Ethics and values

This page outlines the aims of the Avebury Papers project concerning the team’s approach to ethical questions. It lays out guiding values that will shape our decision making and practical processes. Here we draw together discussions which have taken place digitally and in person, with consensus reached over final wording amongst the team members (Mark Gillings, Colleen Morgan, Ben Chan, Fran Allfrey, and Ros Cleal). Team members may propose edits to these values at any time, with further discussion to reach consensus. This is therefore a living document, taking advantage of the updatable possibilities of digital text. Previous published versions will be stored alongside new iterations, in an effort to remain transparent and accountable.

We hope that an explicit ethics and values statement contributes to making Avebury’s archive open and accessible: serving as a reminder that the digital archive was not born digital, and that a variety of curatorial, interpretive, technological, imaginative, and institutional processes will shape its creation, organisation, presentation, and use. We hope it manifests our duty of care to each other and to all our collaborators. We are inspired by the ethics and values statements shared by previous research projects – especially Other Eyes and Unpath’d Waters – and by developments in decolonial, collaborative, co-productive archival practices.

In addition to the principles outlined here, this research project will comply with all ethical requirements laid out by Bournemouth University, the University of York, and National Trust, with regards to data protection, health and safety, public engagement, and collaborative working with staff, volunteers, and students.

Guiding ideals

Is this your first visit to Avebury?” asks Doris Keiller’s 1939 invitation to explore Avebury, and its archive provides a starting point for the Avebury Papers project. The most fundamental ethos of the project is one of openness and welcome.

We approach Avebury and its archive as a network, where assemblages, clusters, and circles (of people, ideas, questions, things, and concepts) emerge, produce, and are entangled with each other. Like the Avebury stone circles, we envisage circles as organising structures which both contain and enable movement, and invite various pathways.

The Avebury we imagine and hope to represent in the archive is a peopled place, both in the recent and distant past. We are committed to remembering, honouring, and respecting people in the past by making archival materials accessible, and foregrounding the efforts, ingenuity and originality of the work that this archive is built around. We aspire to facilitate a critical interrogation of the archive by finding and sharing stories about who has made Avebury what it is today which have been under-represented or overlooked.

We will strive to be open and transparent regarding how we decide what is included in the digital archive; how people, artefacts, papers, and texts are digitally represented; and how information and assets have been produced. In doing so, we hope that we will destabilise or at the very least enable the interrogation of our role – and the role of archivists and contributors from the past – in the creation of Avebury narratives. We seek to make explicit our interpretive and organisational strategies, explaining the methods and effects of digital photography, laboratory investigation, and metadata creation, clarifying how our interpretations are based on varied forms of engagement and enquiry, without privileging one form of knowledge over another. 

We seek to invite exploration without being prescriptive. We believe that getting lost can be as exhilarating as eventually finding one’s way. The geography and geosophy of an archive – the lay of the land, the limits, weave and texture – is as important as what it contains. We will experiment with ways of archiving materiality and phenomenological experience: the digital archive should attempt to remember, replicate, or echo experiences of exploring the physical archive.

We recognise that even as we aspire to open up Avebury, our interventions will necessarily reproduce some hierarchical structures and ways of working. However, we hope to give the next generation of researchers a firm foundation to build on. This should be one that enables variety, giving wishful and open access to Avebury’s rich archive, making Avebury approachable, and making explicit invitations for participation and reuse. We hope the archive will be used to make work that we could never dream up!

We hope the archive will embody Spinozan joy: enabling people to become capable of new things, with others. We seek to inspire a multiplicity of readings of and engagements with Avebury, but we will actively work against those readings that work to inhibit the rights of others: challenging any and all forms of exclusionary belief. Let’s question not only the patriarchy, but all overt hierarchy.

We seek to tell and encourage stories that provoke reflection on what makes Avebury the place it is today. Avebury is globally important as a neolithic site, and the afterlife of Avebury – what people have made of Avebury across 5000 years to the present, and what role it will play for people in the future – are all equally important parts of Avebury’s biography. 

Specific ethical considerations

Human remains. This project includes both the analysis and presentation of human remains. Human remains will only be handled by the specialist research team and curators, and will be photographed and made available as images, metadata, and human-readable text description according to principles of respect for the dead. 

Materials produced by past people. The archive holds objects and texts produced by past people across a 5,000 year time span, especially from the neolithic period and 20th century. Some of these 20th century materials represent patriarchal, colonial, or racist ideas. We will seek to explain their potential for harm, contextualising without excusing their possible intentions and effects, with a view to inviting further interpretations. We cannot know whether all the makers and contributors of materials held in the archive would want their notes and letters to be digitised. However, when the materials were deposited they were done so with the understanding that they would be publicly available. Digitising and narrativising these materials brings them to a wider audience. 

Authorship of intellectual property. All collaborators on the project are encouraged to publish work freely according to their interests, individually or collaboratively.

Relating to each other and to our collaborators. We commit to collaborating within the team and with all external staff, students, volunteers, and users in open, imaginative, and honest ways. Most of all, we will work in a way that looks to avoid or mitigate possible harm for all participants, by planning what information we share and how we share it, and planning how we will respond to friendly criticisms or more hostile responses to the project, its methods, and its communications. When inviting collaborations we will make explicit what they can expect regarding the extent of involvement, aims, and outcomes, and how collaborators can withdraw. We will seek to preserve within the digital archive itself the contributors of all collaborators on a consensus basis, with a roll call of participants, and all contributors able to write project blog posts.

Relating to archive users. We imagine a compact with the future, and hope that the digital archive will allow visitors, researchers, artists, enthusiasts, makers, and curious explorers to take what they need from the Avebury archive. This is balanced by our belief that the digital archive should facilitate people to make informed interpretations, to query simple narratives that seek to exclude others. We understand that Avebury holds emotional resonance for a variety of users, and an affective archive is an effective archive, that makes visible and facilitates further imaginative, emotional, and intellectual engagement with Avebury.

Harm reduction. We will create, add to, and share the digital archive in such a way as to avoid causing harm to project participants, collaborators, contributors, archive users, and the past people represented in the archive. A truly inclusive archive and archival practice must take zero tolerance towards any lack of inclusivity.

Version 1: Published 10 January 2023.

2 replies on “Ethics and values”

Fantastic! Thank you – I love your desire to be open and practise of openness, non-hierarchy and inclusivity. Naturally this means what you are doing beautifully – I could see from your presentation Avebury Chapel on Wednesday, 12th July – careful attention to context. Which means understanding and appreciating networks, nodes in networks, webs of points of view and threads of meaning. The spirit of Avebury Ancient and Now. Thank you all.

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