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EmboDIYing Disruption: Queer, Feminist and Inclusive Digital Archaeologies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 May 2019

Katherine Cook*
Department of Anthropology, University of Montreal, Canada
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Inclusive approaches to archaeology (including queer, feminist, black, indigenous, etc. perspectives) have increasingly intersected with coding, maker, and hacker cultures to develop a uniquely ‘Do-It-Yourself’ style of disruption and activism. Digital technology provides opportunities to challenge conventional representations of people past and present in creative ways, but at what cost? As a critical appraisal of transhumanism and the era of digital scholarship, this article outlines compelling applications in inclusive digital practice but also the pervasive structures of privilege, inequity, inaccessibility, and abuse that are facilitated by open, web-based heritage projects. In particular, it evaluates possible means of creating a balance between individual-focused translational storytelling and public profiles, and the personal and professional risks that accompany these approaches, with efforts to foster, support, and protect traditionally marginalized archaeologists and communities.

Les démarches qui cherchent à promouvoir l'intégration en archéologie (y compris les perspectives allosexuelles, féministes, black ou indigènes) se recoupent de plus en plus avec celles des communautés associées au codage, à la réalisation et au piratage numérique dans le but de créer un style ‘bricolé’ de contestation et d'activisme. Les technologies numériques offrent des possibilités de remettre en question les représentations traditionnelles de personnes du passé et de nos jours de façon créative, mais à quel prix ? Dans cet article, une évaluation critique du transhumanisme et de l’ère numérique sert de point de départ à une présentation d'exemples numériques convaincants de pratique d'intégration mais aussi de l'omniprésence du privilège, de l'inégalité, du manque d'accès et des abus facilités par des projets d'accès libre sur internet concernant le patrimoine. On cherchera surtout à évaluer les moyens d’établir un équilibre entre la transposition de récits centrés sur des individus et un profil public et de prendre en compte les risques personnels et professionnels associés à ces approches dans le but de promouvoir, soutenir et protéger les communautés et archéologues marginalisés. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Integrative Ansätze in der Archäologie (einschließlich der queeren, schwarzen, feministischen oder einheimischen Anschauungsweisen) haben sich zunehmend mit der Kultur der Programmierer, Macher und Hacker überschnitten um einen einzigartigen „gebastelten” Stil von Zerrüttung und Aktivismus zu entwickeln. Die digitale Technologie bietet die Möglichkeit, konventionelle Darstellung von Personen in der Vergangenheit und in der Gegenwart kreativ infrage zu stellen, aber zu welchem Preis? Als kritische Betrachtung von Transhumanismus und des Zeitalters der digitalen Wissenschaft verfasst, beschreibt dieser Artikel überzeugende Anwendungen der digitalen Praxis aber auch die durchdringenden Strukturen des Privilegs, der Ungerechtigkeit, der Unzugänglichkeit und des Missbrauchs, die in zugänglichen, webbasierten Projekten im Bereich des Kulturerbes entstanden sind. Insbesondere bewertet die Studie mögliche Mittel eines ausgewogenen Verhältnisses zwischen auf Einzelpersonen ausgerichteten Erzählungen und öffentlichen Profilen zu finden; sie bewertet auch die die persönlichen und beruflichen Risiken, die mit diesen Ansätzen verbunden sind und die sich bemühen, traditionell marginalisierte Archäologen und Gemeinschaften zu fördern, unterstützen und schützen. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Copyright © European Association of Archaeologists 2019 

Digital technologies (especially the Web) were sold to us as democratizing tools that would transform the inequities inherent in communications, research, and institutional structures. When the shortcomings started to become visible, risk and danger were marketed to us as part of what everyone goes through to create good research and art, to innovate, to be successful. But that was not true either: some people are forced to take on more risk than others. The lines of privilege and power are far more insidious in our technology-drenched worlds than those who benefit from it care to recognize, let alone address, and there is a very troubling pattern intensifying before our eyes.

Risk-taking has long been a central part of both art and the sciences. Its role in archaeological research is perhaps less clear, particularly when we focus on risk to archaeologists (as opposed to the physical risks of damaging or destroying archaeological sites and materials, or abstract risks of knowledge loss). While early antiquarians chose (from a secure place of privilege) to face dangers of colonial (aka conquest) approaches, more and more archaeologists are forced to put their own well-being, their careers, and their work on the line to push forward a more inclusive past and present. What emerged out of post-processual, feminist, queer, indigenous, black, and post-colonial discourses was the centrality of who does archaeology and whom that archaeology affects. Unfortunately, we still seem to be coming to terms with the impact of this shift; the push to make room for alternative ways of knowing and inclusive or equitable participation necessitates individuals to be ‘the first’, and in turn to face all the blow-back and take on the long process of re-education when it comes to the recognition of pervasive sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination in the discipline and beyond. At the same time, public, translational, and engaged scholarship demands researchers, volunteers, and communities to be in the spotlight in a way that we have not seen in the past. Digital technology is playing a significant role in this transformation, providing the opportunities to disrupt conventional archaeology in creative ways, but also creating intensively individualized and public profiles embedded in new channels for abuse, particularly in the age of Internet trolls and cyberbullies.

