Audiences… A review of the CASPAR session at TAG-on-Sea 2013 (Bournemouth University)

I attended my first TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) in 2012 and one of the questions I had in my mind for three days was: “Where the hell is the theory?” I have the feeling that conferences are becoming more and more standardized and any thematic or geographic boundary has disappeared. Maybe those big theoretical debates of the past century are over, or maybe I was looking for hardcore theory - and that never existed.

Last December, in Bournemouth’s TAG, I had the pleasure to attend a session organized by CASPAR; Researching Audiences in Archaeology: Theory, Methods and Evidence Base. This is a topic I am quite interested in, and I was expecting some interesting data and ideas. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Ten papers discussed media coverage of archaeology, from traditional sources such as newspapers or TV to the latest trends in social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

It is clear that the Internet is a great new channel for communication with audiences, but it is swamped with all kinds of information that can mislead people’s understanding of the past and the profession. But this is neither something caused only by the Internet nor something new.

Unfortunately, we have paid very little attention to our audiences until recently. Messages have been unidirectional for most of the time, and still are in most cases. Evaluation has focused mainly on our learning goals or visitors’ preferences. Research still forgets about the impact of our work. Now that public archaeology is taking its place and interest for these topics is rising, we start to know more about them but we still have too many questions.

It is a fact that lots of people like heritage… in their own way; commoditized versions of heritage, personal experiences around heritage, beauty, mystery, etc. They like it so much that there is a huge market out there, from tourism to the media to crowdfunding campaigns, which are on the rise lately, especially with the crisis

Archaeology is amazing, although we might think or say it is boring too often. How can we transform our ‘boring’ archaeology into a successful, engaging message for our audience?

Maybe this session did not answer that question, although some of the projects presented were really positive. In order to break through our problems we need to know more about them. For the past four years, CASPAR has been delivering great sessions on different topics about media and communication at the TAG (see the 2011 review in AP Journal here).

You know I don’t like descriptive reviews and this looks more like reflections after the session; a short one actually. Chiara and Don, thank you for the session. I hope we can see it published soon.

 Jaime Almansa Sánchez


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