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The dead and their public. Memory campaigns, issue networks and the role of the archaeologist in the excavation of mass graves

  • Layla Renshaw


This contribution will consider how the practice of archaeology ‘brings a public into being’. Drawing on examples of the excavation of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and the First World War, particularly those cases resulting from activism on the part of memory campaign groups, this paper considers how the act of excavation can serve as a catalyst for members of the public to coalesce and deliberate the complex and far-reaching questions associated with the post-mortem treatment and commemoration of the dead. The necessity to fulfil the aims of particular constituencies, such as the relatives of the dead, or the need to maintain a position of impartiality, may militate against the archaeologist's full intellectual engagement with these questions, resulting in the archaeologist's role being defined primarily by their technical or practical contribution. The concept of the issue network is explored as a way to understand the formation of memory campaigns and the archaeologist's relationship with the public. The idea of the network underlines the potential for the archaeologist to make an intellectual contribution that develops and democratizes the debate surrounding an excavation, even if their position is contested, and so bring a wider public into being.


Corresponding author

*Layla Renshaw, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames, UK. Email:


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