Multivocality and Technology: Review of a lecture at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens (IIHSA)

Lately it seems that discussions about public archaeology bring forth unprecedented directions of thought in Greece. A few months ago, a new book series on public archaeology was launched, with its first published volume being about the way the past is being presented to children. Actually, a roundtable discussion about this volume is taking place today, 14 February, at the building of the Association of Greek Archaeologists. The same venue will host a lecture on archaeological education programmes and public archaeology in Greece, on the 25th of February.

A couple of months ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Eleni Stefanou and Dr. Ioanna Antoniadou entitled Experiencing the Past through Ethnography and Heritage Trails: Designing an Interactive Tool for Cultural Tourism and Education. I was quite intrigued by the abstract (see it here in English) and I thought it would be an interesting lecture on a promising project but, on my way there, I tried not to keep my hopes up. After all, I thought to myself, sometimes words are fancier than actions. Luckily, that was not the case; the project, although in its beginning stages, seemed to have a solid foundation.

In a nutshell, the two researchers aim to produce an interactive city-guide which will include heritage walks designed by and for the public. To this end, they have already started to involve the local community in the design process, collecting oral testimonies and memories regarding the material remains of Eptapyrgio, Thessaloniki. Concurrently, they intend to employ technology through the design of a website that will include stories and maps based on the data being collected. Also, a Facebook page will be created shortly.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this project, in my opinion, is that they intend to give prominence to the multiple lives of the area’s monuments for which the visitor currently remains uninformed. Equally important is their effort to include multiple different narratives in the process; the participants share their own unofficial stories, the meanings they attach to physical remains and their own memories, experiences and interpretations of the past and present. Hence the title of the project, “Live the Mo(nu)ment”. As for public engagement, the users will be able to ‘listen’ to the local voices and share their own personal memories and experiences regarding the sites and monuments. This reminded me a bit of Know Your Bristol, an interactive web-based tool, which launched in 2011 (see more about it here).

At the end of the lecture, there was a lively Q&A session that brought up the question of funding - actually this was my Q - but it was still very early in the life cycle of the project to get a firm answer. Another issue that was discussed was that multivocality runs the risk of turning into a ‘battlefield’ – but isn’t that always the case? Moreover, isn’t the opposite a bigger risk, or better yet doesn’t it have repercussions?

After the Q&A, there was a reception in the foyer where I got to meet the two researchers in person and discuss with them. I was also glad to be informed that the IIHSA will be hosting more lectures on public archaeology this year, as part of their 2013-2014 Lecture Series on Public Archaeology/Archaeology and the Public. I like to think that public archaeology has already started to slowly gain ground in Greece. It remains to be seen whether this is really the case.

Eleni and Ioanna, thank you for a stimulating lecture. I hope that your work continues to progress and will get the attention it deserves.

Elena Papagiannopoulou
MA Cultural Heritage Studies, UCL


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