Sutton Hoo Society Conference 2014

Mounds at Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo © David Gill

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the excavations at Sutton Hoo. The Sutton Hoo Society will be holding a conference, Defining Kingdoms: Sixth to Tenth Centuries, to mark the event on Saturday 20 September 2014. The venue is the Waterfront Building, University Campus Suffolk, Neptune Quay, Ipswich. Booking details are available via the Sutton Hoo Society website.

The programme (9.30 am – 4.30 pm) consists of:

Professor David Gill (UCS): Introduction and opening address

Dr Stuart Brookes (UCL Institute of Archaeology): Scale and scale change in early medieval England

Dr Sarah Semple (University of Durham): Burials / ancient monuments and the emergence of supra-regional power and identity

Dr Sam Newton (Wuffing Education): Sutton Hoo and the Goths

Professor Neil Price (University of Aberdeen): 536 and All That: a sixth-century climate disaster and its impact on northern societies

Dr Noel Adams (Deputy Curator, Furusiyya Art Foundation): What can the depositions at Tournai, Sutton Hoo and Malaja Perescepina tell us?

Lord Cranbrook (President, Sutton Hoo Society): Closing Address

Heritage economics and the future of the past in the UK

I am off to the USA at the end of next week to deliver a conference paper at the University of Massachusetts. The conference is being organised by the Center for Heritage and Society, and will be looking at the economics of heritage.  It has been provocatively entitled ‘The Past for Sale‘, and should provide some interesting topics for discussion in a world of growing heritage tourism, but austerity in spending on culture and heritage conservation by  many government departments around the world.  My own paper is setting out to review the past decade in the UK and looking at the dichotomy of reality and rhetoric in the understanding of the heritage sector during this period.  The abstract of the paper (which I am writing right now!) is presented below.

The past decade in the United Kingdom has seen major change in policy, management, operations and visitor interactions within the heritage sector, and its perception within popular culture has shifted from remote and sterile toward inclusive and creative.  The wider business environment for the sector has contributed significantly to this change, and the paper will review some of the major drivers of the ‘strategic management turn’ which characterises the decade, such as attraction development, policy divergence within devolved nations of Scotland and Wales, social attitude change, and technological development for enhanced engagement.  Perhaps the most significant driver, economic, has played out through the demand for UK heritage tourism, and this will be considered in further critical detail. Whilst tourism impact is significant and important, there are wider implications of the heritage tourism successes for management as a whole within the sector.  It will be questioned whether heritage has been a potential victim of its own success when it comes to policy development and creation of new business models to date, where the ‘easy win’ via tourism may have hampered a better appreciation of the potential for heritage within British society and successful strategic planning and policy-making.  The paper will draw out some lessons from the specific geographic focus to help future-proof heritage management approaches in a rapidly changing global context.

Engaging Audiences Through Museums

SHARE Ipswich conference 2012
Earlier this week  “How can we use collections to engage audiences?”

Earlier this week we attended the 2nd Annual SHARE conference at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. The theme for the day was, “How can we use collections to engage audiences?” The keynote speech was by Maurice Davies of the Museums Association. There were two lots of four 20×20 presentations: Collections rationalisation; Working with young people; Collections for family learning; Museums as learning spaces in Hertfordshire; Museums and health – the impact of reminiscence; Community co-production; Going digital; Collections as inspiration.

More on Culture Matters

With some degree of tardiness I have also now reflected on the Culture Matters conference in Norwich.  I spent the Thursday morning sitting in on the Income Generation seminar, chaired by the Chief Executive of The Heritage Alliance, Kate Pugh.  The four presentations came from quite different perspectives, but raised in my mind a couple of key issues: income generation strategies are vital for heritage organisations, which goes without saying, but those income strategies need to be properly ‘owned’ by the whole organisation and must be demonstrated to support the whole organisation’s aims and objectives.  Secondly, the definition of income is wide, and an understanding of where and why the money or its equivalents flows in, out and around organisations could often be better understood.  Leading on from this, recognition is needed that it isn’t all about money, but the equivalent, be it time, ‘in kind’ support, engagement and PR or other type of activity should wisely be able to equate an economic value (for those who do think in those terms).  This was described by Ruth Towse as accounting for the ‘whole income’, and put into my mind the work by the New Economics Foundation on social return on investment (SROI) which could be explored further in a heritage context.  A particularly insightful point (which is obvious if you think about it) was made by Alice Marsh, who was talking about gallery and museum shops: often the shop provides the most interactive element of an exhibition, and that staff in the gallery shop may be seen as more approachable than staff elsewhere who they have encountered.  Therefore the shop staff are far more important than most organisations give them credit for – and should be more integral to thinking about the visitor experience.

