The Dalrymple Lectures

This prestigious lecture series was instituted by James Dalrymple Gray of Dalrymple. He was born in July 1852 in Newcastle – upon – Tyne to the Reverend Thomas Gray and his wife Mary Dalrymple. He later assumed his mother’s family name when, on the death of his uncle, he succeeded to the estates belonging to the family. He studied law at both Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, and subsequently practised in Glasgow.James Dalrymple Gray

In 1877 he became the honorary Secretary of Glasgow Archaeological Society which was in decline at that time. With the help of others he succeeded in reinvigorating the Society and held the post of Secretary for some 25 years. He introduced the regular monthly meeting on the third Thursday of the month (a practice still in force today) and often presented papers on a range of topics, particularly castles and churches. He became President of the Society in 1904.

In 1908 he instituted the Dalrymple Lectureship in Archaeology in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Society. By means of a generous bequest in his will he ensured its continuation to this day. The subject of the lectures was to be ‘some branch of European archaeology’.

The annual Dalrymple Lectures have been given by many of the most distinguished figures in 20th and 21st century archaeology and is administered by a committee of Curators drawn from the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Archaeological Society.

Dalrymple Lecture Series 2023-24

Wicked Problems for Archaeologists: Can archaeology help us solve the world's most urgent challenges?  

Hosted by the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Archaeological Society, The Dalrymple Lecture series for 2023-2024 will be delivered by Professor John Schofield, Director of Studies in Cultural Heritage Management in the Archaeology Department at the University of York (UK).

The four evening lectures in this series will be delivered from 18-21 March 2024 in the Sir Charles Wilson Building at the University of Glasgow (18, 19, 21 March) and Boyd Orr lecture theatre A (20 March). All lectures begin at 6.30pm with doors opening half an hour before each lecture starts. These lectures will be free for all to attend, fully accessible, with BSL and hearing loops available.


The Lectures 

This lecture series will explore how archaeology can help us tackle some of the world's most urgent and complex challenges, or ‘wicked problems’. Wicked problems are those that have many interdependent factors and seem impossible to solve. Examples include climate change, poverty, and social injustice. Archaeologists have a unique perspective on human history and culture, which can be invaluable for addressing wicked problems. By studying how past societies have responded to challenges such as climate change and environmental degradation, we can gain valuable insights into how to address them today. Equally, by participating in archaeological and heritage activities, we can improve people’s health and wellbeing and social cohesion, factors which often underlie other wicked problems. This lecture series is based on the speaker's new book on this topic. Like the book, these lectures aim to provoke and inspire people to think about archaeology and heritage in new ways, recognizing their potential to play an important and distinct role in finding ‘small wins’ solutions to these wicked problems. Small wins are incremental successes that can help to build momentum and progress towards solving a wicked problem. They can be as simple as raising awareness of a problem, developing new tools and technologies, demonstrating good practice, or changing public perceptions. 

Lecture 1: Archaeology and the Wicked Problems we Face

Monday 18 March 2024 at 6.30pm in the Sir Charles Wilson Building

In which I define wicked problems and small wins, and explain what they have to do with archaeology.  


The ten defining characteristics of Wicked Problems. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In this first lecture, I introduce some of the terms and ideas that I will be using in this lecture series and explain how they have been used in the past. For example, what are wicked problems, what makes them wicked, and why is this a suitable framework for addressing the purpose and potential of archaeology? Similarly for small wins: what are small wins and how might they translate into archaeology and heritage practice? This lecture will also discuss the role and purpose of archaeology in the contemporary world, emphasising that archaeology is a vital subject relative to global challenges given the deep-time perspective it brings to key topics that I will discuss later in the series. I will suggest that archaeologists have some very specific skills and perspectives that give them a strong position when discussing wicked problems. Finally, I introduce the suggestion that archaeology needs policy entrepreneurs to promote the results of archaeological research in ways that will help society to better understand and mitigate these wicked problems. 

Lecture 2: Archaeology and the Fight for Planetary Health 

Tuesday 19 March 2024 at 6.30pm in Sir Charles Wilson Building

In which I focus on how archaeology can help mitigate risks related to planetary health, and why we need to present this knowledge more effectively and to new audiences if we are to make a difference. 


