In 2020 I was asked to write an overview article for the Annual Review in Anthropology on Digital Archaeology. I was honoured to be asked—Annual Review articles are touchstones for the discipline, and in this case it was an opportunity to bring some insights from digital archaeology to Anthropology. Anthropology is considered to be the “umbrella” discipline for Archaeology in the US–less so in the UK, but that’s another blog post. Still I hesitated, as they’re not considered REF-able outputs, which unfortunately is the main currency of scholarship in the UK.
Review articles such as theses are not original research, but a critical engagement with what the author thinks are the major publications and insights in their specialism. In the end I was happy to do so as 1) I was on research leave 2) I felt less than on top of the literature since the completion of the literature review for my thesis in 2011 3) I wanted an overview article to assign to my MSc students that would reflect the current state of the discipline. And it turned out okay anyway, I still got promoted to Senior Lecturer this year, which is nice.
So: Current Digital Archaeology. It’s 6669 words long with 156 references. I obviously wasn’t able to cover everything. I left much of the review of the histories of computer use in archaeology to past experts. For this I also found Tanasi 2020 super useful, particularly in characterising the differences between US/UK. I also put parentheses around many very important parallel and subfields—such as the wide world of digital museums and computational archaeology. I was able to signpost a few good reviews of these topics regardless. Providing an overview of current digital archaeology still felt like trying to hold water in my hands and I apologise to anyone who feels left out—it is entirely my fault and I really appreciate any suggestions for articles I’ve missed.
In the article I focussed on four interlinked themes: craft and embodiment, materiality, the uncanny, and ethics, politics and accessibility. In this I tried to unmoor practice from specific technologies and situated individual methods in broader political and theoretical debates. Additionally I tried to bring in some literature from practice-based research and multimodal anthropology, which are insightful for understanding the work of digital archaeology. Inevitably I also brought in anarchism, politics and touched on climate change, because I’m me. We are encouraged to engage with our own work within the review, though I probably over-emphasized the whole cyborg archaeology stuff and I’m finding those sections a bit cringe now. Oh well.
I want to specifically thank Alice Watterson and Ed Gonzalez-Tennant for letting me use beautiful images from their own work as illustrations of vibrant, politically engaged digital archaeology.
I wrote the bulk of the article in 2020 (perhaps should have mentioned my pandemic single parenting as broader context for the article) but was able to grab a few 2021/22 publications after the excellent peer review comments came in. I’m very sad to have missed more recent publications such as:
These incredible volumes, Digital Heritage and Archaeology in Practice edited by Lynne Goldstein and Ethan Watrall:
Kevin Garstki’s edited volume: Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age:
Amongst others! I hope that mine is only one of several overviews that will contribute to critical examinations of digital archaeology.
Here’s the offprint: