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Archaeology and Politics

By news editor, on 5 March 2012

The economic crisis has brought into sharp focus the relationship between archaeology and public resources. It was within this context that, as part of the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s 75th Anniversary Series, a debate was convened on 27 February to tackle the issue of Archaeology and Politics.

A Question Time-style format brought forth the opinions of the panel which consisted of Bridget Fox (former Deputy Leader of Islington Council), Jenny Jones (ex-archaeologist and member of the London Assembly), Neal Ascherson (journalist and leading commentator on public archaeology) and Tim Schadla-Hall (Reader in Public Archaeology and the Institute’s resident politician-botherer). Wrestling control of the issues in the Chair was Mark D’Arcy, a BBC Parliamentary Correspondent.

The Chair kicked off the debate and hit the main concern head-on when he asked how the panel would campaign for archaeology in an age of austerity.

In response to this and later questions from the audience, archaeology’s clear contribution in relation to education, international relations and local community engagement was discussed.

Specific problems included the salvage of naval heritage and the crisis of ever-growing archaeological archives were also addressed. However, a constant refrain throughout the debate was the lack of value placed on archaeology within politics and the constant battle to raise awareness. As Jones and Schadla-Hall in particular described, this flies in the face of evidence that archaeology and heritage matter a great deal to the general public.

What was refreshing was that this debate was not just an exercise in berating the political classes, but also an examination of how the sector can be more effective, get attention and take opportunities (with some of the panel seeing the cuts as an stimulus to ingenuity).

Perhaps the lesson for attendees was the need for archaeology to engage more effectively with politics to raise awareness and support, but also to develop the resilience and skills to cope when resources are less forthcoming.

The ‘Archaeology and Politics’ debate is one of a series of events being held to mark the UCL Institute of Archaeology’s 75th anniversary.

Review by Paul Burtenshaw, PhD student at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Co-ordinator of the Institute’s Archaeology and Development Research Network.

Watch the Debate again at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/calendar/articles/20120227

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