The history of digital disruptions of archaeology, history, and heritage is critical to understanding the relationship between intersectional identities (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, health, etc.) and risk-taking, particularly motivated by social change mediated or facilitated by technological innovation. This includes the increasingly common practice of leveraging scholars’ own identities, experiences, and perspectives to make and take up space for multivocality, fluid positionality, and counter structures of privilege. This paper will trace the ways in which queer, feministFootnote 1, and more broadly inclusive disruptions of traditional forms of communication, values of objectivity, and gate-keeping of knowledge increasingly draw on creative uses of digital and hybrid platforms, taking on many of the goals of transhumanism and posthumanism to unlearn, unmake, unbecome traditional social structures and restrictive identities. However, in so doing, the individuals and communities behind this work risk far more than ‘normal’ levels of failure encompassed by experimentation, research, and innovation (loss of time, resources, materials, etc.); in activating our own identities and past traumas, we riskFootnote 2 ourselves more than anything. With growing documentation of harassment and threats, impact on mental health, and the high rate of burnout, are humans part of the collateral damage of this transhumanism? And if so, are the potential outcomes of Do-It-Yourself digital disruptions truly worth the risk?

Cultures of Inclusivity

It is no coincidence that researchers committed to inclusivity and equity increasingly connect with the ethos of a creative and open digital scholarship that breaks and confronts academic norms. This translates into a tradition of risk-taking in several ways, including challenging conventional research and dissemination practices, transforming representation of people in the past, and supporting marginalized scholars in the face of the exclusionary structures, abuse, and trauma of research spheres.

Queer scholars, for instance, who by nature do not easily move through the biased structures of these research spheres, being more likely to be excluded from conventional funding opportunities, publication structures, and even career models, are often correlated with innovation and breaking convention (Dowson, Reference Dowson2000; Halberstam, Reference Halberstam2011). In the frank words of Halberstam (Reference Halberstam2011: 3): ‘Failing is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well.’ The sheer impossibility of ‘succeeding’ through normative models can push these ‘unconventional’ scholars to take greater risks because they already occupy uncharted territory and, therefore, by default take unconventional ‘Do-It-Yourself’ approaches, which in turn blaze a trail for more conventional scholarship to follow (Halberstam, Reference Halberstam2011: 6). These ‘rogue intellectuals’ are also more likely to recognize and react to heteronormative representations of the past and fight for inclusive interpretative paradigms.

Early texts in queer archaeology highlighted the ways in which homosexual men and women negotiated academic, disciplinary, and structural homophobia (obvious or subtle) by choosing when and how to deny, downplay, or share their sexuality in relation to maintaining authority and place within the discipline (cf. Dowson, Reference Dowson2000: 161–62). These asymmetrical relationship between homosexuality and heterosexuality only really represent the most visible tip of a much wider set of entangled identities and related issues, including bisexuality's problems of bi-erasure, biphobia, and lack of representation, asexuality's lack of recognition, or transsexuality's challenges of gender-sex-sexuality conflation and very particular modes of transphobia (Weismantel, Reference Weismantel, Stryker and Aizura2013). Queer archaeology also includes challenging the pervasiveness of heteronormativity in archaeological interpretations, with a substantial role to play in transforming assumptions, expectations, and normative structures for people past and present. Nevertheless, recent political, legal, and social threats to these identities have shown the ongoing dangers of being (or being perceived to be) queer or ally archaeologists.

Naturally, queer archaeology cannot be wholly and completely separated from feminist archaeology. The complexity of internalized/auto homophobia, ongoing conflation of gender and sexuality in contemporary society, and the complex intersections with race, ethnicity, class, and religion (Claassen, Reference Claassen2000: 173, 177) blur the lines between homophobia and misogyny and, therefore, queer and feminist reactions or disruptions. Influenced by the layering of discrimination, fear, and hate levelled at scholars along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and indigeneity, it is no stretch to say that feminism in archaeology is multi-dimensional, multi-scalar, and multi-directional. It includes, but is not limited to, making women visible in the past, exploring gender and sexuality, making the discipline more equitable and less exploitative (Wylie, Reference Wylie, Creager, Lunbeck and Schiebinger2001; Conkey, Reference Conkey2003: 867–68; Battle-Baptiste, Reference Battle-Baptiste2011) as well as using archaeology as broader political action (Wylie, Reference Wylie1997: 84–85). Constantly evolving, ebbing, flowing, and re-evaluating theory and practice, the position of feminism in archaeology is also ever in flux, as is its potential to influence broader discourse, methodologies, and theory.

The feminist discourse of the visual language and representation of archaeological knowledge (Gifford-Gonzalez, Reference Gifford-Gonzalez1993; Conkey, Reference Conkey and Hager1997; Moser, Reference Moser1998) heavily influenced early applications of digital media in archaeology. If imagery in print or visual media was not neutral, we certainly cannot expect that digital media will naturally address issues of representation, essentialism, and patriarchal values. The values of colouring outside the lines have given rise to a particular brand of inclusive archaeology, defined by innovative digital visualization and communication practices that challenge our assumptions about what people looked like, what roles they played, and how they moved through and experienced the landscape throughout history (Morgan, Reference Morgan2017). These projects actively employ non-traditional means of storytelling (beyond articles or monographs), often through compelling translational narratives, to further challenge research norms through disruption and activism (cf. Ulysse, Reference Ulysse2018).

Digital communities and inclusivity

Maker and hacker cultures have also connected technological innovation with social disruption, challenging not only dominant tech culture but also broader social structures of inequity and exclusivity (Richterich, Reference Richterich2016; Smith, Reference Smith2017: 1–2). The maker movement in particular was ‘founded on a philosophy that values the sharing of diverse knowledges. It is an extension of the “do it yourself” (or DIY) movement and … the democratisation of knowledge and technology, and experimentation and innovation through the use of shared resources’ (Compton et al., Reference Compton, Martin and Hunt2017: 49). These hives of engagement and learning serve as hubs for shared technology, tools, and materials (Richterich, Reference Richterich2016). Framed by the values of low-barrier entry (economics, education, skill level), flexible and experimental processes, and an ethos of collaboration, makerspaces are becoming social statements. Critical making is being used for activism (or maktivism, Morgan, Reference Morgan2015: 136–37) through shared resources, experiences, memory, heritage, and trauma, with a nod to a longer history of marginalized communities using crafting circles as nodes for activism (Rogers, Reference Rogers2015, Reference Rogers2017; Crooks et al., Reference Crooks, Contreras and Besser2015; Riley et al., Reference Riley, McNair and Masters2017: 1–2).

Despite these grassroots beginnings, makerspaces are becoming heavily institutionalized, finding their place on university campuses and in museums, galleries, and libraries. Although this shift has made makerspaces more easily accessible to archaeologists, it has split up communities, setting up new barriers of access and approaches. These spaces also struggle with equity and a tendency to become dominated by heterosexual, white, cis-male individuals (Taylor et al., Reference Taylor, Hurley and Connolly2016), and there is a documented history of discrimination and harassment targeting individuals who do not fit the normative tech moulds (Martin, Reference Martin2017). Today, the maker movement embodies a number of ‘digital divides’, at once creating and challenging inequities and human limitations, but also as a mainstream/technoscientific movement while its style is deeply grassroots and even ‘guerrilla’ (Wajcman, Reference Wajcman2004: 2–4).

The contributions and value of diverse scholarship in all these settings are clear, but there is much more ground to cover in making truly inclusive communities of practice. Queer, feminist, and maker communities, for instance, have been critiqued for not doing enough to recognize or stand in solidarity with their trans, indigenous, and/or black members in pre- and post-digital eras. This has perhaps most clearly been articulated by Ann DuCille (Reference DuCille1994: 150) who, more than two decades ago, drew attention to the crisis of scholarship resulting from ‘the hyper-visibility, super-isolation, emotional quarantine and psychic violence of … precarious positions in academia’ for black female intellectuals. Considering recent political developments and the ways in which discrimination is enacted and weaponized in online and digital worlds, this situation has only been exacerbated since this seminal work. Inclusive intellectual communities-cum-paradigms, such as feminist, queer, black, indigenous scholarship, embody at once their own but also more collective history of exclusion, resistance, and proliferation. The resulting complexity of targeted exclusion and discrimination, and their connection to digital scholarship, is critical when examining contemporary interplays between disrupting normativity and creativity (as epistemological and pedagogical tools) that are transforming traditional archaeology.

Disruptive Digital Archaeologies

Born out of inclusive archaeologies, digital innovations have been increasingly harnessed as part of an empowered sense of DIY and the ability to creatively amplify unconventional voices. Strategic applications of technologies and media to defy, to confront, to derail, to remix, to subvert can be characterized as digital archaeologies that:

  1. i. confront the archaeological past we have created

  2. ii. confront the present (particularly of the discipline)

  3. iii. confront authorship and authority

  4. iv. act as platforms to support the above.

While these waves of initiatives and projects may work independently or be interwoven, it is the collective impact of these digital archaeologies and the reactions they stimulate that join them together in a wave of disruption.

Confronting the past

Today, many digital projects seek to challenge the narratives traditionally presented in archaeology, breaking norms, confronting assumptions, and demonstrating diversity and fluidity of identities in the past. Early applications, particularly within the realms of visualization and communications, intended to shift perspectives and the positioning of people in the past, have a distinctively feminist flavour. What has been described as ‘add women and stir’ has transformed into the progressive upending of normative assumptions and recognition of greater diversity. Importantly here, and perhaps defining what separates these projects from more traditional archaeologies challenging identity in the past, digital media transform our methods of ‘writing’, editing, presenting, and collaborating in archaeological narratives (see also Tringham, Reference Tringham, Van Dyke and Bernbeck2015: 27–29 and Lopiparo and Joyce, Reference Lopiparo, Joyce, Jameson, Finn and Ehrenhard2003). In reconfiguring structures of engagement, intimacy, immersiveness, layering, and temporality, digital archaeology has embraced the creativity of early feminist and queer narratives and run with it. From early works, such as Joyce et al.’s (Reference Joyce, Guyer and Joyce2000) Sister Stories and Tringham's (Reference Tringham, Van Dyke and Bernbeck2015: 30) Chimera Web using hypertext (see also Joyce & Tringham, Reference Joyce and Tringham2007), via more contemporary uses of social media and websites (Morgan & Pallascio, Reference Morgan and Pallascio2015) to virtual and augmented realities and gaming (Morgan, Reference Morgan2009; Perry et al., Reference Perry, Economou, Young, Roussou, Pujol, Goodman and Addison2017), the flexibility and ‘democratizing’ ideals of digital formats and open access are often noted as points of attraction for archaeologists seeking to construct more diverse narratives of the past. These projects are also part of a much wider, interdisciplinary push to use public digital resources to challenge normative, mainstream, and exclusionary views of the past (see for instance the Tumblr resource People of Color in European Art History, 2018).

Tringham's ‘Dead Women Do Tell Tales’ (Reference Tringham2014) highlights a further emerging trend: the integration of digital databases, visualization, and narration to weave together more complex histories without losing the appeal for broad audiences to engage not only with the past but the ways in which we construct it (Tringham, Reference Tringham, Van Dyke and Bernbeck2015: 29, see also Tringham, Reference Tringham2014). Building on Tringham's earlier work on life histories and narratives of people in the past, using creative expression and embracing ambiguity (Tringham, Reference Tringham, Gero and Conkey1991, Reference Tringham1994), the project spotlights the all too often opaque process of archaeological interpretation by employing imagined narratives of the life histories of women at Çatalhöyük to demonstrate their connection with primary data. It is not merely adding women to the past but reconfiguring the construction of identity in archaeology to make space for alternative narratives and critical evaluation of traditional interpretations. Following the public debates over the BBC's portrayal of Life in Roman Britain in 2017 and other recent exclamations over political correctness, the need to present alternatives with evidence and critical discussions should not be underrated. However, it is not without risk, as we have seen with the overwhelming levels of abuse and threats that many women, queer, indigenous, and black scholars have received over defending alternative narratives (cf. Beard, Reference Beard2017). Creating narratives that challenge contemporary normative values and systems of oppression, or defending them, is a mix of Russian roulette and poking a hornet's nest; while some projects seem to go unnoticed, catching the attention of even one Internet troll sets a whole system of hate in motion.

It should also be recognized that the risk is not entirely limited to the researchers creating or defending inclusive narratives. Increasing engagement with marginalized archaeologies necessitates participation in difficult heritage and intensely political positions (for instance the projects Mapping the Du Bois Philadelphia Negro project (, Digital Harlem (, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database ( = PS_smithsonian); see also Morgan & Pallascio, Reference Morgan and Pallascio2015: 260–61, Kamash, Reference Kamash2017). Given the deep history of discrimination and inequity, this model of digital archaeology comes with potential to harm descendant communities, the public, and archaeologists due to the emotional trauma often connected and resuscitated through these practices. These tensions and traumas, however, can be mobilized to address legacies of discrimination, injustice, and their connections to contemporary inequities, particularly through technologies that layer the past on the present to connect the familiarities of everyday life with their dark heritage (Figure 1). The careful use of discomfort and connection to emotion through narratives, disruptive imagery, and media, and the juxtaposition of the familiar present with unexpected or unknown histories can be a very powerful use of digital technology. But it takes a great deal of skill and collaboration to mediate potential risk for contemporary communities, who are already dealing with extreme levels of systemic discrimination and trauma.

Figure 1. Conceptual art for ‘Built on Bones’, an augmented reality app to draw attention to the dark legacies of colonialism by augmenting contemporary cities with the bones of the past (Cook, 2017).

Confronting the present

Although archaeologists have, in the past, played almost invisible or at the very least non-personal roles in public dissemination, there is greater emphasis on archaeologists’ identities, and particularly the diversity of who can be an archaeologist, to create a more inclusive field. This work can also be branded as activist archaeology and translational storytelling, but also as aligning with work to address discriminatory and unequal structures and norms. It often emerges most strongly in the face of work action and concerns over equity, inclusivity, and security in the workplace. However, it also looks to attract more diverse people to the field of archaeology to challenge the persistent underrepresentation in this discipline (cf. Agbe-Davies, Reference Agbe-Davies2002).

A number of projects under the banner of archaeogaming playfully fit this description. For example, the C-14 Dating Game ( is a simulation game where players take the role of an undergraduate intern. Importantly, the game-play includes finding friends and romance without any gender expectations or structures in place. Seemingly a very simple element, it is relatively revolutionary when representation of queer archaeologists remains ambiguous at best in most narratives; the opportunity to choose begins to challenge those expectations and make space for diverse individuals. The frameworks that we create for participation in archaeology, whether through games or other media, and the identities we craft in archaeological ‘characters’ that populate these media, shape user experiences but they also frame public and disciplinary expectations and imaginations (see also Dennis, Reference Dennis2016).

The Trowelblazers project ( also challenges representations of archaeologists. Triggered by a conversation on Twitter, leading to a network of digital and analogue resources on women in archaeology, geology, and palaeontology, this project has stitched together the full range of digital technologies (Hassett et al., Reference Hassett, Pilaar-Birch, Herridge, Wragg-Sykes and Apaydin2017). Their recent ‘Raising Horizons’ initiative was a collage including crowdfunding, the contribution of artists working in a range of mediums, social media, digital and print resources, and physical exhibits or events to showcase contemporary and historical women in these disciplines, creatively drawing connections between their experiences and points of view. One part social media, one part crowdsourcing, and one part creative media creation, feminist voices and activism have been mobilized through largely web-based communications. Nevertheless, the emphasis on real-life archaeologists requires real people to take the risk of sharing themselves as part of their work. While the ideals of reflexivity and self-awareness would beg the question ‘why not?’ (after all, we are part of our interpretations), in the age of the Internet, this level of openness and individuality of the strategy takes on a more sinister risk (see below).

Confronting authorship/authority

Digital technologies can also confront the exclusionary view of archaeologists as the only experts in reconstructing the past. Influenced by indigenous, black, and post-colonial archaeologies in particular, the social networking, communication opportunities and interactivity of web-based platforms lend themselves well to the equalizing ideals of collaborative archaeology today. One of the earliest websites mobilizing the Internet to promote community collaboration is Carol McDavid's (Reference McDavid1998) Levi Jordan Plantation website (, part of a project examining slavery and African-American culture on a plantation in Texas (see also McDavid, Reference McDavid1997). Using what now seems like very simple web-based feedback forms, alongside non-web-based interviews and participation, the project invited dialogue, participation, and contributions from descendant communities, local communities, adults and children alike, anyone with an interest. McDavid (Reference McDavid1998) noted: ‘We wanted to learn if computers can be used to create “conversations” about archaeology and history among lots of different people.’ This project's legacy is echoed in many community archaeology projects today, such as Terry Brock's (Reference Brock2018) All of Us Would Walk Together website, which provided opportunities for descendant communities and the general public to participate, share stories, and build family trees (see also McDavid & Brock, Reference McDavid, Brock, Gnecco and Lippert2015).

Social media have also significantly contributed to combating the privileging of (Eurocentric) archaeological discourse, research, and interpretations. Archaeologist Joanne Hammond (@KamloopsArchaeo) has infamously used Twitter with edited images contrasting the problematic commemorative signage in Canada, typically erasing indigenous heritage to celebrate European colonization, with newly written narratives that decolonize our perspectives on the past (see for instance Kisha Supernant (@ArchaeoMapper), a Métis archaeologist, has also used Twitter to challenge ways of knowing the past and highlight the discriminatory structures, attitudes, and treatment of indigenous scholars through courageously frank and honest posts about her own experiences. Although framed once again by personal and professional risk, these voices blur the lines of authority, participation, and ways of knowing which are critical to repairing and reshaping relationships between archaeologists and descendant communities, as well as challenging us to review our approaches to (public) archaeology.

