PLEASE CITE AS: Perry, Sara (2019) The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record.
European Journal of Archaeology 22(3), 354-371.
Read-only final published manuscript is available through Cambridge Core.
Manuscript received 7 December 2018, revised 1 March 2019, accepted 27 March 2019
The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record
Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
Empirical studies increasingly testify to the capacity for archaeological and cultural heritage
sites to engender wonder, transformation, attachment, and community bonding among diverse
individuals. Following political theorist Jane Bennett, these sites have the power to ‘enchant’
and, in so doing, they are seedbeds of human generosity, ethical mindfulness, and care for the
world at large. However, the means by which such enchantment is created, and the extent to
which these intimate encounters with the prehistoric or historic record can be deliberately
crafted, are little understood. Worsening the predicament, professional practices commonly
thwart the potential for archaeology to provoke ethical action amongst humans. Here, I
propose a multi-stranded conceptual model for generating enchantment with the
archaeological record across both professional audiences and broader publics. With reference
to the European Commission-funded EMOTIVE Project, I articulate one particular strand of
this model: facilitated dialogue. Alongside exploring the role of digital culture in its
advancement, I argue that an enchantment-led approach is imperative for achieving a truly
socially-beneficial archaeological discipline.
Keywords: archaeological enchantment, emotion, digital technologies, archaeological method,
museums and cultural heritage sites, professional practice
It is difficult to express how uniquely affecting are the methods, processes, sites, artefacts,
interpretations, characters, stories, and storytellers borne of the fields of archaeology and
Conceptually, in Hearne’s (in press) assessment, this affective power has
been described as the ‘magic of the past’ (Holtorf, 2005), the ‘archaeological uncanny’
(Moshenska, 2006), and the ‘archaeological imagination’ (Shanks, 2012). Empirically, its
impact has been measured in perceived positive outcomes ranging from mental wellbeing
through to restoration, personal satisfaction, family bonding, and pro-social behavioural
change (Packer & Bond, 2010; Black, 2018; Zhou et al., 2018). One might argue, borrowing
from political theorist Jane Bennett (2001), that archaeological and heritage sites have the
power to enchant, and, in so doing, they stand as seedbeds for human generosity, ethical
mindfulness, and care for the world at large. In other words, archaeology can move us—it
can ‘remind us that it is good to be alive’ (Bennett, 2001: 156)—and this affective response
can motivate us to act back on the world in constructive, ethically-minded ways.
Such enchantment effects are simultaneously well-recognized yet poorly understood
amongst archaeologists and heritage specialists, surely because of what Hearne (in press: 2)
describes as their ‘highly personal, speculative nature.’ Yet, as practitioners, we are
singularly positioned to access and ignite sparks of enchantment, suggesting that we have a
professional responsibility and moral obligation to systematically investigate their
dimensions and analyse their consequences. As described below, a significant body of
scholarship testifies to the relationship between archaeological enchantment and the nurturing
of individuals as both stewards of the prehistoric or historic record and good citizens in
general. Bennett’s vision of enchantment offers a particularly meaningful framework for
disciplinary investment owing to its agnostic approach and its appreciation of the purposeful
nature of enchantment, wherein deliberate design (by archaeologists working intentionally to
foster affect) may encourage genuine social action.
In the following article, I aim to lay the foundations for such a mode of practice, with
an explicit concern for attending to some of the discipline’s most pressing current challenges
(e.g. Nixon, 2017; Wills, 2018). I begin by discussing obstacles within archaeology (and the
cultural sector at large), which contribute to the systematic misconstruing and
disenchantment of the historic record and deep past. I go on to articulate the evidence for an
enchanting (or what might be referred to as emotionally engaged or affective) archaeology,
and its potential for achieving the goals of a truly publicly-beneficial professional practice.
From there, I propose a conceptual model for generating enchantment with the archaeological
I use the terms archaeology and cultural heritage interchangeably throughout this article, with the latter
encompassing museum environments and other cultural sites (e.g. art galleries).
record amongst both professional audiences and broader publics. I note the essential role that
digital technologies occupy in advancing and complicating these efforts, and focus on one
particular strand of the model that has been tested through the EU-funded EMOTIVE Project
(www.emotiveproject.eu). Herein, facilitated dialogue with both professional and broader
audiences works people through complex conversations about the nature of the past in the
present and the future, invoking enchantment and, we anticipate, subsequent action in or on
the world. Reflecting on the structural difficulties inherent in such efforts, I ultimately posit
that enchantment offers archaeology a more accommodating, less cynical social purpose;
however, effort must be invested into driving the intellectual and professional changes
necessary to realise it.
THE NEED FOR ARCHAEOLOGY AS A SOURCE OF ENCHANTMENT
My argument for the enchantment of the archaeological record rests on three contentions
whose dimensions have been detailed by many archaeologists and heritage practitioners.
Archaeology has inherent in it sources of enchantment—what Hearne (after Shanks, 2012)
calls the ‘archaeological imagination’ (see Hearne, in press, for a fuller account of this
phenomenon). We are literally atop untold histories: things, ideas, lives, and activities that we
have never seen before, that we may know nothing of, and that can thus endlessly surprise
and transform us. The very nature of archaeology, as a subject open to interpretation when
new techniques, voices, and intellectual frameworks are introduced, furthers this facility for
surprise and transformation.
