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Why are heritage interpreters voiceless at the trowel’s edge?

Posted on 6 August 2018

York’s Dr Sara Perry publishes article on integrating the heritage interpretation skillset & toolkit into archaeologists’ most basic workflows

Group of archaeological specialists and heritage interpreters gathered in the North Area of Çatalhöyük at nightfall for a facilitated “body-storming” session, July 2015 (photo courtesy of Vassilis Kourtis
The department’s Dr Sara Perry, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management, has published a new article in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice — "Why Are Heritage Interpreters Voiceless at the Trowel’s Edge? A Plea for Rewriting the Archaeological Workflow." 
Here she reviews the state of current heritage interpretation practice and its relationship to archaeological interpretation in the primary fieldwork content (i.e., in the excavation units themselves), proposing that their artificial separation is deeply problematic for the discipline. Via discussion of various on-site interventions, the article offers reflections on how the heritage interpretation skillset and toolkit might be more rigorously deployed to facilitate critical and creative archaeological theorising. 
In specific, “heritage interpretation” is generally conceived as the development and presentation of knowledge about the past for public audiences. Most obviously evidenced in descriptive signs, guides, and related media installed on archaeological and cultural sites, heritage interpretation has more than a half century of theory and applied practice behind it, yet it continues to sit uncomfortably within the typical archaeological workflow. While the concept can be criticized on many fronts, of concern is the lack of recognition that it is of equal relevance to both non-expert and expert audiences (as opposed to nonexpert audiences alone). The archaeological profession appears to rest on an assumption that archaeologists do their own kind of interpretation—and, separately, nonexperts require a special approach that heritage interpreters must facilitate but that field specialists have no need for—or from which little obvious expert benefit can be derived. For this reason, it is rare to find heritage interpreters embedded in primary fieldwork teams. Here Dr Perry calls for a rethinking of the traditional workflow, with a view to integrating the heritage interpretation tool kit and heritage interpreters themselves into our basic field methodologies. As she argues, their direct involvement in disciplinary process from the outset has the potential to transform archaeological interpretation overall.  

The full bibliographic reference is: Perry, Sara (2018) Why Are Heritage Interpreters Voiceless at the Trowel’s Edge? A Plea for Rewriting the Archaeological Workflow. Advances in Archaeological Practice 6(3): 212-227.