and the stability of teams and projects. So, the public is not only a traditional community but also a complex audience within which we can find politicians, but also other archaeologists, minority populations or other special interest groups, which may sometimes lead to conflict. Awareness of all of them is essential. The consequences of our work can be important, and this is why we need to evaluate them carefully. An activist approach is crucial for the successful impact of archaeology and public archaeology, however difficult it can be to position oneself, especially in the private sector. Public archaeology goes far beyond the remit of what we understand to be archaeological practice, into the daily lives of people, and if our work is not going to make a real difference, we need to rethink our strategies.

Of course, every situation is different and we cannot apply the same strategy to all of them. We just need to be sure what we are doing is not going to cause damage either to heritage or, more importantly, to people.

This long report sums up in some way the main ideas we debated during the session, and suggests a series of reasonable steps for next year – perhaps the EAAWP on Public Archaeology session for Glasgow 2015 could be the political role of public archaeology?

TAG 2014: OK Computer? Digital Public Archaeologies in Practice

Call for Papers

Community or public archaeology has often emphasised communities defined by an attachment to place, often defined by the archaeological site (cf. Simpson 2008); increasingly digital technologies allow a breakdown of this privileging of physical place and the concept of ‘community’ (cf. Waterton 2005; 2010), to connect geographically disparate populations. Digital public archaeology projects have emphasised crowd-sourcing, engagment, dissemination, and publicity using blogs, social media, webfeeds and so on (e.g. Richardson 2012, 2013; Bonacchi et al. 2012). As well as the challenges and opportunities relevant to other public archaeology projects, work which includes a significant digital public archaeology component has a series of more specific concerns. Increasingly the need for archaeologists to engage thoughtfully with digitally technologies has been recognised by a number of organisations (Archaeological Data Service 2010; Heritage Lottery Fund 2012; Institute of Archaeologists 2012), and greater numbers of projects are defined by their predominantly digital work. As a result there are implications both for local site-specific practice by people working as archaeologists — where we are “…progressively transforming a ‘‘world of scarcity’’ into one of ‘‘saturation’’, where space is no more an issue…” (Bonacchi 2012); the wider political context in which people interested in heritage operate (Richardson 2012, 2014); and how different interest groups including intelligent and critical consumers work in the historic environment “…without any professional or academic input whatsoever…” (Moshenka 2008).

As with other aspects of public archaeology, projects can include both ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ approaches (cf. Tully 2007; Moshenka 2008; Belford 2011) to engagement with aspects of the archaeological record. There are also webfora and projects which include the co-production of resources by interest groups who might define themselves not as archaeologists, but who have a strong interest in the historic environment (neopagans, historical reenactors, and metal detectorists for example).

This session will discuss aspects of digital public archaeology, including the challenges and opportunities offered by social media and webfora, ways of encountering and engaging with digital communities; the role of explicitly ‘digital public archaeology’ projects, how these communities are constructed and maintained; how a range of authoritative voices use the internet (cf. Hodder 2008; Faulkner 2000; Grima 2002); wider issues in terms of sustainability and management (cf. Moshenka et al. 2011); and how they interface with more traditional aspects of archaeological practices.

Please email for further info!

Call for Contributors for History Workshop Online “Why My Thesis Matters”

History Workshop Online is looking for contributors for a new monthly section of our redesigned online magazine. “Why My Thesis Matters” invites doctoral candidates and early career researchers in any field of history, archaeology or related discipline to reflect in 500-800 words on that perennial question–’Why does this matter’?

We encourage you to think about how your work informs wider social, cultural, and political issues and to write frankly and reflectively about your research for an informed, general readership.

Potential contributors are asked to send an expression of interest to the HWO editors via hwoeditors@historyworkshop.org.uk and ideally include a sample post.