The methods we use as professionals to craft the archaeological record and the typical
accounts we write about the past tend to revolve around crisis, driven by the sector’s
normative ‘preservation paradigm’ and ‘conservation ethos’ (Högberg et al., 2017). These
narratives focus on the archaeological record as a non-renewable resource, privileging what
May (2009) calls endangerment narratives—stories of rescue, acts of salvage, and to borrow
from Fredheim (2018: 622), other ‘righteous cause[s] to be championed for the good of
society’. This rhetoric presumes there is some version of the past that can be ‘saved’ in
perpetuity, as though it is not always in flux, constantly subject to reinterpretation. Indeed,
following Rico (2015), heritage policy generally grounds itself in a ‘threats-based approach’
relying on an ‘extinction framework’ and a discourse of catastrophism which obscures the
political and financial motivations behind its operation.
Not only does the evidence suggest that such discourse is unappealing to wider
audiences (see Contention 3 below), but it also blinds us as archaeologists and heritage
practitioners from conceiving of new futures and different interpretations (after Högberg et
al., 2017), weakens our resilience in the face of genuine adversity and inevitable change
(Holtorf, 2018), and arguably makes meaningless the very notion of heritage value because of
its ubiquitous and unnuanced application (Rico, 2015). In other words, it is a key source of
professional disenchantment, which to draw from Bennett (2001: 13) ‘too often produces an
enervating cynicism’ (see also comparable arguments in Carver, 2011).
Redfern (2017) speaks explicitly of the ongoing trend of heritage sector professionals
bemoaning the state of crisis within the discipline, while they simultaneously do little to
change what are now outdated practices grounded in a logic that was set decades ago. This
logic, embodied very obviously in the UK’s Policy Planning Guidance Note 16 (PPG16,
1990), runs, to quote Redfern (2017: 3), as follows:
- Archaeology is a finite and non‐renewable resource—once lost it is lost forever.
- The preservation and protection of archaeological sites and archaeological knowledge is our
- …We must create records, lists and archives about the past and what we have dug up.
Material must be archived and stored for future generations.
Yet the supposed non-renewability of the archaeological record is highly
questionable, as attested for example by recent overviews of the sector (e.g. Nixon, 2017). In
fact, archives themselves are premised on the notion that we can forever discover new and
different things about their contents—hence the preservation of these contents, ripened for
reinterpretation over time. As Redfern (2017: 3) puts it, echoed to some extent by Holtorf
(2018: 4), ‘In my experience the amount of archaeological sites has never diminished – the
more we look the more we find; we have developed more and more ways to find things; we
constantly broaden our horizons about heritage and meaning so the level of interaction with
sites and the stuff left behind by past societies increases. To my mind there is nothing finite
Archaeological crisis narratives are not only debilitating for archaeologists themselves, but
there is little to confirm their appeal to wider audiences. Evidence indicates that our extant
professional narratives have not proven broadly successful at persuading people of the social
benefits of heritage (Nixon, 2017), and archaeologists (perhaps the majority) lack the
capacity and support to create new narratives (Wills, 2018: 33). A threats-based discourse
strips wonder from the archaeological record, promoting a belief in the inalienable
authenticity of the stuff to be ‘rescued’, which—as with anything that fetishizes authenticity
(here I follow the arguments of Shorin, 2018a & b)—variously begets irony, false
consciousness, nihilism, or essentialism. These narratives rarely offer alternatives. Arguably,
by their very nature, they cannot offer alternatives; instead, to borrow from Rico (2015: 158),
they simply leave us with a sense of the ‘loss of a human future’. Moreover, they depend on
the unsound assumption that care is forged primarily or solely through threat (an argument
that is not corroborated by studies on this subject, e.g. McDonald, 2011).
As I see it, such rhetoric is not only generative of resentment and hopelessness in the
face of seeming inevitability, but it is simplistic in the sense that it requires little to no
imagination. It betrays an overt gap in the professional skillset related to interpretative
aptitude (Perry, 2018) and begs for a new ‘moral model’ (after Shorin, 2018a) for the
My interest, then, is in how we might confront this discourse with the wondrous
affordances of the heritage record itself, teased out through the various skillsets, toolkits, and
creative energies of archaeological specialists and their audiences.
HOW DO WE GENERATE ENCHANTMENT?
I suggest that in the context of archaeology and heritage, enchantment is generated (whether
deliberately or not) via what I loosely call emotive engagement. Terminological debates
around the nature of emotion and affect are rife, but here I defer to the definitions of emotion,
feeling, and affect provided by Wetherell et al. (2018: 1): ‘Traditionally, affect is the more
generic term, highlighting the embodied state and the initial registering of events in bodies
and minds. Feeling refers to qualia and the subjective phenomenological experience, while
emotion refers to the processing and packaging of affect in familiar cultural categories such
as anger, grief, schadenfreude, etc.’ But, of specific interest to me is their assertion that
‘emotion is action-oriented; it pushes people to do things’ (Wetherell et al., 2018: 1).