Recognizing the problems of authority, authorship, and control of the past also includes acknowledging that not all applications of digital technology are necessarily appropriate, even when motivated by a goal of ‘representing’ or ‘including’ that heritage in wider discourses and adopting increasingly mainstream approaches. The work of Beth Compton (Reference Compton2017), which examines complexity of authenticity, ontology, and materiality when it comes to 3D models and 3D prints, is particularly powerful in this context and challenges perceptions of objects (with which we think we are deeply familiar) and technology (with which we often overestimate our familiarity) (see also Brown & Nicholas, Reference Brown and Nicholas2012; Cook & Compton, Reference Cook and Compton2018; Jones et al., Reference Jones, Jeffrey, Maxwell, Hale and Jones2017). Challenging authority in contemporary archaeology necessitates a much more critical application of ethics and commitment to collaborative research, recognizing both the lack of understanding of data access and preservation but also the tech-influenced emphasis that is placed on doing what is innovative over what is right or responsible.

Platforms for support

Space-making initiatives, that is, the design of platforms, publication venues, and support for more diversity in the discipline and narratives of the past, have played a critical role in encouraging the types of inclusive and equitable digital archaeologies described above. The goal here is to showcase the voices of diverse scholars and creators to increase their impact and support their progression. When approached as more than tokenization or shallow PR stunts, transformative diversity and inclusion work can create the conditions for social change in the structure of archaeology and beyond, amplifying marginalized voices, challenging our perspectives on the past, and in turn demonstrating the relevance of the discipline in contemporary society.

The Heritage Jam, the brainchild of Sara Perry and Anthony Masinton, has been a pioneering platform for innovative digital archaeology and heritage practice since 2014. With their open call to ‘anyone interested in the way heritage is visualised’, free entry, and flexible formats, timelines and engagement, the Heritage Jam has been successful in bringing together a range of individuals interested in heritage (both within and beyond professionals and students of archaeology), showcasing diverse histories and perspectives on the past (Heritage Jam, 2017). The Inclusiveness Policy and Code of Conduct are two cornerstones of the jam; their aim is to ‘provide a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment … where everyone is free to express themselves regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ability, appearance, ethnicity, citizenship, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs or age’ (Heritage Jam, 2017). It also asks participants and audiences to celebrate individuals making an extra effort to be inclusive and welcoming, while prohibiting harassment, abuse, discrimination, derogatory or demeaning speech, etc. Finally, the website serves as an archive for jam entrants; with a huge audience and reach, this has been particularly successful in promoting the work of diverse people, providing international reach and networking opportunities. It is perhaps no surprise that many of the entrants and the projects created and submitted to the Heritage Jam over the years have exemplified inclusive approaches to the past and the present (including Cook, Reference Cook2017 and Tringham, Reference Tringham2014 cited above).

More recently, Epoiesen, an online publication initiative based at Carleton University in Canada and established by editor-in-chief Shawn Graham, has taken up the challenges of making space for diverse and alternative media formats and knowledge in archaeology and history (cf. Pálsson and Aldred Reference Pálsson and Aldred2017; Heckadon et al., Reference Heckadon, Sparks, Hartemink, van Muijlwijk, Chater and Nicole2018). Characterized as ‘a journal for exploring creative engagement with the past, especially through digital means … [primarily through] “paradata” or artist's statements that accompany playful or unfamiliar forms of singing the past into existence’ (Epoiesen, 2018), the journal provides an opportunity to publish on open access without any fees (lowering the cost of entry) and showcases alternative ways of engaging with the past. It regularly publishes the work of students, professionals, and individuals ‘outside’ traditional careers in archaeology or history, in addition to allowing annotations and further engagement between authors/creators and readers. With a diverse editorial board, authorship, and audience, the journal has also been at the forefront of important conversations about inclusive publishing policies.

Other relevant endeavours include building digital communities for collaboration and support, such as the Women's Digital Archaeology Network ( and the Reciprocal Research Network (, or initiatives providing inclusive community building and training opportunities, such as Michigan State University's Institute on Digital Archaeology's (Lynne Goldstein and Ethan Watrall) inclusion of participants at no cost (for students through to established researchers) and effort to build inclusive and equitable environments. The value of creating more platforms like these, and the explicit outlining of inclusive policies, should not be underestimated, making space for more diverse scholars, encouraging equity and allyship among all participants, and putting pressure on more traditional publication venues and institutions to transform their own practices. At the same time, these initiatives take time, effort, and funding. Often working above and beyond their typical duties, the individuals creating these support platforms also take on incredible weight, stress, and risk. Those responsibilities and the service provided by these pioneering communities and their value to building inclusivity should not go unrecognized, but rather must be acknowledged and protected in their own right.

