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Archaeology, Media and Representation

Archaeology is widely represented in the mass media, from television to film, newspapers, magazines, museums and Internet sources. It is these depictions that most often shape popular imaginations of who archaeologists are and what they do. But to what extent do we archaeologists take the media seriously? Professional archaeologists have too often shunned media portrayals as misleading and sensational, rather than engaging with them as cultural products in their own right that connect us and our work to broader publics.

Binghamton archaeologists are engaged in critical media analyses as well as taking proactive roles in working with media. Susan Pollock's research has focused on the portrayal of archaeology in the U.S. news media in the context of recent wars in the Middle East, examining the ideological underpinnings of media representations and their broader political messages. Ruth Van Dyke is exploring the uses of experimental media (hypermedia, video) to expose and move beyond the limitations of more traditional forms of archaeological representation. Other archaeology faculty are involved in various forms of public outreach, working to construct popular understandings that better represent archaeological practice, research questions and knowledge production (see also the Community Archaeology Program).

Archaeological museums are important sites through which people experience the materiality of the past most closely. Museums deeply influence sensual perceptions of the past and exert power by choosing certain objects to exhibit while excluding others. Equally important is the way in which museum spaces are created through architectural features, which function like narrative structures set in stone. Reinhard Bernbeck is exploring the possibilities for exhibiting unspectacular objects and themes of daily life. Together with his students he has created several exhibits at the University Art Museum. He has also studied how the Pergamon museum in Berlin (Germany) produces meanings of Greek and ancient Near Eastern pasts. (See also the Cultural Anthropology section on further information about museum studies.)

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Last Updated: 10/10/12