Elsewhere, Wetherell (2012: 4) calls emotion ‘embodied meaning-making.’ As I interpret
I would go further to suggest, following Shorin (2018a), that we can only achieve this if we do away
completely with the ‘authenticity paradigm’ in archaeology in order to allow us to conceive of ‘better versions
of post-capitalism.’ This topic deserves a separate analysis, as Shorin’s arguments (Shorin is a design specialist)
are perhaps in tension with those put forward by others inside the discipline of archaeology, e.g. as they relate to
constructivism, materialism, religion and spirituality, aura, and authenticity as described in Fredengren (2016).
this, emotion is enacted in the body, and it propels the body forward to act in some fashion,
whether that act is visible or invisible, physical or conceptual.
So too does Wetherell’s interpretation of emotion align with others’ descriptions of
emotive experiences like inspiration: ‘a feeling that leads to doing (something big or small)’
(Latham et al., 2018: 5). What is crucial for my argument is that everyone (specialist and
non-specialist alike) has the aptitude to be inspired, to feel, to be emotively engaged. Hoare
(2018: 2) captures the point neatly when she writes ‘the ability to move and be moved is not a
luxury; in recognising this and working with affective practices, we can develop strategies to
explore instances of feeling in cultural and heritage experiences.’
Indeed, inspiration can be nurtured (Gilson, 2015)—we can work to ‘woo or invite it’
(Hart, 1998: 26 quoted in Gilson, 2015: 59; also Latham et al., 2018). A substantial body of
literature outlines precisely how and why we might seek to generate such emotive
engagement in the cultural heritage sector. In terms of how, frameworks for practice
(including design, development, and evaluation) range from the more conceptual (e.g.
Witcomb’s  ‘pedagogy of feeling’, Smith’s  ‘registers of engagement’) to
specific, actionable triggers of affect, such as engaging people in acts of reciprocity,
imitation, replication via verbalisation, roleplaying, personalization of experience, legitimate
decision-making, humour, challenge, thinking through body-related themes, active listening,
agonistic debate, and dialogue (e.g. Nilsen & Bader, 2016; Deufel, 2017).
When applied critically, these approaches can be tied directly to myriad personal,
social, and political outcomes, creating attachment to and appreciation of heritage sites and
their exhibits (e.g. Poria et al., 2003), as well as lasting remembrance (Park & Santos, 2017),
personal restoration and transformation (Packer & Bond, 2010), learning (Staus & Falk,
2017), family bonding and community building (Zhou et al., 2018), and concern to protect
what one perceives as important (McDonald, 2011). In the ideal scenario, as articulated by a
growing body of museums and heritage scholars, such efforts could bring about human
resistance to hegemony, leading to social and political change (Lynch, 2017).
CHANGING THE WORLD THROUGH ARCHAEOLOGY AND HERITAGE
The evidence that archaeology and heritage are, and have always been, inescapably bound
into socio-politico-economic power structures and human rights is incontrovertible (e.g.
McGuire, 2008; Hardy, 2017). If nothing else, we should feel encouraged that practitioners
and representative professional bodies now increasingly recognize such power dynamics as a
given, thus prompting them to articulate strategic visions and objectives which explicitly
define their socio-political aims, such as Hearne’s (in press) radical archaeology, or
Hutchings and La Salle’s (2014) tenets for anti-colonial archaeology teaching.
But, summarising the situation in the museums sector, Lynch (2017: 23) writes that
‘While announcing their social justice credentials, museums and galleries have yet to make
convincing arguments regarding their useful civic role.’ Hutchings and La Salle (2018: 2)
echo these words in relation to community archaeological practice, where they note that any
claim of its status as ‘a panacea for archaeology’s ills is a self-serving whitewash.’ In other
words, the evidence that archaeology and heritage institutions are genuinely realising their
social value and civic welfare aims is questionable, if not non-existent.
Gonzáles-Ruibal et al. (2018: 507), in a vexed argument about current public
archaeology, profess that the overt ideological models recently adopted by archaeologists
‘have promoted an agenda during the last decades that has left us politically and theoretically
disempowered.’ By their logic, naïve efforts at inclusion and, by extension, affect have
fostered populism, in the sense that everyone has a voice and a right to exercise that voice
regardless of the coherence or veracity of the statements being made and their potential
impacts on others. What results from such circumstances is a kind of ‘progressive
neoliberalism’, ultimately leading to the opposite of social justice and ‘emancipatory politics’
(Gonzáles-Ruibal et al., 2018: 509).
While I question the simplistic polemics that Gonzáles-Ruibal and colleagues (2018)
deploy to propel their argument, data suggest that some of the larger democratic ambitions of
archaeology are being undermined by contradictory practices and indefatigable authorised
discourses (e.g. Richardson, 2014; Bonacchi et al., 2018). To me, however, such findings do
not offer a reason to deride existing practice or reject whole models of thinking (as Gonzáles-
Ruibal and colleagues propose), but rather to continue consolidating, progressively refining,
and systematically evaluating our efforts
Scholarly studies show that people are receptive to the possibility of cultural sites
calling into question how they think about things (West, 2013 citing Cameron, 2005),
challenging global policy, and informing current and future social and environmental
development (Kajda et al., 2018). People generally want to explore ‘complex, controversial
topics’ in museum contexts (Carnall et al., 2013: 66); and major research endeavours across
multiple continents demonstrate that people do not expect cultural institutions to be neutral
My viewpoint is also at odds with La Salle and Hutchings’ (2018) argument that fundamental conflicts in our
approaches to public and commercial archaeology/heritage management make the goals of current community
practice incompatible and unachievable.
but rather to ‘have a social responsibility to take a leading role in inspiring people’s social
and political activism in order to help bring about change’ (Lynch, 2017: 24). As suggested
above, we can prime people to be open to these points of inspiration (Gilson, 2015) and craft
meaningful experiences for people even if they do not match typical preferences (see Pekarik
et al., 2014). Moreover, the literature shows that professionals regularly wrongly judge their
audiences, underestimating their ‘capacity… to respond and debate—to be challenged’
(Lynch, 2013: 6).
In sum, while some evidence suggests that heritage most powerfully affirms people’s
existing personal, social and political values, even in circumstances where a heritage site has
been curated to challenge these values (Smith, 2014; Bartram, 2017), research also indicates
that there is space (mostly still unexplored) to hone ‘the enchantment effects of archaeology
and heritage… to motivate a move from ethical thinking to ethical action… to make a move
for better futures to come’ (Fredengren, 2016: 496; also Hearne, in press).
WHAT IS ARCHAEOLOGICAL ENCHANTMENT?
I use the term enchantment here as I understand Jane Bennett (2001: 5) to mean it—'a state of
wonder’ that typically entails surprise, pleasure, uncanniness (discomfiture), presence, or
sensory agitation. In Bennett’s conceptualisation, this affective state leads to action in or on
the world, which allows me to liken it to the definition of emotion outlined above. Moreover,
in line with the emotive research previously discussed, enchantment according to Bennett
(2001: 4, 10) can be ‘fostered through deliberate strategies’ and is experienced by all, rather
than being a luxury of the few. By Bennett’s (2001: 3) reckoning, we can ‘accentuate’ the
world’s affective forces therein encouraging ‘ethical generosity.’
Bennett offers various reflections on the generation of enchantment: it can be
encountered by surprise or be deliberately generated (including through technological
intervention) by play, art, laughter, attentiveness to specificities, as well as by resisting the
idea that there is no such thing as enchantment. It is ‘an uneasy combination of artifice and
spontaneity’ (Bennett, 2001: 10). It does not privilege happiness or positive affect, and it does
not depend on divine intervention or fate or the necessity of a designed universe, because to
do so enables ‘complacency in the face of cruelty and violence’ (Bennett, 2001: 10 after
Christina Fredengren is among those to acknowledge and explicitly champion
archaeology as an engine of this Bennettian vision of enchantment. As I understand her,
archaeology affords engagements with time whose ever-emergent ‘novel materialities’ can be
‘read as indices of a variety of relationships, precisely because they ‘trouble’ the present with
objects and substances that have crossed temporal boundaries’ (Fredengren, 2016: 488). This
means that archaeology has:
‘the power to disrupt notions of inevitability or neo-social
evolutionism: to reveal alternative assemblages, arrangements and
relationships…it could be deployed to speak to contemporary issues of
inter-generational responsibilities (between generations), debates on
‘global’ justice (in terms of historical inequalities), and our ethics
towards, and care for, the human and more-than-human world’
(Fredengren, 2016: 483).
Fredengren’s approach seemingly relies on a spiritual or ‘otherworldly’ rationale,
wherein archaeology is enrolled in part to ‘provide religious experiences in a post-secular
way’ (Fredengren, 2016: 493). Such religious motivations sit in tension with Bennett’s more
agnostic version of enchantment, and they arguably perpetuate a predicament that has long
afflicted archaeology, where divine yearning is embraced by people to make sense of the
world and its ‘mysteries’ (see Borck & Thompson, 2018 for more on the dangerous
consequences of appealing to mystery and otherworldliness as part of archaeological
practice). Fredengren herself (2016: 483; emphasis in original) suggests that enchantment
effects can ‘create the possibility of seeing other ways of being in the world’, but as I reckon,
these need not be predicated upon spiritualism.
WHAT DOES A MODEL OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL ENCHANTMENT LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?
The archaeological sector begs for a model of practice that escapes conventional discourses
in order to constructively impact on the present and future. As Fredheim (2018: 623)
suggests, ‘Alternative heritage practices should… not only be about forgetting or curating
decay, but also include creative renewal and addressing toxic pasts that will not be neutered
by silence.’ Fredheim himself is inspired by the ideas of Sarah May and members of the
Heritage Futures Project, who suggest that ‘the heritage sector should be activating
archaeological heritage to instigate specific, desirable transformations of the present for the
future’ (Högberg et al., 2017: 645). They cite the approach of Schlanger et al. (2016), where
heritage offers a means to ‘promote reflection on responsibility and long-term pathways of
recovery and renewal in future societies’ (Högberg et al., 2017: 645).
