When a 16 year-old Richard Hodges founded the Box Archaeological and Natural History Society (Wiltshire, UK) in 1969, he professed for the first time what would have become a lifelong commitment to the development of a public dimension of archeology. First, with the excavation in San Vincenzo al Volturno (Molise) in the ‘80s and later as scientific director of the Butrint Foundation (1993-2012), his goal has always been to conjugate first-class archaeological research with innovative management solutions. This approach is rooted in the belief that archaeology (and history!) is a powerful place-maker that lends identity to communities and contributes to its welfare, attracting support and investment.
And the results of the Butrint project proved him right. When the new excavations of the ancient Butrinto where launched in the early ‘90s, Albania was in a critical situation as it was transitioning from a socialist regime to a democracy. The local economy of the Vrina plain around the site wasn’t really flourishing but paradoxically, the of the archaeological site into a new global place and UNESCO World Heritage Site had a positive impact on the local industry. With over 70,000 visitors a year, Butrint is now the main tourist destination of the country, it holds numerous partnerships with local businesses and it has been widely accepted as a symbol of the Albanian heritage.
Today, Richard Hodges is President of The American University of Rome and since the beginning has been one of the main supporters of the Archeostorie Journal of Public Archaeology. As a key member of the Advisory Board, he has shared with us his vision for the archaeology of the future.
What challenges is archaeology facing today?
Archaeology has grown in the western world very fast since the 1960s, taking shape as a discipline as opposed to being subordinated to Art History, History or other disciplines established in the later 19th century. Parallel to this, in the western world, the role of archaeology has grown in governmental terms, with archaeologists holding increased numbers of positions in national and local government. Finally, archaeology has attempted to establish itself with varying success in non-governmental institutions. Non-governmental institutions have succeeded most often in north-west Europe, and have proved to be weakest where government has played a stronger part. All this is now certain to change. Because archaeology is ephemerally part of the “public” sector, it is most vulnerable to the changing social and economic axes of western society. Put simply, the EU’s share of global GDP is likely to decline significantly over the next generation. In the face of this, investment in the national patrimony is certain to decline as states invest principally in security, health, education and welfare. The challenge, then, is for archaeologists to demonstrate their relevance to society, and therefore to sustain the extant resources. Failure to sustain resources will mean that university numbers will decline, and that governmental and non-governmental jobs will be cut or vacancies will not be filled. The greatest challenge is to confront the threat that the discipline as a whole will become as ephemeral in education and the job market as it is in the USA. Essentially, the baby-boomers in archaeology have not looked to help make the discipline sustainable, and the millennial generation is faced with academic and public expectations that the resources cannot and will not sustain.
How do you think Public Archaeology as an academic discipline can contribute to the future of archaeology?
Public archaeology is a lifeline for archaeology. It effectively means working with communities to embed archaeology in society, and most of all to develop modern marketing standards to recruit visitorship. Global tourism is growing beyond the annual percentage of most national GDPs. Connecting archaeology to tourism is certain to proffer some compensation for the declining resources available from academic and government sectors. This connection, of course, calls for new capacity building well outside the traditional norms of training in archaeology. Students need to have some basic training in business and management, as well as an understanding of sustainable heritage strategies. Most of all, public archaeology means engagement with society at large, much as has been the spirit of museum management outside the government sector for a generation now. The opportunities to provide new narratives about the past – as has happened successfully at Stonehenge, UK – shows that with digital media and learning on a global scale, there are receptive audiences. The challenge is to understand how to reach those audiences.
Why did you join the Archeostorie Advisory Board?
Simply because the periodical offers one important approach to reaching new audiences and, thereby, provides opportunities for a new generation who are otherwise excluded from constructing narratives about the past. Archeostorie offers new approaches, in a new, challenging age, to sustaining a belief in the importance of preserving and presenting the past. It is, in effect, an instrument for a global audience based upon the extraordinary wealth of Italian archaeology that has been very badly served by a generation of baby-boomer archaeologists. Archeostorie has to be bold, ask uncomfortable questions, and tirelessly seek new narratives about the archaeology of the past.