Digital Engagement in Archaeology

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Clip from Digital Attica project: 2-evaluate, Swansea University

I have been attending the “Digital Engagement in Archaeology” conference at the Institute of Archaeology in London. There were some excellent papers, and constructive “tweetenvironment“. I was asked to chair one of the panels and to sum up today’s papers (along with Professor Gary Lock, School of Archaeology, Oxford University).

I had to reflect on audience. One of the things that I gained from my Swansea undergraduate and postgraduate students was that however good the technology was, if they could not see the value, then they would not be keen to use it. So we need to be pragmatic about how we use technology. My Swansea postgraduate students on my “Digital Antiquity” module made me realise that we have to anticipate changes in the technology. We need to learn how to evaluate and to apply to our research and our projects.

Mobile computing has changed. How many people at the conference would have had an iPad (or smartphone) a year (or two) ago? How did the virtual interactions enhance the papers? Did those tweets lead to (unexpected) face to face interactions? For example, I had a helpful discussion about authority and reliability of Twitter. Do we expect Twitter to be “reliable” – or does it point us to reliable Web 2.0 sites?

Open Access was a major theme with a very positive presentation from Ubiquity Press who publish Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. Will future REF exercises insist on Open Access? There was related discussion about IPR, not least over the publication of e-offprints on personal websites.

There were great insights into the use of social media, in particular Facebook, to engage with archaeological projects. Those interested in crowdsourcing and crowdfunding should look at the DigVentures project at Flag Fen.

On a final note I was struck with the inspirational quality of the “Adopt-a-Monument” scheme from Archaeology Scotland. It brought the best of Web 2.0 and community archaeology together.

Are archaeologists creating digital environments and engaging with new audiences? The workshop clearly showed that they are.

When is the next meeting?

Advocacy for “Counter-tourism”

I have been much taken with the approach of Phil Smith (alias Crab Man) in the recently published ‘Counter Tourism: a handbook‘.  I am brave enough to admit to a little academic jealousy here, as it is a book I rather wish I had written, as I have a habit of looking at sites the ‘wrong way’, or from angles that shouldn’t normally interest the visitor.  I can always be found taking pictures of the interpretation panels, closely looking at the uniforms worn by site stewards, and undertaking a mental archaeological excavation of the visible remnants of interpretation and visitor management schemes.  I am hoping to work the latter into something slightly more formal, as the modern archaeology of visitor management leaves a very tangible reminder of how sites continue to have dynamic lives after becoming supposedly static heritage sites.

Smith approaches the visit to heritage sites in a creative response / reaction mode, against the management of visitors by site managers, which in many cases for operational management purposes are expected to conform within the relevant authorised heritage discourse (cf. Laurajane Smith writing in ‘The Uses of Heritage‘).  Organisations such as the National Trust are making great efforts to allow and encourage multiple engagements and interpretations of the site for the complex audiences which it attracts, but this pushes Smith towards further subversion via his counter-tourism approach.  This has gained some traction via the website and facebook page.  An interesting and thoughtful exploration of the relationship between the advocates of the Crab Man approach and ‘managers’ of sites comes at the end of the handbook, and is great way into thinking about the interplay between site operational management and site interpretation and presentation.  Other artistic responses to sites can be seen to have similarities – the works of Slinkachu which was displayed at Belsay Hall in the Extraordinary Measures show a couple of years ago come to mind.

Heritage Poetry

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The Phoenix Mine and The Hurlers © Caroline Gill

Tomorrow (Tuesday, 6 November 2012) will see the Ipswich launch of Caroline Gill’s poetry chapbook, The Holy Place, at Arlington’s in Museum Street at 7.00 pm. (Arlington’s was originally the home of the Ipswich Museum before it moved up the hill.) She will be reading her prize-winning poem, ‘The Figure at the Phoenix Mine’, based on the World Heritage site around Minions Moor, Cornwall. She will also be reading ‘The Ceilidh House’, inspired by the Skye Museum of Island Life.

All welcome to the launch! (£3 for Poetry Café funds.)

“Made at Fitz”: Post-modern Geometric Greek-style art

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Attic Geometric amphora, Athens, National Museum © David Gill

How do you explore decorating a rounded, three-dimensional object? What can inspire you? The Cambridge ‘Not praising, burying‘ workshop drew on inspiration from 8th century BC funerary pots decorated with Geometric figures. The texts acknowledge the ‘signatures’ found on much later Athenian black-and red-figured pots, and allude to the poetic process of creation in this stimulating environment.

Others adopted a more contemporary feel.

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“Made at Fitz”. Photo: © David Gill

Not praising, burying: research creates art

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Acknowledging Geometric Pots © David Gill

David Gill joined a day workshop at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge last week to explore themes emerging from Artful Crafts, co-written with Michael Vickers. The day, “Not praising, burying” had been organised by Dr Alana Jelinek, Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow in the Creative and Performing Arts with the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

Participants will then attempt to understand its implications through a process of making, not replicas of past red- and black-figure pottery, but renegotiations of the proposed type of object in the light of this new understanding. Other formal contributions to the discussion will include an art historian’s and a philosopher’s response, though every participant is expected to participate fully in the discussion in order to understand afresh these supposedly well-understood objects. The process of making and thinking, where thinking informs making and making informs thinking, will be highlighted in this workshop, not the newly created vessels as product. These are to be understood as mere by-products of a larger artistic process. The process used in the workshop will be documented and presented as an artwork at a later date.

