Peter Gould

Putting the Past to Work: Archaeology, Community Institutions, and Economic Development

Archaeology today is a dialog about the meaning of the past to contemporary society, about the presentation of the past to audiences today, and increasingly about the very tangible value of the past to enhancing the lives and livelihoods of communities that are affected by archaeological research and heritage tourism. I am interested in the potential of archaeological and heritage sites to serve as catalysts for the economic development of the communities in which they lie. In a developing world impacted by globalization, archaeological and heritage resources often are the most substantial “assets” of spiritual or economic value remaining to impoverished communities. In other regions, those resources are often exploited for national gain at the expense of local residents. Archaeologists and specialists in heritage are positioned to impact local communities in important and positive ways even as they pursue more narrow academic inquiries. The motivating question for me is how best to realize this potential. Archaeologists regularly sponsor projects that support local communities, both culturally and economically. Examples include field museums, craft ventures, and tourist experiences of various stripes, each of which often is created in the hope that the local community will not only support but manage the venture. The objective of my research is to understand why some community-managed projects survive and prosper for many years while others fail. My expectation is that, if they are to survive for more than a few years, projects will tend to exhibit similar high-level patterns of organization that enable communities to resolve economic, social and political conflicts in order to achieve mutually-beneficial ends. The theoretical underpinnings for this research are found in studies of institutional effectiveness and organization drawn from the disciplines of economics and political science, particularly the study of common pool resources. A practical result of this research should be a better understanding for archaeologists and heritage professionals of how to go about sponsoring community projects.


Research Directory

Educational background

  • BA, Economics, Swarthmore College, 1973
  • MLA, Globalization, University of Pennsylvania, 2010

Governance Matters: Why Institutional Design is Key to the Success of Community Organizations, a presentation to the Society for Museum Archaeologists Annual Conference, Bristol, UK, November 4, 2011

  • The community artisan market at the Inca ceremonial site of Raqchi, Peru
  • Burren Centre, Kilfenora, Ireland

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