The Dark Side of Disruption

While these projects serve as markers of active disruption and points of inspiration, it is the people behind them and their experiences of moving through these worlds of archaeology, technology, academia, and beyond that highlight how far we still have to go. Notably, a growing archive of documented harassment and abuse (cf. Clancy, Reference Clancy, Nelson, Rutherford and Hinde2014; Nelson et al., Reference Nelson, Rutherford, Hinde and Clancy2017) is only just beginning to hint at the widespread challenges and emotional toll that targeted members of the archaeological community continue to face. It is true that structures of discrimination, intimidation, and harassment have an unconscionably long history in archaeology, including in the specialization of digital archaeology. Ruth Tringham, for instance, in her discussion of ‘Dead Women Do Tell Tales’ and earlier web-based work, notes that ‘without the support of Meg Conkey, Janet Spector, and Rosemary Joyce, I might have been discouraged from this endeavour in the resistant atmosphere of the early 1990s’ (Tringham, Reference Tringham, Van Dyke and Bernbeck2015: 29). Why is it different now? Because technology, contrary to the hopes that it would enhance and overcome human limitations, has in fact opened the door wider for abuse via the Web, particularly for individuals and groups that were already at risk. The publicness of archaeology on the Web has attracted a great deal of attention and developed a global reach, but this can be a double-edged sword. The emphasis that is placed today on sharing personal histories, developing an individual profile, and being a ‘public face’, coupled with the ease with which personal information, including contact details, can be acquired online is a dangerous combination. It is particularly accentuated by the degree to which we remain connected to the Internet at all times through mobile devices, applications and automated notifications. Abusers and harassers can reach individuals at all times. Finally, the interplay of public and private online communications (Perry, Reference Perry2014: 81–82) lends itself to manipulation, allowing individuals to remain publicly friendly or polite and privately abusive, or even to use public communications to incite widespread harassment.

Martin (Reference Martin2017), considering the position of women in makerspaces, outlines the ways in which persistence in tech-dominated fields brings out both subtle and overt forms of discrimination and abuse, ranging from ‘suspicion’ that women are not actually the masterminds behind innovative digital products, to more direct forms of public harassment and defamation via social media or blatant exclusion from events. Similarly, Dennis (Reference Dennis2016) has drawn attention to the significant issue of ‘problematic participants’ in gaming culture, which includes ‘elements of misogyny, white supremacy, and anti-intellectualism’, and manifests itself in targeted online abuse and even escalating to offline harassment. Most recently, Geraldine DeRuiter's effort to study online abusers through interviews demonstrated the complexity of the psyche of online abusers and the resulting volatility of hate, misogyny and harassment online but also that:

‘while we regard online misogyny and abuse of women as something wholly separate and different from its so-called “real-world” counterparts, these are all components of the same system. We dismiss sexual harassment that happens on the internet in the exact same way that we dismiss sexual harassment that happens face-to-face, even though these experiences are often just as bad—if not worse—for the victim, often due to the mechanics of the anonymity of the internet.’ (DeRuiter, Reference DeRuiter2018)

Particularly concerning is the system of teaching victims of online and offline abuse to believe that they brought the abuse upon themselves and, therefore, to willingly put up with further damage to themselves. After recording high levels of inappropriate digital engagement, Perry (Reference Perry2014: 82–84) draws attention to the lack of recourse or means of protection, with corresponding low rates of reporting and rare institutional support, despite many institutions now mandating public and private digital engagement. This is critical to any discussion promoting digital archaeology for public engagement, networking, and dissemination. Whether it is in official commissions of such work or through more subtle promotion of the ethos of community-engaged scholarship (which also has its own problematic history of inequity and responsibility placed on women, indigenous scholars, people of colour, etc.), if no form of support or protection (despite well documented abuse and danger) is offered, then it knowingly puts these individuals in danger, expects self-sacrifice and risk on their part only, and in turn profits from it. This should never have been acceptable and addressing these risks must be a priority in future for every single individual or institution associated with archaeology and heritage.

