Don Henson, Director of CASPAR (Centre for Audio-Visual Study and Practice in Archaeology) explains how an innovative new centre at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London, aims to move archaeology into the 21st century.

Archaeology has long been a popular subject for television and radio. Although the relationship has been controversial at times, archaeology has definitely benefited from the widespread public exposure of programmes such as Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and Time Team. Now, as new technology evolves, we are being forced to rethink how we tell the world about the work that we do.

Launched in 2010, the Centre for Audio-Visual Study and Practice in Archaeology will study the association between archaeology and the audio-visual media: radio, television, film, the Internet, hand-held digital communications and static interpretation media. Mercifully known by the acronym at CASPAR, the main aims of the Centre are primarily to promote a greater use of audio-visual media within archaeology and to research and better understand the relationship the two. This relationship goes both ways: we want to enable inventive and creative use of audio-visual media by archaeologists but also to be an active voice for greater use and understanding of archaeological practises and themes within broadcasting and ICT.

To achieve these goals, the Centre employs a range of strategies from organising conferences, workshops and film festivals, to publishing books and articles. It is compiling and maintaining a database of archaeology films, TV and radio programmes and websites and intends to help provide input into relevant university courses and research seminars at the Institute of Archaeology as well as carrying out research into its area of study.

As a means of communicating to a wider audience, the audio-visual media is key to engaging and involving people in public archaeology. CASPAR builds on the work of the former Committee for Audio-Visual Education (CAVE) set up by the CBA and the British Universities Film and Video Council in 1977. Keen to build links across universities, and even across continents, members of CASPAR’s Advisory Committee come not only from the Institute of Archaeology, but also Bristol University and University of Berkeley in the United States.

As well as promoting academic research, the Centre will be an advocate for the greater use of audio-visual media within archaeology, and for the creative use of archaeology within broadcasting, and information and communication technologies (ICT) as a whole.

Interested in learning more?

In the future, we plan to set up workshops, publish books and articles, organise film festivals, and maintain a database of archaeology films, TV and radio programmes, websites and games. The inclusion of games might surprise some readers, but the world of gaming is no longer the preserve of teenage boys: it is one of the UK’s major industrial successes in recent years, a multi-million pound industry with users spanning all age ranges and both genders – and let us not forget that well-known British ‘archaeologist’ Lara Croft!

New technology offers more direct interaction between the user and the content, even allowing people the opportunity to create their own content, wresting control away from archaeological professionals. This represents a form of democratisation of archaeology that can either disturb or delight, depending on your point of view. Archaeologists must engage creatively with the challenges presented by this new world – an opportunity which the Centre hopes to facilitate – without losing the advantages and success of traditional TV and radio. To this end, CASPAR aims to help archaeologists make better links with TV and radio producers. But, above all, CASPAR will seek to be an influential voice in the future of archaeology.

For further information email   Don Henson

Leave a Reply