Archaeology as Transgender Activism

Project Team: Owen J Hurcum, Colleen Morgan (Supervisor) and Emma Waterton (Supervisor)

Project Support and Funding: AHRC (White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities)

This PhD project will examine the impact that archaeology has on the transgender community, and how – in line with understanding our discipline as political and potentially transformative – archaeology can become a tool for transgender activism. Further, the project will demonstrate the feasibility of trans theory as a research framework for archaeological study, namely how transgender theories of gender can improve our understanding of past societies by challenging a priori cisnormative assumptions that ultimately hinder our ability to fully explore identity making and lifeways of past cultures. This research will consider the following key questions to achieve this aim:
  • How has archaeology been (ab)used, both by the public and professionals, in relation to debates surrounding transgender rights and dignities and what is the impact of this upon the transgender community?
  • What challenges are faced by transgender individuals within academic and commercial archaeology and what steps does our discipline need to take to address these?
  • What can transgender theories of gender tell us about personhood and how can these be integrated into our archaeological framework?
This project will undertake extensive qualitative analysis of transgender experiences within and of archaeology, through workshops, surveys, and interviews to generate a large data set that can be used to ascertain the issues that our discipline creates for the transgender community. On top of this, the project will look at transphobic invocations of archaeology in (social) media – such as the infamous ‘when an archaeologist excavates your bones then you’ll either be a man or a woman’ meme that is often sent to transgender individuals in an attempt to invalidate and undermine their gender. The projecting will also build upon the work of queer and feminist archaeologies that highlight the political power archaeology has in creating normatives that are used to attack and disenfranchise minority groups in the present. From all of this, and through an emancipatory archaeological lense, the project will be able to answer its key research questions and be a key body of work in the growing field of transgender archaeology. 
Sustainable Development Goals: