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2.2 Public Archaeology … and intradisciplinary debates about authorship

Many people are eager to learn about archaeology, and to be involved in interpreting the past, and it is encouraging that some archaeologists are equally eager to share their findings with the public. However, such exchanges are complicated by the participants' varied motivations, conflicting ideals of rationality, entrenched community identities, and the sheer political and spiritual importance of the past (Denning 1999). These exchanges are further complicated by:

  1. the fact that historical thinking is not simple or intuitive
  2. uncertainty on the part of the archaeologist about the message to send
  3. the idiosyncrasies of whichever medium we use

I will deal briefly with (2) before moving on to (3) and issues specifically concerning hypertext.

In-depth discussion of online public archaeology is complex because it necessarily involves difficult questions about authorship, some of which are not only intractable, but have been deeply divisive within archaeology in recent years. They include these questions:

Even archaeologists who have similar intentions can find it difficult to agree on answers. But at least on an individual basis, knowing what one thinks about these issues — that is, knowing specifically the message one wishes to send — is, not surprisingly, essential to developing a coherent approach to online public archaeology.

Perhaps all of this relates to a larger problem: Archaeology as a whole can hardly be said to be proficient in the task of general communications even in conventional print media. There have always been individual experts with admirable results, but it is only during the last ten years that significant fractions of the academic archaeological community have started to scrutinise archaeological narrative in print (Pluciennik 1999), and develop a formal focus on archaeology education (SAA 2001; Antiquity 2000).

Predictably, there is much less still on writing archaeological hypertext (though see Holtorf 2000-3; Joyce et al. 2000; McDavid 1999; Tringham 1999; Joyce 2002; Lopiparo 2002). So, without intending any disrespect to the hard work that many have done in the area of online archaeology, I suggest that we may want to begin at the beginning, by assuming that we don't yet thoroughly understand our new medium.

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