Emotion-oriented research in the cultural sector offers us a wider conceptual rubric
for ‘activating’ precisely such pathways to recovery and renewal. Herein enchantment
promoted by emotive engagement is used to instigate ethically-minded action on the world.
Archaeologists, therefore, can consciously and critically bring into play emotive engagements
in what I perceive to be four key ways:
1- Through archaeological inscription practices, where enchantment is facilitated via
primary data recording, reporting, and archiving systems that are enhanced to share and
increase affect (see more in Perry et al., in prep). These practices constitute the objects of the
archaeological record which can then enchant their users;
2- Through higher-order interpretative practices (developed for both specialist and
broader publics) that critically deploy emotive theory and method to generate enchantment in
the way that good storytelling is meant to do, and that evaluate effects on audiences (see
3- Through constructive, agonistic debate (amongst both specialist and broader publics) on
the topics of (1) and (2), following a model of facilitated dialogue that allows for conflict and
accepts risk and potential failure;
4- Through ongoing experimentations with craft skills and creativity, elaborated through
ethical user-centred design and development models that enable us to better accomplish (1),
(2), and (3), and regularly reassess their impacts.
Engagements with craft and creativity are already well-explored in archaeology (see
examples in Perry, 2018); others—including affective recording and archiving, and agonistic
debate—are not. As part of the EMOTIVE Project, a three-year international research
endeavour funded by the European Commission, we are working to investigate how affective
engagement with heritage might produce care, social conscience, and civic welfare.
Specifically, EMOTIVE is developing tools for specialists, as well as experiences for non-
specialists, that provoke and evaluate affect in relation to heritage. To do this, our team of
technical developers, researchers, small businesses, and curators of heritage sites is
articulating a conceptual model, evaluation framework, and associated technological
solutions (e.g. 3D moulds, a mixed reality Unity plug-in, a mobile app authoring tool, and
360° virtual museum tool) that we are deploying with different stakeholders in specific case
studies (e.g. with Young Archaeologists’ Clubs, visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site
of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, tourists and worshippers at York Minster, virtual reality gamers).
Below, I present EMOTIVE experiments at Çatalhöyük and York Minster particularly related
to agonistic debate (#3 above), as our findings here point to trends which both validate and
threaten wider roll-out of the enchantment model. Note that aspects of points 1, 2 and 4
(above) are also explored in recent and forthcoming publications (Perry, 2018; Perry et al., in
prep; Roussou et al., 2019).
EMOTIVE works within a frame that matches the dominant participatory/public
value model which increasingly guides heritage policy in the UK and internationally.
Accordingly, our greatest challenge has been grappling with the failings of this model, as
criticised by Lynch and Gonzáles-Ruibal et al. (see above). In their worst incarnations, these
failings lead to public participation/value manifesting as a ‘gift’ (Lynch, 2017), resulting in a
kind of ‘indebtedness engineering’, an ‘empowerment-lite’, a ‘welfare model’ or charity
model, wherein participants are reduced to subjects in need of help (all cited in Lynch, 2017).
According to Lynch, who reflects on the predicament in the museums sector:
‘The ‘progressive’ well-meaning inclusive and engaged museum…
inadvertently continues to be based on a centre-periphery model... [By]
placing people in the position of being beneficiaries of their assistance
(of their gifts), the museum/gallery exercises invisible power and can
inadvertently rob people of their active agency and the necessary
possibility of resistance’ (Lynch, 2017: 14, emphases in the original).
The focus on cultivating empathy and/or happiness that drives many cultural heritage
institutions today is, following Lynch (see comparable critique by Fredheim, 2018), arguably
grounded in this charity mode. Here resistance and challenge are washed away by misguided
efforts—often feel-good stories or the opposite: agonising narratives of human suffering and
crisis—that can lead to superficial understanding, passivity, and a false sense of activism.
Such work thereby undermines both democracy and individual and collective agency, the
very outcomes that the institutions purport to strive for. In fact, a wealth of evidence shows
that most affective participatory efforts have neither changed ‘institutional habits of mind’
(Lynch, 2017: 21) nor genuinely provided the space for participants to explore social justice
and radical trust (Lynch, 2013). Indeed, these efforts may actually discriminate against
people who do not have the skillsets or confidence to debate and co-create; and, where
conflict or disagreement arises through such work, research indicates that professionals lack
the ability to ‘deal with the heightened emotions, frustration and anger (at times) of…
community partners’ (Lynch, 2013: 2). Such lack of ability is predictable because most
models of practice assume that empathetic relations and emotive engagement should be
positive in nature, leading to positive outcomes (Canning, 2018). This positive prejudice is
embedded in most emotion assessment tools (driving a circular logic), and ignores data which
indicate that negative emotions, discomfort, and struggle can be equally productive for
learning outcomes and value formation. Unsurprisingly, after Tøndborg (2013: 14), the
implicated bodies ‘do not act in order to better things or resolve matters’; instead they tend to
suppress the democratic project by belabouring consensus, ‘denying the opportunity for
resistance to be made manifest’ and ‘rewarding those whose behaviour is less challenging’
(Lynch, 2013: 3).
