I’m taking a bunch of archaeologists to the upcoming Archaeologies of Media & Film Conference, 3-5 September 2014, in Bradford!

We wrote a panel proposal within CASPAR (Committee for Audio-Visual Scholarship and Practice in Archaeology). I’ll be chairing. Panel to include Greg Bailey (University of Bristol), Sara Perry (York University), Lorna Richardson (University College London and other invited speakers (tbc).

Archaeology is, by very definition, the study of ‘old’ or archaic things. Its etymological origin lies in the ancient Greek ἀρχαιολογία (or archaiologia)―ἀρχαῖος (arkhaios) meaning ‘ancient’ and –λογία (-logia) meaning ‘-logy’ or ‘science of’. But contained within the name itself is an important sleight of hand, for we would argue that it is impossible to study the ‘past’ as if it were somehow separate and external to the ‘present’.

P. Graves-Brown, R. Harrison and A. Piccini 2013: 1

As self-identifying archaeologists, we find the emergence of ‘media archaeologies’ an exciting and productive shift within media studies. In common with the ‘media archaeologists’, professional and academic archaeologists are interested in scalar changes and deep time relations and we similarly address material-discursive boundary-making practices (Barad 2007) through situated and embodied approaches to media things, networks, assemblages (Harrison 2011). For that reason, we have been struck by an apparent absence of archaeological voices within the rich conversations occurring across the Variantological field. Archaeologists’ specific range of methods of measurement and analysis, our ‘archaeological imagination’ (Shanks 2012), can productively intervene in media archaeologies scholarship. Of course, archaeology as such is neither discrete nor settled. As Michael Shanks has argued (ibid: 32) it is the messy mix of memory and collection practices characterising modernity that are manifested as ‘archaeology’ via academic and professional disciplinary discourse. To paraphrase David Clarke: ‘archaeology is what archaeologists [and all moderns] do’ (1973: 6).

Alongside archaeology’s discursive travels across the humanities, most notoriously via Michel Foucault, archaeologists themselves have long engaged with media materialities (Clack and Brittain 2007; Shanks and Tilley 1987). Studies range from archaeologies of Silicon Valley (Finn 2013) to those of Second Life (Harrison 2009), from the mobile phone (Newland 2004) to the media technologies of post-war astronomy (Edmonds 2010) and from telegraphy (Newland 2009) to the material-discursive actions of media as sensory prostheses (Witmore 2006). We therefore propose a panel of archaeologists who will present a series of ten-minute positioning statements. These will focus on case study approaches to media techno-assemblages in order to map specifically archaeological approaches. The subsequent extended panel discussion will aim towards drawing out the key archaeological theories and practices to contribute to the rich field of media ecologies, archaeologies and variatologies. In sum, this panel will explore the implications of distinct yet diverse archaeological approaches to media assemblages, to create a discursive space in which colleagues from across the disciplines may work together to develop archaeologically-sensitive methods of approaching this heritage.


Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Clack, T and Brittain, M. (eds) 2007. Archaeology and the Media. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Clarke, David. 1973. Archaeology: The Loss of Innocence. Antiquity 47: 6-18.

Edmonds, M. 2010. When they Come to Model Heaven: Big Science and the Monumental in Post-War Britain. Antiquity 84: 774-795.

Finn, C. 2013. Silicon Valley. In P Graves-Brown, R Harrison and A Piccini (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeologies of the Contemporary World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 657-670.

Graves-Brown, P., Harrison, R., Piccini, A. Introduction. In P Graves-Brown, R Harrison and A Piccini (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeologies of the Contemporary World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-23.

Harrison, R. 2009. Excavating Second Life: Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities. Journal of Material Culture 14: 75-106.

Harrison, R. 2011. Surface Assemblages: Towards an Archaeology in and of the Present. Archaeological Dialogues 18 (2): 141-96.

Newland, C. 2004. A Historical Archaeology of Mobile Phones in the UK. MA Diss, University of Bristol.

Newland, C. 2009. 12.30 hrs, 12 December 1991 Marconi’s first transatlantic wireless message. In J. Schofield (ed.) Defining Moments: Dramatic Archaeologies of the Twentieth-Century. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Shanks, M. 2012. The Archaeological Imagination. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Shanks, M. and Tilley, C. 1987. Re-Constructing Archaeology: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge.

Witmore, C. L. 2006. Vision, Media, Noise and the Percolation of Time. Journal of Material Culture 11 (3): 267-292.


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