Conclusion: The Collateral Damage of Transhumanism

‘We have the right to a safe, secure and non-threatening working and living environment. We do not tolerate any form of discriminatory, abusive, aggressive, harassing, threatening, sexually—or physically-intimidating, or related problematic behaviours that compromise the wellbeing, equality, security or dignity of other human beings.’ (Perry, Reference Perry2018)

Without risk, there is no reward. The person who risks nothing does nothing. When we risk going too far, we discover how far we can go. In today's era of motivational speak, risk has been singularly rebranded as a badge of honour. In turn, risk is considered a cornerstone of art, innovation, creativity, and ultimately, change. Perhaps ironically, then, it is the #MeToo, Idle No More, and Black Lives Matter movements, among others, that have shone a light on the dark underbelly of taking chances: the demand for individuals to step forward and share their voice paints targets on the already vulnerable and marginalized for fear- and anger-filled hate and aggression, repeatedly and relentlessly beating down the voices of change. Often forced to choose between the long-term, abstract risk of doing nothing (and, therefore, nothing ever changing for the better) and the immediate and often personal risk of trying to confront the system, the individuals leading the charge of these movements, in the name of equity, security, and inclusivity, face harassment, abuse, suspicion, imprisonment, and violence. This has been part of the growing critique of positive thinking, this ‘mass delusion’ (Ehrenreich, Reference Ehrenreich2010: 13) centred on personal responsibility, where hard work leads to success and poor choices lead to failure, rather than recognizing the true force and pervasiveness of underlying structural conditions (Halberstam, Reference Halberstam2011).

This is perhaps the greatest flaw in transhuman and posthuman philosophies: the unflinching commitment to technology and science to evolve beyond human conflicts and limitations fails to protect humans now, risking the creation of greater fissures rather than making progress. The digital has reformulated the ways in which we engage with the past and produce knowledge in the present, but we have taken many steps backward much faster than the individuals cited above (and many others) have clawed their way forward to envision the past in new ways through creativity, making, and inclusivity. It would be easy to present this as a narrative of ‘no risk, no reward’. However, the number of individuals who contribute so much in the name of diversity, and who are now reaching their breaking points—having battled misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and every other brand of hatred possible, for too long and in too high a concentration (thanks to the Internet)—must be taken as a serious warning for the ways in which we put people in the firing line to try to repair what was already broken and what the digital has, at the very least, augmented. The challenge for everyone, and it will need everyone, including those who have benefitted for so long from the privileges afforded to them, will be how to invest in better protections, buffers, and reformulate our approach to digital scholarship. These efforts need to be bolstered and amplified by more funding, more platforms for dissemination, more institutional support, more regulation, and perhaps most importantly, more respect and acknowledgement of the truth of abuse when reported.

There is nothing new in this statement, it is echoed across the Web, in tweets and blogs, and increasingly in policy statements and organizational missions. And while all these elements are indeed needed, are they radical enough to confront decades of technological evolution that has opened the Pandora's box of discrimination, hate, and abuse? The greatest progress appears to lie in the alternative platforms that have emerged, as described above, to make space and valorise disruptions to mainstream and traditional archaeologies. These do indeed require a great deal of labour, but at least the labour is not profiting commercial interests (i.e. publishers and corporate presses). If we all commit to reading and citing these platforms first, in addition to participating, offering our time, labour, and perspectives as a priority over traditional and very broken systems of dissemination, there is hope for a transformation in the value, security, reward, and allyship to confront targeted oppression and systemic ‘othering’. This should be coupled with means to protect and shelter at-risk voices, such as by mediating, blocking, or even not permitting comments, but also by valuing and recognizing that what is often branded as ‘academic kindness’ is in fact the threads that will weave empathy, respect, collegiality, and indeed humanity back into the trans- or posthuman future of archaeology. The future will be digital, but it will only be diverse and inclusive if, together, we make it so. The stubbornly DIY mentality that has come to characterize digital archaeology powered by and for inclusion and diversity emerged out of structures of inclusion and inequity but addressing the true crisis of scholarship endangering scholars today must be a Do-It-Collectively priority.


1 This article comes from a queer, feminist, cis-female, white, settler perspective, a position that holds a great deal of privilege. While I highlight and honour Indigenous, black, trans, and other diverse voices, I neither wish to speak over nor appropriate their words or experiences. At times, this discussion is, therefore, weighted more heavily towards queer, feminist theory, but I emphasize the importance of the cited literature to truly explore and support diverse perspectives in (digital) archaeology.

2 Risk includes, but is not limited to, interconnected professional risks (in education and training, employment and career progression, with economic, personal and social implications) and personal risks (mental/physical health, well-being, safety), through exclusion, discrimination, harassment, abuse, assault, hate crimes, etc. This article uses ‘risk’ to encapsulate all these facets, as they often come as a package, but, where relevant, will specify which facet of risk in particular is at work.


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Figure 0

Figure 1. Conceptual art for ‘Built on Bones’, an augmented reality app to draw attention to the dark legacies of colonialism by augmenting contemporary cities with the bones of the past (Cook, 2017).

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