The Archaeology of the Digital Periphery

Computer Mice and the Archaeology of the Early Digital Era


  • Gareth Beale University of Glasgow
  • John Schofield University of York
  • Jim Austin University of York



computer mouse, digital technology, material culture, personal computer


The computer mouse is one of the most familiar artefacts of the developed world to have been devised in the late twentieth century. The essential form remains the same as when it was first invented, but during this time the mouse has transformed our physical interaction with and perception of computers. With increased attention being paid to curating and collecting technologies of the contemporary world, and within the context of an archaeological research culture that extends to the contemporary, an archaeological examination of this ubiquitous object appeared timely. There are millions - if not billions - of mice in circulation, including models that are now outdated or obsolete. Despite their apparent uniformity they differ in significant ways, and examination of these differences can help us to understand human experiences of technology in ways that resonate with artefact types of much earlier periods. With that time depth in mind, this paper will therefore focus on the form and function of the computer mouse and its place in the contemporary imagination. This will be followed by a detailed study of five specific examples which together illustrate some of the key issues and challenges that face us, as archaeologists and curators.


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Author Biographies

Gareth Beale, University of Glasgow

Gareth Beale is a lecturer in Digital Archaeology at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include representations of archaeology in digital and analogue media and archaeologies of the Modern era”. Address for correspondence: School of Humanities, Gregory Building, Lilybank Gardens, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.

John Schofield, University of York

John Schofield is Head of Archaeology and Director of Studies in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of York, Docent in Archaeology at the University of Turku (Finland), Senior Research Fellow at Flinders and Adjunct Professor at Griffith University (both Australia). His research interests include archaeologies of the contemporary world and cultural heritage. Address for correspondence: Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King's Manor, York, YO1 7EP, UK.

Jim Austin, University of York

Jim Austin is Head of Research Group at the Department of Computer Science at the University of York. He is also an avid collector of vintage computers, having one of the largest collections in the UK. Address for correspondence: Department of Computer Science, University of York, Deramore Lane, York, YO10 5GH, UK.


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How to Cite

Beale, G., Schofield, J., & Austin, J. (2019). The Archaeology of the Digital Periphery: Computer Mice and the Archaeology of the Early Digital Era. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 5(2), 154–173.