1.4 Cartography and archaeology

Archaeology is inexorably linked with cartographic concepts, as the mapping of archaeological features and landscapes is frequently performed. Therefore, it is pertinent to consider the significant academic discourse on the nature of the traditional and web-based cartographic modes of communication.

Harley's seminal works in the late 1980s on the nature of maps has facilitated a reflective discourse on the types of cartographic output society should try to produce (1988; 1989; 1990). Building on the ideas of Foucault and Derrida, Harley postulated that maps were not simply revealing knowledge but actively engaged with knowledge creation (Kitchin and Dodge 2007, 332). He argued that by 'deconstructing' the map it was possible to challenge the perceived progression toward increasing accurate versions of reality, redefine the importance of historical maps and allow the study of maps to fulfil a significant role in the interdisciplinary study of text and knowledge (1989, 15). For Harley, maps were representations of the relations of power and knowledge rather than merely communicating information from mapmaker to user, a process known as the Map Communication Model (MCM) (Crampton 2001, 237).

Arguably, the MCM concept entrenches the divide between mapmaker and user and reinforces the status quo of current power relations. However it may be possible to move towards a more Harleian agenda by adopting multiple map or collaborative production, embracing multiple viewpoints to encourage explration as an alternative to a single, optimised map symbolising finality (Crampton 2001, 244). Nascent efforts to include alternative viewpoints and cartographic subjectivity are beginning to become evident at a national level, evidenced by the 'Collecting names from coast to coast' project, which aims to record and display alternative toponyms by recording common colloquial terms for places in the UK. This can help organisations such as the Coast Guard respond to emergency calls by providing accurate locational information for toponyms that are not recorded by conventional gazetteers (Ordnance Survey 2012).

Significantly, arguments for plurality and multivocality in cartographic output in geographic disciplines mirror contemporary developments in archaeological theory. Since the 1980s, post-processualist archaeologists such as Ian Hodder and Christopher Tilley have advocated multiple narratives and parallel discourses, challenging positivist paradigms of archaeological practice to ensure multiple and diverse groups are given a forum to offer alternative views and interpretations of the past (Hodder and Hutson 2003, 207). The rise of community archaeology is also rooted in the shift from 'processual' to 'post-processual' archaeology when the authority of the professional archaeologist was challenged, alongside the concept of the existence of one 'true' reading of the past. In Britain during the 1990s, shifts in political power triggered by the election of 'New Labour', who embraced neo-liberal ideals of social inclusivity, enabled the empowerment of communities through increased funding and by emphasising enablement rather than didacticism (Simpson and Williams 2008, 71-2). Debate on the relative validity of individual contributions to multivocal interpretations is on-going. Nonetheless, there exists a general acceptance that a lack of input into the interpretative process can serve to exclude minorities or disadvantaged groups. Considering the flexibility and creative potential of WebGIS projects the suggestion is that, compared to traditional geospatial mediums, such techniques are well suited to explore how we map landscapes and archaeological practice as a whole.

Despite the increasing development of WebGIS projects, there is no unanimous acceptance of the role of web technologies in society. For instance, authors such as Andrew Keen posit the cost of democratisation is the blurring of the distinction between amateur and expert, leading to the denigration of professionalism and a decline in quality and reliability of information (2007, 27). However, within the field of archaeology, arguably the greatest threat to the status of the professional is not the adoption of alternative modes of collaboration or knowledge generation but the lack of professionals themselves. In the UK, the Merseyside Archaeological Advisory Service, custodians of the HER, closed in March 2011 when funding was cut by partners (Museum of Liverpool 2012). This may not continue to be an isolated case and many local governments face serious threats to their archaeological services due to increasing financial insecurity, and key organisations such as the Institute of Archaeologists expend considerable effort in lobbying to protect those services against continued threat (Forster 2012, 5). Consequently, the creation of a polarised dichotomy between networked knowledge production and privileging of individualised expertise modes of communication is potentially counterproductive. There is no need to choose — multimodal techniques of investigating the historic environment; public and professional hopefully ensure that cessation of either does not result in catastrophic collapse of archaeological provision. In this current archaeological climate, technologies that harness increasingly finite resources can arguably only benefit academic research, cultural resource management and raise public awareness of the challenges faced by archaeology today.


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