The role of the past in contemporary Britain, with special reference to archaeology and museums
The thesis explores ways in which public presentations of history and archaeology might be enjoyed by a wider audience than they are at present. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding cultural barriers that deter certain groups who are otherwise interested in the past. In order to do this it is necessary to understand the role of the past and of institutions such as museums in contemporary culture. A survey representative of all adults shows that, rather than being a commodity as some claim, the past is used in many different ways as a discourse about the present. In addition, claims that presentations of the past act as agents of the dominant ideology are unfounded because 'the dominated' tend not to go to them. As they have not been socialized into the 'code' of museum-visiting, they find the museum's image intimidating and exclude themselves. Archaeology itself suffers from an outdated and unclear image. Archaeological societies, like museums, are participated in predominantly by the better-educated and the affluent. Fieldwork is carried out by a wider range of people, but is perceived by the public to be in the same category as treasure-hunting. This is partly due to archaeology's image, and partly to the exclusion of amateurs from excavations. A study is then made of ways in which people who tend not to go to museums or participate in archaeology do gain their sense of the past, in order to discover ways in which these deterrents might be removed. It is found that most past-related activities are done by active heritage visitors. Those who tend not to participate in them gain their sense of the past in less tangible ways, through memories, family history and attachment to place. In conclusion, two different ways of experiencing the past are isolated, personal, and non-personal or 'heritage'. Participation in the latter is dominated by the better-educated and the affluent, who adopt it as part of a cultured lifestyle appropriate to their social position. Museum-visiting and membership of archaeological societies is emblematic of affiliation to this group. It will therefore not be possible for museums or societies to attract a totally representative audience. Museums are relatively 'open' institutions, however, so it will be possible to widen participation even further, and ways of achieving this are suggested.