5.1 Marketing Digital Archaeology

Digital archaeology exists as both a scholarly pursuit but also a ‘tactical term’. We mean this in the way that Matthew Kirschenbaum described the Digital Humanities in his contribution to the 2012 edition of the Debates in the Digital Humanities. He writes,

To assert that digital humanities is a “tactical” coinage is not simply to indulge in neopragmatic relativism. Rather, it is to insist on the reality of circumstances in which it is unabashedly deployed to get things done—“things” that might include getting a faculty line or funding a staff position, establishing a curriculum, revamping a lab, or launching a center. At a moment when the academy in general and the humanities in particular are the objects of massive and wrenching changes, digital humanities emerges as a rare vector for jujitsu, simultaneously serving to position the humanities at the very forefront of certain value-laden agendas—entrepreneurship, openness and public engagement, future-oriented thinking, collaboration, interdisciplinarity, big data, industry tie-ins, and distance or distributed education—while at the same time allowing for various forms of intrainstitutional mobility as new courses are approved, new colleagues are hired, new resources are allotted, and old resources are reallocated.

We live in a current moment where, to get things done, we have to deploy terms in ways that capture the imagination of decision makers and the public in ways that affect change. In a sense, it is a kind of marketing. But it is worth thinking about the ways digital archaeology fits into the frameworks of public archaeology as discussed in Moshenska (2017). In particular, we are thinking of the ways in which the public form their views of archaeology. The work of academic archaeologists is not the primary vector through which the public learns about archaeology. How then can we deploy our work in ways that we infiltrate the places we have hitherto abandoned? Some time ago, Graham argued on the basis of scraping the network of links surrounding the so-called ‘blogosphere’ related to archaeology that we were ‘teaching’ the search engines what was important, what constituted archaeology. That was in 2011. By 2014, he was no longer so certain, and again missing the boat by a few years, argued that archaeologists needed to engage with writing the Wikipedia (Graham 2015). Ironically enough, a few years later still it would not have been unreasonable to argue that Twitter and Facebook should be the locus for our marketing of archaeology, but with the rise of bad-faith actors whose concerted gaming of the algorithms of social media are working to undermine basic foundations of trust, we arrive at a moment when Wikipedia is our last online bastion of common ground (Madrigal 2018).

Does that mean we should not engage with Twitter and Facebook in terms of the marketing or knowledge mobilization that we do? Of course not. But it does mean that we can’t naively put materials there and expect them to have any real impact. ‘Marketing’ implies a budget, it implies active engagement, and it implies working to understand the arms-race that this advertising-powered web has created. If there is a business school at your institution, have you ever taken a course there? Have you ever tried to buy advertising on google, and mount an ad-words campaign?

This is related to the discussion of the economics of public archaeology, which Burtenshaw explores CITATION. When we consider the economics of digital archaeology, we are confronted with the hard question of how do we measure its value? In the physical world, we can consider that archaeology provides value through:

  • tourism
  • urban regeneration
  • direct sale of material (antiquities trading)
  • marketing and branding
  • jobs created by archaeological research and conservation.
  • Burtenshaw (2017), 37

These create direct impact in terms of monies spent, and indirect in terms of this money being re-circulated by the initial suppliers. Burtenshaw suggests that we should understand the economic impact of public archaeology by looking at its ‘magnitude, multiplication and distribution within a certain area’ Burtenshaw (2017), 38. For digital archaeology, this directly ties back to the tactical usage of the term, because when we deploy it tactically, we are implicitly making an argument about economic value and economic impact. In online advertising, such things are measurement by ‘engagement’ or click-bait. Indeed, ‘clickbait archaeology’ (see e.g., this thread by Erin Thompson) can be considered archaeology done - or promoted - with the express purpose of monetizing outrage in some register because people are more likely to click on negatively or outrageously framed stories (eg Hensinger, Flaounas, and Cristianini (2013), Maldonado (2016)). Thus, projects that use a digital aspect tied into a current high-profile issue (such as eg the destruction of cultural heritage by terrorists) as a way of generating traffic to a website _for the express purpose of increasing the profile of the organization rather than the scholarly dimension of the work is actually undermining the archaeology. (Some research makes a connection between how such stories make the reader feel for whether or not something will achieve ‘virality’ or wide-spread sharing, Guerini and Staiano (2015)). Maldonado has an excellent blog post on this matter.

The marketing of archaeology online is largely a function of the economic value to be gained through engagement with the ad-based ecosystem created by Facebook, Google, and to a lesser extent, Twitter. The economic value of traffic to archaeological websites is not yet mapped out, but the role of archaeological click-bait in generating value for dubious purposes (see also Kristina Killgrove’s excellent ‘Don’t share that Daily Mail Link about Archaeology…Just Don’t’) is only starting to be explored. That ‘digital archaeology’ as a term can be deployed tactically for strategic purposes within the academy is also a kind of marketing. The question is: what kind of ‘digital archaeology’ do you want to see out in the world?


Moshenska, Gabriel. 2017. “Key Concepts in Public Archaeology.” web. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/key-concepts-in-public-archaeology.

Graham, Shawn. 2015. “Mapping the Structure of the Archaeological Web.” Internet Archaeology 39 (1). http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.39.1.

Madrigal, Alexis. 2018. “Wikipedia, the Last Bastion of Shared Reality.” https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/08/jeongpedia/566897/.

Burtenshaw, Paul. 2017. “Economics in Public Archaeology.” In Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, edited by Gabriel Moshenska, 31–42. UCL Press. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1574530/1/Key-Concepts-in-Public-Archaeology.pdf.

Hensinger, Elena, Ilias Flaounas, and Nello Cristianini. 2013. “Modelling and Explaining Online News Preferences.” In Pattern Recognition - Applications and Methods, edited by Pedro Latorre Carmona, J. Salvador Sánchez, and Ana L.N. Fred, 65–77. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Maldonado, Adrián. 2016. “The Serialized Past: Archaeology News Online.” Advances in Archaeological Practice 4 (4). Cambridge University Press: 556–61. doi:10.7183/2326-3768.4.4.556.

Guerini, Marco, and Jacopo Staiano. 2015. “Deep Feelings: A Massive Cross-Lingual Study on the Relation Between Emotions and Virality.” CoRR abs/1503.04723. http://arxiv.org/abs/1503.04723.