Of importance, digital media play a tricky role in this sabotaging of outcomes, as they
are often enrolled in wonderment programmes that seek to nurture the most stereotyped of
affective impacts. This is perhaps no more obvious than with virtual reality (VR), the so-
called ‘ultimate empathy machine,’ which is regularly professed to allow a first-hand
experience of others’ lives merely via donning a head-mounted device. Loh (2017) offers a
rich critique of the fallacy at play here, wherein we confuse the simple act of putting
ourselves inside the representational frame with genuine understanding of others’
experiences. ‘True empathy’ requires work; it is ‘the labor of comprehension: mind-work, not
gut-work alone’ (Loh, 2017). It needs to be trained, it requires attention, it demands a
capacity to imagine and manoeuvre through sometimes complex, sometimes mundane
As I see them, digital media are uniquely placed to enable such ‘mind-work’. When
these media have untold capacity to force reflexivity and criticality
amongst their users (see review of scholarship in Perry & Taylor, 2018). In the EMOTIVE
Project, then, digital technologies are enlisted into the affective experience in sometimes
subtle, sometimes overt fashion, but always with a concern for subverting expectations. This
focus on subversion manifests itself in multiple ways through EMOTIVE case studies that
- 3D prints of archaeological artefacts that purposefully thwart the authenticity paradigm and
the automated nature of the printing process: users mould the prints themselves, then decorate
them however they please;
- VR that requires multi-user interaction with both physical and virtual objects and people;
- chatbots that do not necessarily answer questions, but rather persistently ask questions,
challenging the beliefs of their users (Roussou et al., 2019);
A great deal of scholarly work testifies to the negative, disempowering, cruel, and oppressive potential impacts
of digital media if applied in naïve fashion. Visser (2017: 57, summarising the work of others) speaks of how
such media replicate, rather than destabilise, dominant structures, ‘promot[ing] equality only when other factors,
such as economic well-being, infrastructure and information/media literacy, are considered’ and failing to
demonstrate ‘unambiguously positive democratic potential.’ Arguably this is true of any media.
- simple mobile apps that defy the ‘authorised’ discourse for a heritage site by enabling
visitors to narrate their own relevant stories, whilst their tour guides work to facilitate
To some extent, we are inspired by Poole’s (2018: 301) call for more attention to
digital technology as ‘a tool for changing the rules by which we construct and define
historical knowledge at heritage sites.’ In EMOTIVE, the digital extends the user, but this
extension serves to create an uncanny distance, sensory agitation, or surprise that is crucial
for inspiration leading to action (Figure 1). Following Kidd’s (2018) definition of immersive
heritage experiences, we do not conceive of digitality as the ‘key defining feature’ of an
EMOTIVE experience, but rather as an agent in a more complex process of enchantment.
FACILITATED DIALOGUE AS ARCHAEOLOGICAL ENCHANTMENT
With such complexity in mind, I contend that it is direct human-to-human communication
that has the most potential for transforming opinions, rewriting crisis narratives, and breaking
down barriers between the past, present, and future. Dialogue-led methods in archaeology
and heritage are rare, even though the evidence is clear that they can effectively prompt self-
reflection and perspective-taking, leading to constructive alliance-building and democratic
engagement with others (see review in Gargett, 2018, including work by Deufel, 2017, and
the US National Park Service and International Coalition of Sites of Conscience). Most of our
EMOTIVE case studies are devised around models of facilitated dialogue (see Gargett, 2018;
McKinney, 2018). Here, simple digital interfaces (on mobile phones or computers) offer text-
based instructions or questions to provoke conversation and physical interactions between
multiple individuals (specialists and broader publics alike). The facilitator is either digital
(e.g. a chatbot) or a human present in the experience (either a heritage expert, educator, or
public participant) who attempts to ensure that genuine dialogue is achieved. While the goal
of each experience differs depending on context, we aim to demonstrate three main
outcomes: contextualisation of knowledge, perspective taking, and affective connection.
These generally map onto the anticipated outcomes of both historic empathy and facilitated
dialogue (McKinney, 2018). Our findings are encouraging, although some people (crucially,
those with a professional association with archaeology and heritage) struggle with the
concepts and the unavoidable outcomes of emotive participatory practice.
In one EMOTIVE experience, an exploration of egalitarianism intended for visitors to
the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey (Mirashrafi, 2017; see Figure 2), the design is purposefully
‘light’ on archaeological data, focused instead on exposing the participants’ present-day
socio-economic values via their shared enactment of egalitarian practices. They
collaboratively perform activities that may seem unfamiliar (e.g. exchanging and
altruistically leaving behind things they consider as ‘theirs’), mimicking Neolithic
Çatalhöyük’s likely socio-economic organisation (Perry et al., in press). It is through this
shared, enacted reckoning with unfamiliar actions that we suspect the most powerful affect
might be achieved; and, for non-specialist participants, we tentatively suggest that this is the
case. According to one participant: ‘I feel in touch with the people… like, you can actually
begin to imagine what their life was actually like...’ Another participant put it as such: ‘[I]
felt it was more about us, …placing us in the situation, and making us think about each other
and our opinions and our thoughts. I didn’t really think factually. I didn’t think
archaeologically… I felt, like you [her partner] said, like I was exploring myself in that
By contrast, archaeologists demonstrated less positive affective engagement, actively
expressing concern over the personal exposure necessitated by the experience and over the
nature of the archaeological interpretation, even skipping over parts of the experience in
order to reach the end more quickly (Mirashrafi, 2017).
