As a young field, Public Engagement with Archaeology (PEA) – both digital and physical – has largely been practised by subject matter specialists and guided by practice informed by personal experience and observation of what “does and does not work” with its publics. Research (basic or applied) remains underdeveloped and very sketchy.
This paper aims to justify the need for collecting and using research evidence to better understand and improve practice in the PEA field and to guide future research efforts. It will first discuss what meaningful engagement with digital archaeology resources may look like and, based on evidence from various other disciplines, it will then propose a framework for understanding and researching PEA, with an emphasis on the digital domain. The framework consists of two main areas that PEA touches on: the interface between institutional agendas (i.e. how digital resources are developed and what their affordances are) and the agendas of individuals or groups of users (i.e. how people use and make sense of these recourses). Key elements of the framework include that research needs:
To be collaborative, cross-disciplinary, theory-driven and culturally responsive. It should be a co-learning experience, in true Public Engagement fashion.
To be widely shared with researchers, developers and practitioners in different formats and platforms in order to help the field move forward
To be an iterative process where the emphasis is on developing digital resources that are “for somebody” rather than “about something”. Research needs to be based on an understanding of different groups of users and how PEA fits in the ecology of the resources and organisations users have access to.
Lecturer, UCL Institute of Archaeology