There is a follow-up seminar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge on Thursday 8 November 2012 (see BBC).

UCS joins The Heritage Alliance

We are very excited to be the first UK University to join The Heritage Alliance. Our plans for developing heritage teaching, research, knowledge transfer and community engagement fit very neatly with the Alliance’s longstanding expertise in working as the umbrella body for historic environment third sector organisations.

Heritage shopping and people watching

I have spent the past three days back in Scotland, visiting a number of old colleagues to rejuvenate ideas various on tourism and scenario planning in heritage. Along the way I have fitted in some fieldwork to gauge the seasonal changes in visitor patterns in redesigned or reinterpreted sites, and also to look at the pre-Christmas retail offerings. I have called in to Stirling Castle, Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, the Lighthouse, Edinburgh City Art Centre, the National Museum of Scotland, but didn’t quite have time to get to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery before heading to the train from where I am writing.
Firstly, the sites seemed quieter than usual, despite it being the English half-term which often sees a boost for family visitation to the central belt Scottish cities in the late shoulder season. The weather was also against the visitor, being grey and wet. But, the space at the sites gave me more of a chance to do some people-watching (I wouldn’t call it sophisticated enough to be ethnographic analysis), and I observed some interesting behaviours. It is very apparent how the physical spaces and the interpretative tools interact with each other in a dynamic way, but not always in a symbiotic or intentional way, despite most likely being a part of an overall attraction interpretation master plan. At Stirling, the costumed interpreter in the newly displayed Royal Palace apartments seemed on this occasion to be completely surplus to requirements, as the majority of the visitors were either shepherded by a site steward as part of a tour, or had mobile audio tours which they were fiddling with when not glued to their ears. At the National Museum meanwhile, the superb space in the main atrium was positively muted, and the space (now without fish ponds or cafe area which caused a great compulsion to linger) seemed to dwarf people who reacted by scurrying through to find galleries away from an unwelcoming empty space. The mammoth “wall” of artefacts wasn’t catching people’s attention as intended and seemed relegated to wallpaper. These are observations rather than criticisms, as I have seen both spaces and interpretive tools being used very effectively together at other times. It got me thinking about the factors that influence elements of a site working as a whole and how the planning process and operational sophistication of these sites can sometimes look completely awry.
The changes in the retail offer across the sites was also interesting, and I note a continual widening in the range and quality of items “branded” from the host organisation, as they see the retail offer as part of a cultural positioning and wider brand development. A growing amount has been written on this area in the past few years, and very recently Professor Sharon MacDonald turned her attention to this area in a research seminar at York University, which is well worth watching. I didn’t find the Christmas presents I was going to strategically buy early, but I suppose it gives me a good excuse to do some more comparative analysis at some other sites.

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A gathering to discuss

 

Cover image – Harrison 2012.

As part of the academic development of heritage as a subject at UCS  we are launching a discussion group to consider all aspects of the subject and share ideas and thoughts via talks, debates and other activities. We aim to gather once a month or so in Ipswich, and welcome participants from across the University and wider heritage field of East Anglia. Our first gathering will consider Rodney Harrison’s  new book, Heritage: Critical Approaches  (2012: Routledge), with the possible questions:

1)      Whilst heritage is a phenomenon that can be recognised, can it ever aspire to being a recognisable ‘subject’ ?

2)      Does Harrison’s approach strike the correct balance between theory and practice, and where do the nuts and bolts of managing the historic environment fit with these ideas?

We are planning to meet at the UCS Waterfront building at 4.00pm, on Thursday 22nd November.

To confirm your intention to attend, please email Julie Barber julie.barber@ucs.ac.uk  in the School of Business, Leadership & Enterprise.

Whose heritage?

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© David Gill

Standing at the west end of the Athenian akropolis the viewer is faced with a dilemma about the heritage. The main entrance to the akropolis was constructed in the third quarter of the fifth century BC as part of the Periklean building programme. But the Attalid dynasty from Pergamon (in modern Turkey) constructed a victory monument on the north side. This in turn was remodelled in the early Roman imperial period.

So this Hellenic monument can be linked to a range of modern nation states.

Heritage Landscapes in Suffolk

Iken churchThis afternoon I attended a joint lecture on “The Landscape of Suffolk” by Peter Holborn and Edward Martin at Endeavour House, the home of Suffolk County Council in Ipswich. The starting point was a consideration of the soils of Suffolk, and one of the early publications was the Historical Atlas of Suffolk (1988) by Dymond and Martin. The lecture considered greens across the county, as well as the feature that 20% of all known moated sites in England and Wales are to be found in Essex and Suffolk. There was a consideration of hedging methods that are peculiar to Suffolk, and even the tracing of a hedge noted in a Saxon will.

Different landscapes were considered including parks and Breckland, as well as the coastal strip. We were asked to consider if ‘Sizewell’ has now become an icon for the Suffolk coast.

Wider environmental issues were considered such as the growing deer population in Suffolk, and the newly recognised ash disease (discussed on Today earlier in the day).

The lecture closed with a series of challenges such as the appearance of pylons and wind turbines in the landscape, as well as the conversion of traditional buildings.

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