G. Archaeology in Contemporary Popular Media

Organizers: Ryan Kennedy, Indiana University and Guido Pezzarossi, Stanford University

Saturday, May 7th
9:00 – 12:00
Kroeber 155


Perhaps the most effective vehicles for the development, reproduction, reification, and public dissemination of representations of archaeology and archaeological narratives are the various forms of daily-consumed popular media. While representations of archaeological practice and discourses in film and fiction have and continue to garner much attention, the focus must be expanded to rapidly developing media such as digital gaming, 3D online environments (i.e. Second Life), websites and other internet-based media such as Wikipedia and blogs, music, and television programming (i.e. History Channel, Discovery). The papers in this session attempt to move beyond simply identifying and correcting implausible or radical interpretations of archaeology in these media and instead focus on deeper analyses of the themes and politics central to the discourses and representations that course through them. How do these discourses impact populations that commonly bear the brunt of pernicious archaeological narratives (ie Native populations and historically and presently marginalized or vulnerable communities)? What themes emerge from within the academy and how are these themes reconfigured and repurposed for public consumption via various media? How is archaeological praxis conceptualized and communicated?  How, ultimately, is the past, and our knowledge of the past, represented?  By identifying and critiquing archaeological discourses as they have come to be represented in massively consumed media, these papers attempt to bring a wide range of popular media to the attention of the archaeological community and to explore ways in which they can be utilized by archaeologists to enrich their own political, social, and public educational efforts.

Papers Accepted:

Victorian Representations of Archaeology in 21st Century Popular Media

Kevin McGeough, University of Lethbridge, mcgekm@uleth.ca

The emergence of archaeology as a professional discipline in the 19th century coincided with an explosion of new forms of popular media. Archaeology was represented in many of these media forms – in periodicals, novels, panoramas, theatres, expositions, and even the rituals of secret societies. Many of the same themes and issues that are explored in popular archaeological representations now were established in Victorian times. Some similarities reflect structural issues implicit in the media. Others reflect continued concerns such as understanding the self and the other. This paper seeks to explore the 19th century roots of contemporary archaeological popular representation.

Mediating Bones and Bones as Mediator

Manjree Khajanchi, Independent scholar, manjree@gmail.com

The American television series Bones has garnered much attention since its beginnings in 2005, securing a place in the hearts of audiences worldwide. Inspired by the life and works of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, this successful program gives audiences a chance to see how forensic cases involving human remains are handled within a laboratory setting. This paper will expand on several central themes portrayed in the show, which include (1) the depiction of teamwork, (2) the battle/balance between logic and emotion, and (3) the interconnectedness of the living and the dead.

Flying Under the Radar: Canadian Archaeology in the Public Imagination

Catherine Zagar, McMaster University, cathamaria@gmail.com, Tristan Carter, McMaster University, & Kelly Brown, McMaster University.

A 2009-2010 survey of attitudes towards archaeology conducted at McMaster University indicated that only a tiny percentage of 400+ students imagined Canada as archaeological space, despite the survey population’s overwhelming self-identification as Canadian. To explore this anomaly, we focus on popular media and Ontario school curricula. National Geographic Magazine, the most commonly identified media outlet in the survey, contains few representations of Canadian archaeology. Secondly, archaeology comprises only a minor role in elementary and secondary schools. In our paper, we propose means by which we can explore the archaeological imagination and generate more awareness and interest in archaeological work in Canada.

Virtual Archaeology: Public Archaeology in Second Life

Marion Smeltzer, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, dykg@iup.edu, Beverly Chiarulli, R. Scott Moore, Benjamin L. Ford, & Sarah W. Neusius

Archaeologists have effectively used the World Wide Web as a vehicle for public outreach for the past 15 years.  As new technologies develop, new opportunities for public education also appear.  Virtual reality environments like “Second Life” provide interactive experiences for the public as well as for the classroom.  This presentation describes the creation of the IUP Second Life Archaeology Island. The virtual world includes sections on Roman, Maya, Late Woodland Pennsylvania, and underwater archaeological sites and can be used to orient project participants as well as provide the public with the opportunity to “virtually” travel through time.

Collapse, Colonialism and Technology: The Public Lives of Archaeological Discourses in Science Fiction.

Guido Pezzarossi, Stanford University, guidopez@stanford.edu & Ryan Kennedy, Indiana University

Science Fiction as a genre is situated in a productive relationship with archaeological/historical disciplines and their discursive products. The play with time central in sci-fi brings ways of knowing and representing, presents, pasts and futures into explicit (and revealing) dialogues. As such, sci-fi has contributed to the reification, elaboration, and wide circulation of problematic interpretations of archaeological discourse that are in turn used to (re)frame the present/future. In this paper we will critically examine various popular media that engage with archaeological discourses of technology, social complexity, colonialism, and “collapse” and explore the ramifications of their post-academic public lives.

How Not to Sound Like an Idiot

Adrian Praetzellis, Sonoma State University, Adrian.praetzellis@sonoma.edu

I’m here under false pretenses —this paper has nothing to do with theory. It’s about how archaeologists can successfully negotiate a media (newspaper, TV, radio) interview.  What do reporters want? Should you take this interview? What preparation should you do? And how should you deal with awkward questions? Although consultant archaeologists must be particularly careful in their dealings with the press, none of us wants to sound like a nitwit. The presenter is an archaeologist who has generally managed to avoid being screwed by the news media.

Historical Process in Video Games

Bryn Williams, Stanford University, bryn@stanford.edu

This paper explores various theories of history that are implicit in popular video games. It discusses the techniques used to naturalize those theories and the various in-game justifications given for those theories.