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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

CBA pitches in to culture debate



Thanks to Tony for flagging this up in one of our discussion threads.  Interesting.  The CBA has pitched in to the Government's culture debate:

http://new.archaeologyuk.org/news/cba-responds-to-consultation-on-governments-culture-white-paper

Quote:  CBA Director Mike Heyworth said:
"The Culture White Paper has the potential to be a positive, high level, statement on how Government perceives the value of culture and heritage to our society. We hope that it will provide a strong indication that the Government is committed to tackling current issues and outline a plan for how we should protect and enhance culture and heritage in the context of the challenges of public spending reform."

On the  web page link above, you can find the PDF of the CBA letter.  It's quite long and detailed,  and as one might expect, it flags up the social and cultural importance of archaeology in creating national pride and "heritage awareness"  and in what is referred to over and again as "place making."  As a geographer, I can appreciate that -- and a sense of place has to be an important component of any happy society.  There's a lot about public engagement, heritage management, planning issues and so forth -- and references to "historic environment advisers" and other officers who may for the most part work within the local authority network.

Quote:  "Britain has a reputation as one of the pioneers in the field of archaeology and has, in the past, led the world in the development of regulatory protections for cultural heritage. As a point of national pride, Britain should be stepping up in the international arena to ensure that it maintains this reputation and can take a leadership role in the 21st century exploration of themes of cultural heritage, identity, and cultural property protection; developing the role, remit, and significance of archaeology, and cultural heritage in the European Union, Commonwealth, and the wider world."

What interests me here is that the letter focusses on the reputation of Britain as a place having a fine historical heritage and having good regulations in place for protection, management -- and, dare I say it, promotion and marketing.  There is virtually nothing in the letter about the reputation of archaeology itself, about its status as an an academic discipline, or about the reliability and status of the archaeological research community.  This is the point at which I begin to worry.  Of course I want archaeology to thrive as a discipline, since there is a vast fund of goodwill towards it among the members of the public -- but for how long will that goodwill survive if archaeology loses its reputation for scholarship and academic rigour; decides that storytelling, media exposure and marketing become more important than careful research and peer-reviewed publishing; and operates inside a bubble, ignoring the contributions to research that can come from related science-based disciplines?

If the Neolithic quarry pantomime is anything to go by,  archaeology really needs to get its house in order before trying to convince the government that it deserves respect as a serious academic discipline and that it should have a substantial level of funding from the public purse.


6 comments:

Jon Morris said...

I read it. It's unfortunate that the writers have tried to equate archaeology with historic assets. Whilst related, these are not the same thing because non-preservative archaeological funding could cease entirely for a decade or two without significantly affecting historic assets.

What particularly struck me was that you could replace archaeological related terms with knitting related terms and the document would still work (if you were trying to promote the social benefits of knitting as a good use of public funding).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Right on the nail, Jon!

chris johnson said...

Indeed. I have not followed the discussion on culture at all but one assumes that an attempt will be made to define the major components of a British culture that will justify investment and recognition. A commitment to scientific rigor and objective fact based work will, I assume, be an element in the cultural coat of many colours that is to be designed.

The woolly thinking evidenced in the CBA document is not something one would want to take forward into a white paper on Culture - I hope. There is lots of fat for trimming.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Your previous point is a good one, Chris -- about the "strategic" or political need for a coherent and striking historical and prehistoric narrative. That is, I think, what currently drives archaeology -- the need for telling a striking story, and not the need for rigorous scholarship.

Nothing much changes -- I recall doing some posts a very long time ago on this blog about the "political context" of HH Thomas's "breakthrough" on the provenances of the bluestones. Even back in the aftermath of WW1, there was a strategic imperative to have a better story than the Germans -- and the need to show that the Ancient Brits were capable of wondrous feats which the rest of the world would just have to admire from a distance. I even think that he falsified -- or used very selectively -- the evidence he had, so as to make his narrative of human transport all the more exciting. And of course he was after notoriety and glory as well -- so, as I said, nothing changes.........

chris johnson said...

I would like to see an obligation on archeologists to provide a public report of findings with a short but reasonable time-frame, say 12 months, in return for a permission to dig. In Prescelli a lot of digging has been done without public reports of any kind.

By the way, do you know Brian what was found at Velindre this past summer when rumour had it a stone circle was been sought? Or Castell Mawr for that matter?

By proper reporting I do not mean a line on a overhead slide or a contribution to an article in a magazine. They should tell us simply what they found, please. Perhaps such a new requirement properly belongs in the new white paper on our cultural heritage. Letter to the Minister anybody :))

BRIAN JOHN said...

I would go so far as to say that the funding applicants (the team digging at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog) have broken research protocols by failing to report on past digging seasons before asking for money for future digs; and that the people charged with spending public money wisely (the Royal Archaeological Institute, the Society of Antiquaries, the National Museum of Wales and the Cambrian Archaeological Association) have been culpable in failing to check adequately on the progress of the project and to realistically question some of the outrageous claims being made (on the basis of the most questionable "evidence") in the period 2011-2015 by the project leaders.