Public Archaeology

Public Archaeology

Public Archaeology

Public Archaeology

Synopsis

Scrutinizing, in detail, the relationship between archaeology, heritage and the public, this much-needed volume explores public interest and participation in archaeology as a subject worthy of academic attention in its own right.Examining case studies from throughout the world; from North America, Britain, Egypt and Brazil to East Africa, China and beyond, Nick Merriman focuses on two key areas: communication and interpretation, and stakeholders.Constant reports of new discoveries, protests over the destruction of sites and debates over the return of artefacts such as the Elgin marbles or indigenous remains testify to an increasing public interest in archaeology.For students and scholars of this archaeology, and of its relationship with the public, this will prove essential reading.

Excerpt

The notion of 'the public' in the sense of a collective body of citizens, and in contrast to the private realm, has been around since at least Roman times (Melton 2001:1). However, there are two more specific meanings of the term, both of which are central to any discussion of public archaeology. the first is the association of the word 'public' with the state and its institutions (public bodies, public buildings, public office, the public interest), which emerges in the era of intensive state-formation from the Early Modern period onwards (ibid.). As far as archaeology is concerned, the opening of the British Museum in 1753 is probably the first instance of a state creating a public institution which includes the display of archaeological collections as part of its central remit.

The second is the concept of 'the public' as a group of individuals who debate issues and consume cultural products, and whose reactions inform 'public opinion' (ibid.). This notion developed during the Enlightenment, and has received its fullest treatment in Habermas's The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962). For Habermas, the model for an open, critical, participatory democracy was founded in the development of a bourgeois public sphere in the eighteenth century, fuelled by developments in new kinds of public spaces such as coffee houses and salons, and in new forms of communication such as newspapers and novels. Habermas's own model has been criticised for its insufficient attention to gender, for its lack of acknowledgement that only property owners were in practice admitted to the public sphere, and for ignoring the 'plebeian public sphere' often dismissed as 'the mob' (McGuigan 1996:24-5). However, for our purposes his work is seminal in identifying the specific historical circumstances during which a notion of 'the public' as a critical body external to that of the state, developed.

On the one hand, therefore, we have a notion in which the state assumes the role of speaking on behalf of the public and of acting 'in the public interest'.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.