The afternoon’s plenary sessions, kicked off by Loyd Grossman, saw in typically bombastic style, an assessment of where the heritage sector is and why it still feels undervalued.  Loyd pointed out that the ‘burden of evidence’ required for heritage to argue its case for attention seems higher than for other sectors, and that we can do so much more with the plethora of evidence we already have available.  It was pleasing to hear the sometimes derided tourism income link played up as a key provider of evidence, and a reminder that the Heritage Counts research programme which reaches its 10th anniversary this year.  (I helped establish this back in 2002, as a successor to the annual Heritage Monitor and, subsequently advised on the equivalent ‘Heritage Audit’ in Scotland).  Advocacy remains a key challenge – with killer facts that need to be deployed at an instant in the right kind of policy language – I hesitate to use the word ‘spin’, but that’s what we still need to improve.

“How do we value cultural heritage?”

Loyd Grossman at Culture Matters
© David Gill

Loyd Grossman, chair of The Heritage Alliance, gave the keynote address today at “Culture Matters: The International Cultural Heritage Conference”. This was a passionate and articulate plea to value heritage in our society. 

He initially posed the question, “Why is it hard to value culture?” This raised the concern that there are some in our society (or societies) who do not value culture and cultural heritage. The talk ranged from “flagship assets” (like the Tower of London and Stonehenge) to “the less aesthetic” such as bunkers from the Cold War. Interestingly “aesthetic response” was a theme that emerged from the “Not praising, burying” seminar at the McDonald Institute seminar in Cambridge last week.

Heritage has played its part in urban regeneration, but Grossman posed another question, “Why do we measure cultural value?” He suggested that we live in “an audit society” where heritage competes alongside health, education (and defence). 

His strongest section was the reminder that heritage policy making is not hampered by a lack of information. He cited the examples of Gateshead and the formation of creative industries, or of Liverpool as capital of culture. Indeed tourism is the fifth largest industry in the UK. What was important was that heritage drives tourism: tourists come to see the castles and the stately homes (and more!). Grossman urged the conference to articulate the link between heritage and tourism. He wondered if the ever increasing demand for more data and information was intended to ensure that the heritage sector was “kept busy” and not raising more difficult questions. 

Grossman made it clear that there was a hunger for authenticity and tradition, and this is why heritage in the UK was so important. He felt that the heritage sector “had lost its voice” and had rather taken comfort in the arms of statisticians. His main concern was that the cuts to the heritage sector, and English Heritage in particular, could be very damaging.

Grossman also reminded us that heritage adds to our quality of life, a quality that cannot always be measured.

This was a strong case for why Culture Matters to the people of the United Kingdom (and beyond).


Culture Matters to the UK PLC

Cultures Matters Conference 2012 © David Gill

The Culture Matters conference in Norwich has made a vital statement. It was reported today, “… the UK’s rich heritage helped bring in £114 billion of visitor economy and supported more jobs than the car, film or advertising industries” (Kate Scotter, “Norwich’s unique character is worth millions of pounds to local economy“, Eastern Daily Press 15 November 2012). The Westminster Government, as well as devolved governments across the UK, need to acknowledge the unique and significant contribution that is made by the heritage sector to the UK economy. This was the clear message emerging from the International Cultural Heritage Conference meeting in Norwich.

Norfolk as a county recognises the benefits: “heritage tourism is worth £2.4b to the local economy and supports 35,000 jobs”. 


Culture Matters in Norwich

Norwich Castle © David Gill

Two Heads of Division representing two aspects of heritage at UCS attended the
Culture Matters conference in Norwich today. There were some passionate words from Loyd Grossman in the plenary session. We will be reflecting on some of the sessions here.

Digital Engagement in Archaeology

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?

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