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:
•: 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.