The archaeology of plastic waste, on a beach, in a museum. This display at V&A Dundee was part of the ‘Plastic: Remaking our World’ exhibition. Like all plastic waste, every object has a story and that story will always involve people. This is what also defines archaeology. (Photo: John Schofield)

Climate change and environmental pollution are two of the biggest threats facing our planet. But what can archaeology do to help? In this lecture, we'll explore how archaeologists are using their knowledge of the past to mitigate risks to planetary health and present this knowledge to new audiences. We'll start by looking at the extent to which archaeology has engaged with climate change and environmental pollution. We'll see how archaeologists are studying past human responses to climate change and environmental degradation, and how they're using this information to develop solutions for the present day. Then, we'll take a broad view of planetary health, drawing on examples from around the world. We'll see how archaeologists are working to protect coastal sites from erosion, studying the impact of pollution on communities, and using their findings to promote sustainable development. To conclude the lecture, we'll look at the various ways in which archaeologists can play a central role in improving planetary health. We'll see how they can collaborate with other disciplines, engage with policymakers, and communicate their findings to the public. 

Lecture 3: Archaeological Perspectives on Social Injustice 

Wednesday 20 March 2024 at 6.30pm in the Boyd Orr Lecture Theatre A

In which I switch my attention to how archaeology can help mitigate risks to human health and help overcome social injustice and how, as archaeologists, we should be more willing and better able to engage diverse audiences, and especially those with the most to gain. 


Archaeology addresses health and wellbeing. Here an archaeologist teaches an Operation Nightingale veteran how to draw features at Dunch Hill, Salisbury Plain, as part of their rehabilitation. (Photo: Harvey Mills Photography).

In this lecture, we'll explore how archaeology can be used to mitigate risks to human health, overcome social injustice, and engage diverse audiences. We'll start with a definition of social injustice and look at some of the ways it has been researched and managed. We'll also see how social injustice overlaps with other wicked problems, such as health and wellbeing, and climate change. Then, we'll look at some specific examples of how archaeology has been used to address social injustice. We'll see how archaeologists have worked with communities to uncover and document their history, and how they've used their findings to promote social justice and equity. Finally, we'll talk about how archaeologists can be more willing and better able to engage diverse audiences, especially those with the most to gain. 

Lecture 4: What does the Future Hold for Archaeology? 

Thursday 21 March 2024 at 6.30pm in the Sir Charles Wilson Building 

In which I suggest that archaeology needs to completely change its outlook and focus if it is to become more relevant and share the centre-field in helping to resolve wicked problems.  


Interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to help resolve Wicked Problems. Creative collaboration is the best way to achieve small wins. In both situations, archaeology is well placed to achieve success. In this way, archaeologists can be superheroes. (Image: Dean Trippe, from Nature 2015).

In this final lecture, we'll draw together the ideas we've covered in this series and explore some alternative approaches and frameworks for archaeological and heritage research and practice. For example, a missions approach focuses on using archaeology to address real-world problems, such as climate change or social injustice. Creative approaches can involve collaborating with artists, filmmakers, and other creative professionals to bring archaeological stories to life in new and innovative ways. And when it comes to putting these ideas into practice, we can borrow frameworks from other disciplines, such as the Doughnut Economics model or the Rainbow Model. Both of these frameworks are designed to help create a more sustainable and equitable future. But none of this will happen without an understanding of leadership, and without some degree of activism. So we'll also talk about the role that archaeologists can play in influencing policy and shaping the world that we want to live in, and how to educate our students in ways that ensure that they can contribute to resolving wicked problems. The futures of archaeology and of wicked problems are closely entangled. By bringing these subjects closer together, we can use our skills and perspectives as archaeologists to help build a better future. 

Biography of the lecturer

Speaker John Schofield, inspecting Sex Pistols graffiti and artworks, at 6 Denmark Street, London. (Photo: Ian Martindale)

Professor John Schofield is Director of Studies in Cultural Heritage Management in the Archaeology Department at the University of York (UK). He also holds adjunct positions at Griffith and Flinders universities (Australia), and is Docent in Contemporary Archaeology and Cultural Heritage at the University of Turku (Finland). John is a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, a Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Humanities Academy, a member of the Punk Scholars Network, and a Member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists. He has previously served as Executive Editor of the Taylor and Francis journal World Archaeology

Following a PhD in prehistoric archaeology at Southampton University, John spent 21 years in policy, heritage protection and research leadership with English Heritage (now Historic England), one of the UK’s lead heritage agencies. During this time he developed an active research interest in contemporary archaeology as well as recognising the wider societal benefits to be achieved through cultural heritage and archaeology. John was then appointed to the University of York in 2010, going on to serve as Head of Archaeology from 2012-2018. Recent projects and publications represent collaboration across diverse disciplines including marine biology, music, health sciences and public policy. John has ten authored books and fifteen edited books, alongside over 150 peer-reviewed papers and chapters. His research has taken him to Australia, the American Midwest and the South Pacific, amongst many other places. The content of John’s latest book, ‘Wicked Problems for Archaeologists’, is the subject of this year’s Dalrymple Lectures.  

John Tweets as @JohnSchofYork, and DJs as Unofficial: Hippocampus when time allows.