In another EMOTIVE experience intended to subvert the authorised discourse of the
traditional guided tour, a dual mobile device-/human-facilitated tour of the English cathedral
of York Minster uses the Minster’s heritage as the launching pad for critical dialogue
between strangers on contemporary social issues (Gargett, 2018) (see Figure 3). Following
the National Parks Services’ ‘arc of dialogue’ model, the experience leads participants
through a process of getting to know one another, collectively choosing a theme to explore
(e.g. health, love), educating each other on that theme as it relates to the Minster, contributing
an imaginative, personally-relevant element to that educational process, and then linking the
theme to present-day matters of concern (e.g. mental health stigmas, the criminal justice
system, public vs privatised health care).
Early evaluation of this experience highlights the fraught nature of pursuing true civic
society aims through heritage. As Gargett (2018) reports, participants demonstrated all the
signs of dialogue (and, I believe, the precursors to ethical action), including collaborative
learning, self-reflection, mutuality, and awareness of others. One participant commented:
‘… you don’t expect on a tour to get this level of depth with strangers,
or even with your family… I think that’s fantastic. I think that
experience would stick with you for a really long time.’
His opinion was affirmed by others in his tour group; one remarked:
‘…it demonstrated the power of group discussion and how people of
different ages, backgrounds… can contribute to an in-depth,
meaningful discussion and we are all able to learn things from each
other. I felt like everyone had their own personal perceptions
challenged at some point and listening to others and their opinions and
personal experiences has a big part to play in this.’
However, another commentator (a guide at the Minster) expressed what is arguably
the standard institutional response to such agonistic interpretative efforts (after Deufel, 2017):
‘it could actually be quite damaging to people… not just from a mental
health perspective but actually from like a political perspective as well.
And potentially physical if people start getting very passionate.’
This opinion was further illustrated by another member of the group who, as Gargett
(2018) describes it, was,
‘concerned about the harmful nature of discussing contemporary social
issues with strangers, suggesting… it should perhaps be marketed as a
“difficult histories type thing”. This pertains to the general view that
“difficult” issues should only be broached at “difficult history” sites…’
The counterargument here, as broached by others in the same evaluation session, is
that all sites have difficult histories that can shape people’s lives today (and perhaps in
future) in different ways. To avoid or suppress these issues in spaces like the Minster (which
not only offers multiple layers of pastoral care, but also professes to want to make the world a
better place, inspiring transformation amongst both individuals and businesses (Gargett,
2018)) is not only to falsify the site’s heritage, but to blatantly cripple the democratic
endeavour at large.
These case studies hint at the potential for emotive engagement to be more
purposefully deployed in the cultural heritage sector, enchanting the archaeological record
such that it reaps an ethic of generosity and considerate action in or on the world. However,
the temptation, especially pronounced amongst heritage professionals, to indulge in the kind
of ‘lazy empathy’ (Tucker, 2016: 39 citing Dean, 2005) that has long been characteristic of
the heritage sector is palpable. Recalling Loh’s (2017) arguments, Tucker (2016: 40)
contends that we must ‘forego any easy solutions’ and, if we enrol empathy in our efforts, it
must ‘not be viewed as an end in itself, nor… give rise to self-congratulation.’
To genuinely enchant the world may be difficult, especially among professional
communities who are saddled with approaches that regularly breed disempowerment and
underestimation of the renewability and resilience of the archaeological record. Affective
interventions (on our inscription and interpretation practices, on our creative skills, and
especially on our abilities to promote dialogue as described above) can overturn these
circumstances, exposing archaeology’s capacity to inspire reflection and change, today and in
the future. However, we must necessarily develop or adapt means to negotiate the challenges
that will arise. We already have a wealth of materials on how we might do this in relation to
dialogue—from conflict resolution procedures, to methods for reasoning and constructive
argumentation, to lessons in fostering respect (e.g. Sennett, 2003; Sinnott-Armstrong, 2018).
Some might question whether it is indeed ‘our enterprise to socially engineer dialogue’
(Morse et al., 2013: 103). I would counter that heritage-related dialogue is already being
engineered, often in the absence of any knowledgeable archaeological voice whatsoever, but
also by archaeologists themselves without the toolkit to steer such dialogue in a genuinely
productive direction. Fredengren (2016: 496) warns that in pursuing the project of
archaeological enchantment we also need to be wary of naivety, of seduction by affective
powers that could lead to problematic outcomes. The vision I propose here, however, is
underlain by the application of informed facilitated discussion and debate. These efforts are
concerned with strengthening our abilities to actively listen to and constructively reason with
one another. If successful, they should ultimately result in social bonding and mutual respect,
contributing to greater civic welfare. Yet even at the most local and personal level, within
small communities of archaeologists for instance, such skills offer the opportunity to speak
more productively amongst and beyond ourselves, thereby helping us to collectively identify
problems and devise shared solutions. In so doing, we make space for a more empowered,
responsive discipline, one that is truly cognisant of, and open to, the infinite possibilities of
the archaeological record.
