modern

9.7 Research Recommendations

Future research should:

  1. Link past, present and future in an explicit and critical manner. Recognising that the modern past has a particular resonance in the present - as the exploration of the direct origins of that present, research should go beyond the search for knowledge and understanding of the past to investigate relationships between that past, the present and the future.
  2. Develop a sound understanding of modern-period archaeology as a scholarly pursuit and as a social and political practice. Archaeology itself, as a modern way of knowing the past, is an important topic for research. In the present context, particular emphasis can be placed on the need for further creative and critical research revealing and understanding the character and history of archaeological engagements with the modern past and present. This research will be crucial for the development of a sounder understanding of the developing role of archaeology in the modern world.
  3. Provide insights into the ways in which the modern past is presented and represented in the present. Understandings of the modern past are communicated in numerous ways and, through research, it is possible to understand how particular versions of this past are created, disseminated and promoted, how interpretation of the modern past changes from context to context and how the present and future are contested through different representations of the past.
  4. Evidence and interpret popular understandings of and engagements with the modern past, particularly its material aspect. Research in this field should consider the character and meaning of the recent past from the point of view of different constituencies, complementing research into national narratives concerning the recent past with understanding of the significance and meaning of the recent past for different communities within and beyond Scotland.
  5. Critically review public engagement practices in modern-world archaeology and develop new modes of public-professional collaboration. Community and public engagement have emerged and continue to develop as important aspects of modern archaeological practice. Professional-public relationships have firmly moved beyond the one-way dissemination of information to more active forms of engagement and collaboration. Yet, this development in practice has not been accompanied by sufficient research and debate surrounding the philosophies, politics and practices of public and community engagement, at least not in the particular contexts of Scotland and the archaeology of its modern past. Research is needed to develop fuller and deeper understandings of the character, consequences, possibilities and problems of public--professional relationships in relation to the recent past. Research is needed to generate practices through which archaeology can make positive interventions in the world.
  6. Evidence and understand the politics of the recent past, particularly as related to the material aspects of that past. Investigations of the origins of the present and of those other modern ways of life which came to an end on the way to the present are inevitably bound up with questions about the nature, legitimacy and direction of social, environmental and political matters. More research is needed to evidence and understand the politics of the recent past, the ways in which particular historical narratives are created, maintained and transformed and the ways in which reflection on the past, engendered by archaeology and other material historical disciplines, can contribute new perspectives on the present as a means of envisioning the future.
  7. Advance knowledge and understanding of the moral and ethical views held by professionals and members of the public in relation to the archaeology of the recent past. Given that the archaeology of the modern past informs understandings of the present and feeds debate about the future; given that archaeologists work with the material remains (and human remains) of recently-living communities; and given that archaeologists interact with others in conducting their work, ethics must be a central issue for future research. Research is needed which reveals and investigates the moral or ethical attitudes of different constituencies towards the telling of recent history and towards the material and human remains which have come down to the present from the recent past. This research should provide evidenced, considered and critical understandings of professional and public attitudes on moral or ethical matters in this area.
  8. Embed processes of ethical reflection and beneficial action into archaeological practice. Ethics is not just a subject for researchers to study but something which should be built into the very doing of archaeology. Researchers and practitioners should be encouraged and supported to engage in an ongoing process of critical ethical reflection and action in relation to their practice. Research is needed which provides a sound and deep foundation for ethical reflection and action, by revealing and promoting understanding of the interests which are potentially relevant in particular circumstances and by indicating and actively developing approaches to the application of ethical principles, including new participatory and collaborative modes of working in archaeology. Research practice should connect the creation of knowledge about the past with the pursuit and realisation of social, environmental and other benefits in the present and for the future.

In all of the above, the over-arching aim should be to further understanding of our relationships with the modern past and to link past, present and future in an explicit, ethical and active manner.

9.6 The ethics of modern-world archaeology

The archaeology of the modern past informs understanding of the present and debate about the future. The recent past is a matter of public knowledge and interest and archaeologists interact with others in the construction, interpretation and presentation of this past. Given this, ethics is a central issue for research relating to the modern past.

This is partly a matter of researching the moral or ethical attitudes of different constituencies towards the telling of recent history and towards the material remains which have come down from the recent past. Research can provide evidenced, nuanced, considered and critical understandings of professional and public attitudes on moral and ethical matters. What explicit and implicit values and principles do archaeologists adhere to in practising their craft? What values are held by different public constituencies in relation to modern artefacts, human remains, places and landscapes, and in relation to the manner in which archaeologists and others engage with these things? Crucially, research can consider these questions in context, through in-depth case study analyses which draw out the assumptions and values which take form in particular circumstances and through considerations of the manner in which specific situations are handled.

Researchers and practitioners must engage in an ongoing process of critical reflection and action in relation to their own practice. In common with all the other ScARF panels, the Modern Panel recognises that the practice of archaeology has real consequences in the world and therefore recognises the need for appropriately reflective and ethical practice. A number of Codes of Ethics for archaeology have been drawn up in recent decades including the  World Archaeological Congress Code of Ethics, the Institute for Archaeologists Code of Conduct, the European Association of Archaeologists Code of Practice and many others. Guidelines and rules dealing with archaeological responsibilities vis-à-vis the treatment of human remains, looted artefacts or those of insecure provenance, the global antiquities trade, and professional standards and relationships with colleagues and employers are the principle areas of attention, along with a general responsibility towards safeguarding or preserving the archaeological record. In the context of the archaeology of the recent past in Scotland, some areas are likely to be more significant than others. While dealing with looted artefacts is not a major problem, the treatment of human remains is a more pressing issue, not least because public feelings are often more intense when dealing with recent-period burials. As discussed above, the recent past is also bound up with matters of self and society (identity, community, politics and so on) and archaeological practice therefore frequently enters into relationships with the interests of others. Other areas of particular concern are the current vogue for popular genetics and the participation of archaeologists in development projects which may have detrimental environmental impacts. And there are recurrent tensions, in museums and out in the field, between economic, social, cultural and spiritual uses and meanings of the archaeology of the modern past (e.g. Ambrose 1989).

There can be a tendency to equate ethical practice in such areas with adherence to codes of proscribed and prescribed behaviours, such as those listed above. However, any set of rules is unlikely to be flexible and sensitive enough to deal with the complexity and contextuality of practising modern-era archaeology. Archaeologists should be encouraged to reflect on the political and ethical contexts of their work and in that way to be alive to the interests of multiple others. Colleagues are advised to engage in ongoing discussion of ethical implications of their work, to seek consensus and in cases of genuine disagreement to work towards negotiated solutions which do not compromise their core ethical values. In all this, research can provide a sound and deep foundation for ethical reflection and action, by revealing and promoting understanding the interests which are potentially relevant in particular circumstances and by indicating and actively developing approaches to the application of ethical principles, including new collaborative modes of working.