Digital Media, Power and (In)Equality in Archaeology and Heritage

Sara Perry1, Lucy Shipley2 and Jim Osborne3


1. Department of Archaeology, University of York, King's Manor, York, UK, YO1 7EP. Email: (corresponding author)
2. Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton, UK, SO17 1BF. Email:
3. English Literature, University of Southampton, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Highfield, Southampton, UK, SO17 1BF. Email:

Cite this as: Perry, S., Shipley, L. and Osborne, J. 2015 Digital Media, Power and (In)Equality in Archaeology and Heritage, Internet Archaeology 38.


Decades of Internet study have arguably done little to shed light on the nature and implications of web-based communications in archaeology. Since the late 1990s, the online world has been lauded by archaeologists for its capacities to engender dialogue, participation, intellectual change and even democratic revolution. Yet the dangers associated with its use have barely been probed. Threats to privacy, equality, access, security of data, and personal safety and well-being are seemingly characteristic of all communication technologies. However, the naive zeal with which many archaeological and heritage organisations are employing online platforms for dissemination, profile-building, 'impact' and public accountability is fraught with risk and deserving of interrogation.

This article explores the effects of digital culture on the professional identities and careers of archaeologists, heritage specialists and museum workers. Through a multi-disciplinary survey of over 400 individuals, nearly one-third of whom self-identified as archaeological or related heritage practitioners (working both inside and outside of the academic sector), we consider the various ways in which online technologies are used to express, promote, facilitate, strengthen and undermine both professionals themselves and professional practices in archaeology. Situating ourselves in the intersectional and feminist literature, we argue that web-based harassment and lack of adequate e-safety mechanisms are rife in the discipline, putting it in jeopardy of fuelling structural inequalities. Our findings suggest that close to one-third of practitioners report victimisation via online communication; the majority know their abusers offline; and, although the prevalence of such abuse is roughly equal among men and women, its nature is split along gender lines. Of especial concern, most practitioners choose to ignore their abuse, a decision that may be motivated by the non-existent or victim-harming institutional e-policies rampant in the sector. We call, then, for archaeology and heritage organisations - and their funders - to recognise their incontrovertible duty of care to staff, volunteers, students and communities engaged with their online platforms. As chronicled here, the meaningful public impact, access and empowerment sought by the profession via the social web are not achievable without investment in robust protection and prevention measures.

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