Theme 08: The Public, Heritage and Museums
Akira Matsuda (University of Tokyo) and Alicia McGill (North Carolina State University)
WAC, since its inception, has always championed archaeology that closely engages with the public. The degree to which archaeology needs to concede its authority to the public in this engagement, however, has been a subject of debate. At one end of a spectrum there have been archaeologists who stick to the traditional practice of archaeology, while occasionally consulting the public for information that can be usefully used for their archaeological investigation. At the other end of the spectrum there have been archaeologists who encourage members of the public to set an agenda of investigation into the past by themselves, and seek to facilitate this process by offering specialist advice whenever necessary. Both groups of archaeologists engage with the public, with the authority of decision-making staying largely with the archaeologists in the former case, and being greatly conceded to the public in the latter. Acknowledging that the great majority of ‘public archaeology’ takes place somewhere between the two ends, we wish to ask where archaeology stands today – thirty years since the establishment of WAC – with regard to its public engagement.
The two keywords that need particular attention are: heritage and museums. Over the last few decades critics have successfully argued that heritage is a fluid concept bound up with people’s collective identities and it should therefore be considered as a process, politically charged, rather than a product. Accepting this, one might reasonably ask how archaeology, which too is a ‘process’ of understanding the past, should relate to heritage today. Our understanding of museums, where most of the objects unearthed from archaeological fieldwork end up, has also changed drastically over the last few decades. Once conceived as temples where valuable objects are stored, museums today are understood as fora, where people engage with objects not only for educational but also for social and political purposes. How should then archaeology relate to museums today?
Within this theme we also hope to diversify the discussion around heritage and museums to incorporate the interdisciplinary intersections that exist within the realm of archaeological practice and heritage studies today. Indeed, discussions about collaboration, sharing authority, and connections with various publics are central to fields such as public history, cultural resource management, museum studies in addition to archaeology so sessions that draw from such fields are encouraged.
Sessions organized under this theme are not just to describe ‘how things are’, but to actively discuss ‘how things should be’, in consideration of the changing social roles of archaeology, heritage and museums. As the various approaches to archaeological practice and engagement through heritage and museum work raise many questions about methodology, training, pedagogy, theory, and professional ethics, we welcome sessions that explore and address questions such as:
- What possibilities and challenges arise when heritage and museum practitioners work closely with various publics?
- How can and should future generations of heritage and museum scholars and practitioners be trained in research and collaborative methodology?
- How can interdisciplinary perspectives inform heritage and museum practices in archaeology today?
What can we learn from changes in heritage and museum work over the last thirty years?