Taking its cue from B. Dicks' analysis of contemporary visitability, this session seeks to expose the ways in which current strategies of staging the past as a visitable experience work to (re)produce archaeologies of a certain kind.
Visitability, in the sense of the ability to attract visitors, has emerged as an important concern in heritage, connected with both the economic viability of related institutions and their avowed mission to educate the public. As Bella Dicks (2004) in her recent analysis has noted, such ability came recently to depend on specific strategies of representation, in terms of both content and modes of display (from simulations and reconstructions to popular hands-on, interactive exhibits). The underlying assumption has been that these strategies may ensure meaningfulness and relevance for wider and more diverse audiences.
This session invites a discussion of this assumption with particular reference to the representation of archaeological material in either museums or archaeological sites - a crucial focus given the growing concern over both the public impact of archaeology and its epistemological status. To undertake this analysis, we propose an inquiry into the ways in which currently popular representational strategies seek to structure the experience of "visiting" archaeology, and the particular ways of relating to archaeological material that these promote, especially in relation to previously prevalent, more "traditional", modes of representation. It also commands interest in potential conflicts and contradictions between the intentions of those entrusted to stage such experiences and their impact on those actually performing the visit.
Welcoming insights from archaeological theory, museums and heritage studies (including visitor research), as well as tourism, the ultimate goal is to assess the extent to which such considerations may indicate new ways of defining (and achieving) "visitable" archaeologies.
Dicks, B. 2004. Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visitability. London: Open University Press