Re-loading the Archaeological Canon: Decolonising the Undergraduate Archaeology Curriculum

At York, all lecturers are encouraged to complete teacher training to receive their Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP). I’ve been teaching in higher ed since 2005, but appreciated the training as it was specific to the UK system. One of our tasks was an original research project on an aspect of teaching that we are interested in. I decided to evaluate the first-year undergraduate Archaeology curriculum for inclusion to better understand how the canon of literature was formed in Archaeology.

What resulted was a small project that falls somewhere between a proper paper and a blog post. I went through and made spreadsheets of all of the assigned reading at York. From the paper:

To address the need to decolonise the curriculum in archaeology, I assessed the reading lists assigned to first-year undergraduates within the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, noting two metrics: 1) Perceived Gender, and 2) Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) (see appendix 1). At times these metrics were difficult to determine. Assigning perceived identities was an uncomfortable exercise, but there was not time within the assessment to email each of the authors individually and ask how they should be identified. Some archaeological reports did not attribute authorship. Additionally, I only recorded data regarding the first three authors; in the case of scientific journal articles, I recorded data regarding the first/corresponding author and the last author, as this is generally the lead investigator of the article and the senior author/supervisor, respectively. After gathering these metrics on spreadsheets I assessed each of the courses independently for their inclusion of diverse voices. Finally, I compared this data to data gathered from an Introduction to Archaeology reading list assigned to first-year undergraduates at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL. By doing this I hoped to gain a more general idea of practice within the field, particularly as UCL is the home institution for the ​Why is My Curriculum White​ movement.

I was hoping to use the Gender Balance Assessment Tool, as it measures both gender balance and the inclusion of BAME (for USA readers, this is UK-ese for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) authors. Unfortunately it requires the first name to be listed, which almost never happens in reading lists or bibliographic citation, so I had to pick through the lists to manually code them.

Perhaps predictably, the balance is…not so good. From the paper:

Collectively, the autumn and spring term coursework in Archaeology at York assigned reading by female first authors 22% of the time (87/308) (figure 9) and BAME authors 1.3% of the time (4/308). This compares positively to the UCL Introduction to Archaeology figures (though York is an aggregate and UCL may assign more diverse authors in additional courses) and, given more research into reading lists across the UK, might be viewed as average or even good, considering the founding of the profession.

Yet in research conducted in 2013, academic roles in archaeology are divided more evenly, 46% female and 54% male (Aitchison and Rocks-McQueen 2013). Gender parity was expected across archaeology (incorporating commercial, educational, and other sectors) in 2017-2018 and women were to be the majority of the workforce by 2022 (97) (Aitchison and Rocks-McQueen 2013). Research conducted during the same time period on publication and gender in archaeology in the United States revealed a similar gender division, 47% female and 53% male, but also showed a considerable gap in publication rates (Bardolph 2014). Out of 4,552 articles and reports from 11 peer-reviewed journals published between 1990 and 2013, 71.4% were authored by men as the first author and 28.6% by women (Bardolph 2014). A similar study has not been conducted within the UK. Out of the courses surveyed, only Introduction to Archaeological Science surpasses the 28.6% mark of scholarship authored by women, with 30.4% of the reading by women as first authors.

I’m speaking at one of York Archaeology’s Equality and Diversity meetings about the topic, and all of my colleagues that I’ve discussed it with have been interested and invested in trying to diversify the curriculum. We’re changing up several of our core reading lists this summer as well. If that goes well, I may update the paper and send it out somewhere for publication.

But for now, if you are interested, it’s a short read, hastily written:


I’ve removed the appendices as York’s reading lists aren’t public–unlike poor UCL, who get picked on for their transparency. Sorry UCL, I still love y’all.

RIP Archaeology in Action on Flickr

Photo by Marius Loots. “At the end of excavation, the final rites. Mapungubwe, 1995. Mapungubwe, inhabited around 1200 AD is now a World Heritage Site. This was one of the last large scale excavations done on the site.”

All (digital) things must die. But it sure is sad. Archaeology in Action on Flickr has been collecting visual evidence of archaeological work for 13 years, and I’ve been an admin and curator of the group for almost as long. It has over 4,400 photos in it, showing work from all time periods, all over the world. It has slowed down considerably in recent years, as people abandon the platform, but still held as a collection, with some of the most beautiful images of people and archaeology that I’ve ever seen.

In January, Flickr is going to move to a for-pay model that will only allow free users 1,000 photos and will delete any photos above that number. This is going to have rather dramatic consequences for Archaeology in Action, and my own account, which has 3,000 photos, licensed CC-By and available for people to use.

I tell my students that for-profit platforms are not an archive and are not beholden to you and you should not trust them in the least. But it still feels like a blow. Regardless, it may be the final push I needed toward moving entirely to Wikimedia Commons.

Analogue/Digital Archaeology Session at the EAA


Join us at the European Association of Archaeologists meetings in Glasgow on Saturday, September 5th from 8:00 – 10:00 in Room 361 for our discussion panel:

Analogue/Digital: Productive Tensions in Materiality and Archaeology

Abstract: As we integrate digital workflows into every aspect of archaeological methodology, it is increasingly apparent that we are all digital archaeologists (Morgan and Eve 2012). Yet archaeology has a long, productive and unfinished history with “analogue” media. Illustration, photography, dioramas, casts, paper-based maps, diagrams, charts and artistic renderings have all been – and continue to be – used to interpret and present archaeology to specialist and general audiences. Walter Benjamin argued that reproductive media destroys the “aura” of traditional artistic media (1968), and it has since been argued (Bolter et al. 2006) that digital media perpetuates a permanent crisis of this aura. As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists can contribute to discussions of the context of, continuities between, and technological changes to these media artefacts. In this session we ask, in what ways are we using the digital in constructive interplay with the analogue? What can digital affordances reveal about analogue methodologies, and vice versa? And how are we pushing beyond skeuomorphic archaeological recording and rethinking the possibilities of media artefacts overall? We aim here to prompt reflective debate about, and speculative design of, the future of analogue/digital experimentation.

We have a fantastic set of participants:

Colleen Morgan (University of York) – Analogue/Digital: Spectrum, Landscape, Minefield?
Laia Pujol-Tost (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) – Mixed exhibits. The best of both worlds? & Pixel vs pigment. The goal of Virtual Reality in Archaeology
Sian Jones (University of Manchester) & Stuart Jeffrey – Material/Digital Authenticity: Some thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts
Christine Finn (FSA) – Field Work in the Cubicle, and Other Computer Histories,
Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester) – Material Objects and Digital Avatars
Sara Perry (University of York) – Redefining Media in Archaeology

As Sara wroteare you investigating issues at the intersections of the physical and the ephemeral? Are you enrolling digital technologies into the production of tangible experiences, or alternatively, aiming to better understand the digital through tangible forms of interaction? Have you eschewed the digital in favour of analogue engagements in your archaeological/heritage work – or have you rethought the dimensions of one via experimentation with the other? How are you materialising digital practices? And how is our very conception of materiality being reconfigured (or not) by analogue/digital innovation?

Archaeology Films A-Z: Hiatus

Just a brief note to mention that my films project is on hiatus for the moment. We just don’t have the bandwidth here in Qatar to stream the movies.

This is possibly something to remember while crafting future research strategies!

The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

There’s a fantastic conference going on at University College London on the 8th and 9th of November, Digital Engagement in Archaeology, which I have co-authored a presentation in with Matt Law about a lovely data set he collected when Geocities closed down. Check out the abstract: 

Title: The Archaeology of Digital Abandonment

Abstract: After fifteen years of hosting millions of user-built webpages, in April 2009 Yahoo announced that they would be shutting down their United States Geocities webpages. Geocities was once the most common hosting service for low-cost personal webpages, including hundreds of public outreach sites about archaeology. Were the webpages moved to another hosting site, archived, or abandoned? We tracked and recorded the fate of 89 of these webpages, eventually sending a survey to the webmasters asking them a range of questions. While we received relatively few responses, the answers to the questions were illuminating. Much of the current digital outreach performed all over the world relies on “free” services such as Twitter, Flickr, WordPress, Google Pages, or Facebook to host their content. What can the fate of archaeological content on Geocities pages tell us about the benefits and risks of using commercial infrastructure for archaeological outreach?  In a conference dedicated to understanding digital public engagement, we sort through the digital wreckage of past outreach efforts to evaluate the fate of the online archaeological presence.

All of the other papers look really interesting, I wish I could be there to check it out. The paper will get developed into a piece of longer length to be published in an Open Access journal.

I must admit, one of the things that I’m the most excited about is the mind-blowing opening slide that Matt made, full of gifs and broken links–truly retro-geocities-fabulous:


So so brilliant.



Oakland Chinatown Saturday

Pandan waffles on a gray Oakland day.

Blogging Archaeology 3 – Tomorrow

Today’s question/mega-long response has been postponed, partly due to a sandstorm.