This work was supported by funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and
innovation programme under grant agreement no. 727188. The research was approved by the
Department of Archaeology’s Ethics Review Committee, under the auspices of the
University of York’s Arts and Humanities Ethics Committee. All participants, including
representatives of minors, consented to the sharing of the data as presented here. I extend
great appreciation to Katrina Gargett, Sierra McKinney, and Sophia Mirashrafi, whose
research forms the core of the EMOTIVE case studies presented here, as well as to the entire
EMOTIVE team. For their comments and help in shaping the content of this article, I am
grateful to the anonymous reviewers, Sarah May, Holly Wright, Vivi Katifori, Rebecca
Hearne, Jess Hoare, Julian Richards, Shawn Graham, and Ian Kirkpatrick.
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Sara Perry is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of York,
UK, and a lead on the EU-funded EMOTIVE Project (www.emotiveproject.eu). She has
directed heritage interpretation programmes at archaeological sites around the world,
including Çatalhöyük in Turkey (www.catalhoyuk.com), Memphis, the capital of Ancient
Egypt (memphisegypt.org), and Pangani in Tanzania (www.conchproject.org).
Address: Sara Perry, Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor,
York, YO1 7EP, UK. [email: email@example.com]
L’enchantement des témoignages archéologiques
Les études empiriques révèlent de plus en plus que les sites archéologiques et ceux appartenant
au patrimoine culturel sont capables d’engendrer un sens de l’émerveillement, de
transformation, d’attachement et de créer des liens entre des communautés comprenant des
individus les plus divers. Selon les théories politiques de Jane Bennett, ces sites ont le pouvoir
« d’enchanter » et, ce faisant, permettent de promouvoir la générosité, une prise de conscience
éthique et un égard accru envers le monde en général. Mais on comprend encore mal comment
ce sens de l’enchantement est créé et combien ces rencontres intimes avec le passé
préhistorique ou historique peuvent être délibérément réalisées. Les difficultés sont accrues du
fait que les professionnels de l’archéologie obstruent souvent le potentiel de l’archéologie en
termes d’action éthique. Dans cet article, je propose un modèle comprenant plusieurs éléments
conceptuels permettant de produire un sens de l’enchantement par rapport aux témoignages
de l’archéologie et destiné autant à une audience de professionnels qu’à un public plus large.
Dans le cadre du projet EMOTIVE financé par la Commission européenne, je présente une
facette de ce modèle : le dialogue facilité. En dehors d’un examen du rôle de la culture
numérique et de son évolution, je soutiens qu’une approche centrée sur l’enchantement est
essentielle en archéologie, si l’on veut que cette discipline soit vraiment bénéfique sur le plan
social. Translation by Madeleine Hummler
Mots-clés : enchantement en archéologie, émotion, technologies numériques, méthodes
archéologiques, musées et sites du patrimoine culturel, pratique professionnelle
Eine bezaubernde Archäologie
Empirische Studien zeigen zunehmend, dass archäologische Fundplätze und Stätten des
Kulturerbes in der Lage sind, uns zu bezaubern, uns zu verändern und ein Gemeinschaftsgefühl
zwischen ganz verschiedenen Menschen zu schaffen. Laut der politischen Theorien von Jane
Bennett sind diese Stätten fähig, uns zu ‚bezaubern‘ und damit können sie Großzügigkeit, eine
ethische Achtsamkeit und eine Sorge für die gesamte Welt fördern. Wie man solch eine
Bezauberung erzeugt, und in welchem Ausmaß solche persönlichen Begegnungen mit der
urgeschichtlichen oder historischen Vergangenheit verbreitet sind, ist aber kaum bekannt. Die
Situation ist dadurch noch verschlechtert, dass die Praxis das Potenzial der Archäologie,
ethische Maßnahmen zu fördern, häufig verhindert. In diesem Artikel schlage ich ein
vielseitiges Begriffsmodell vor, dass ein Entzücken mit den archäologischen Befunden
generiert, sowohl unter Fachleuten und der breiteren Öffentlichkeit. Im Rahmen des von der
Europäischen Kommission finanzierten EMOTIVE Projektes verdeutliche ich hier ein Aspekt
dieses Modells: der unterstützte Dialog. Neben einer Untersuchung der Rolle der digitalen
Kultur und deren Entwicklung wird hier den Standpunkt vertreten, dass wir einen auf
Verzauberung orientierten Ansatz folgen müssen und so eine wirklich sozial tragfähige
archäologische Disziplin erschaffen. Translation by Madeleine Hummler
Stichworte: archäologische Bezauberung, Gefühl, Digitaltechnologien, archäologische
Methoden, Museen und Kulturerbe, berufliche Praxis
Figure 1. Young Archaeologists' Club members participating in an EMOTIVE dialogical
experience in Sheffield, UK (photograph: Sierra McKinney).
Figure 2. Participants enacting egalitarian ways of life in Turkey, one of the EMOTIVE
experiences designed for the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük.
Figure 3. Participants engaged in an EMOTIVE facilitated dialogue session for the York
Minster in York, UK.