Friday, March 27, 2015

The SAA Archaeological Record on "Archaeological Practice on Reality Television"

Many in the North American and global archaeological community are undoubtedly awaiting the upcoming Society for American Archaeology conference, to be held this year in San Francisco in three weeks time. If blessed with the proximity, time, and money on any given year, then attending a "mega" conference such as SAAs is a great (if tiring) opportunity to present one's work and learn from or meet experts covering just about every subfield and topic in archaeology imaginable. There's enough going on to fill three conferences and keep everyone moving; not to mention the after parties. This will be my third time, and I've always left glad that I attended and inspired.

While those of us pursuing an archaeological life via academic, museum or CRM (cultural resource management) avenues might prefer the intimacy of smaller, region or time specific conferences in which we're much more likely to have a comfortable home for our work, sometimes taking the plunge is necessary. There is no escaping the fact that it is conferences like the SAAs that have become the discipline and its active practitioner's key means of getting our work (and the realities of this life) out there en masse. Usually in a forum in which we the producers of that knowledge should have the most control.

However, sometimes events can be written about or portrayed on television in the name of archaeology that are very far removed from it, thus spurring outcry, anger and disgrace. So it was with pleasure that today, as the next conference approaches, I open my mailbox to find the latest edition of the SAA Archaeological Record magazine; full of eight intriguing articles specifically addressing archaeology and "reality TV."

Although I admit to not having read it cover to cover yet, I wanted to bring it to people's attention anyway (or those of you readers who aren't already SAA members). Covering such topics as the portrayal of archaeological practice on 'reality' TV, Time Team America: Archaeology as a gateway to science; creating a preservation ethic through 'reality' TV; the possibility of televised metal detecting as a force for public good, and, importantly, other outreach options beyond TV, this edition seems full of promise and is sure to inspire debate.

Blogging archaeology is becoming increasingly common (and has been  its own session at the SAAs for two years now). Many websites explain how participants can "hack" conferences, many of us engage in "live Tweeting," etc. All well and good and important to do as individuals to spread word of our own work and share our perspectives on the realities or controversies behind the headlines.

I would argue that in much of the world, television and movies still play the primary role in shaping public opinion and perception of us and our discipline. Since we can't change this, we have to keep working to steer it in directions we can rest easier with. It's a dilemma with no easy answer, so I look forward to seeing what the authors have to say on the subject. I know what I'll be reading on my Monday morning commute!