Archaeology and Public Benefit Project Update 6: Archaeology and public benefit under lockdown

Dr Sadie Watson

Dr Sadie Watson is leading a four-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship looking at maximising public benefit from archaeology carried out on UK infrastructure projects. In this blog series, she keeps us up to date with the project team’s progress…

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had severe impacts on many research projects, not least those which involve some form of fieldwork, lab work or public engagement. As a new entrant to this sector I was really interested to hear about this specifically and attended an UKRI webinar with other Future Leader Fellows. Kirsty Grainger, who directs the fellowship programme, outlined the support available to researchers, and stressed that changes are to be expected. She also noted that the situation has resulted in increased pressures on researchers from their host organisations (universities and IROs), in terms of more direct rule, diversion of funding, and increased queries about staff costs.

Online participation, digital archaeology and its evaluation

There are other major impacts on our sector due to the COVID19 pandemic, although as the construction sector has barely stopped working my field team colleagues have also continued to work on sites, considered as key workers. Increased health and safety measures including constant reassessment of the risks are in place, and generally archaeological firms have protected their workforce. But what about the public-facing opportunities? There would have been many voluntary and community projects over the spring and summer, the vast majority of which have been cancelled or postponed.

Others, meanwhile, have replaced in-person engagement work with online. For example, the team working on MOLA’s CITiZAN project (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) would usually be busy with in-person training, fieldwork and workshops through the Summer. The team has rapidly adapted offer a new digital programme instead, consisting of (among other things) virtual Low Tide Trails, ESRI StoryMaps, online walking workshops, webinars, webcastscrafting videos and Skype a Scientist sessions and quizzes.

Likewise, the Council for British Archaeology will ran their Festival of Archaeology online in July, which will hopefully be followed by in-person events later in the year. They are keen to evaluate the efficacy of their online offering compared to the traditional events, and we will of course be keen to hear the results. The online provision of heritage and archaeology content is something that will no doubt develop over the next few years and it is crucial that we understand what works and what is merely extending the exclusionary nature of our work.

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