Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 3

Last week our Visible Diggers research project culminated in our presentation in Doug Rocks-McQueen and Cara Jones’ session ‘the Future of Engagement’ at the CIfA 2015 conference in Cardiff. Fellow students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh and myself put together a powerpoint presentation and an accompanying narrative of the results of our survey and had been practising for several weeks. The nerves definitely started to kick in when we arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held. One last practice in the hotel room and it was time to join the session in which we were speaking, The session had a range of interesting speakers each giving differing views on the future of public engagement with archaeology. The main point that came from many of the papers was that the archaeological profession is currently divided into several different and often idiosyncratic sectors – commercial, academic, community etc. and the lack of communication between them should be addressed before better and more universal public engagement strategies are to be implemented. However, several speakers such as Viviana Culshaw of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological trust, Angharad Williams and Victoria Reid from Access to Archaeology presented some fun and successful public outreach projects. David Connolly of BAJR gave a concluding presentation about how these boundaries between sectors should be broken down and archaeologists from ifferent backgrounds should work more closely together and tell more stories!

One guy in the audience complained that universities ‘cherry-pick’ the best archaeological sites for untrained students to work. He suggested they should really be getting excavated by members of the commercial sector who have much more knowledge and experience. I think he’d forgotten where archaeologists with experience come from! I was starting to worry how well our paper would go down by the time it came to our slot, to an audience seemingly made up of mostly commercial archaeology management types! I made a point to state before I started that its possible to be a community archaeologist, student, and member of the community at the same time and these ‘labels’ that had been flying around in the session were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our presentation was well-received and we had some great questions from the crowd. Issues about male and female students receiving information differently and students being unsure whether they had made interpretive acts during their fieldwork were of particular interest to the audience and we had lots of people congratulating us and wanting to know more afterwards which was great!

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

We even managed to secure a slot to display out poster in the foyer, and we made some great new connections with people at the conference. I had a chance to meet Raksha Dave from time team who was telling us about the possibility of archaeologists being able to become individually chartered, in a similar way to many other EU countries and what this might mean for community archaeology and people already working in the commercial sector – interesting stuff! I feel i totally made the right outfit choice too – my blue velvet blazer was a hit!

The experience on a whole was absolutely amazing and I feel a great sense of empowerment that even though the three of us are still undergraduates, we can still make a difference and a contribution to the archaeological community. Having some experience in public speaking has definitely been beneficial too (way to be thrown in at the deep end, right?). We’re now currently trying to organise a short piece for ‘the Archaeologist’ journal, where we’ll publish a more complete version of our results. Stay tuned!

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Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 2

So – the results of our survey are in! I’ve been busy with the visible diggers team over the past week crunching number from our survey, which was completed by over 100 students who had undertaken archaeological fieldwork from around the country. In the process of pulling out the main points for our presentation at the Cardiff CiFA conference next month, several main issues have become apparent. The aim of this piece of research was to assess student perceptions of archaeological fieldwork and to find out whether students in general felt that their interpretations were being heard in the field.

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Our survey showed that most students had enjoyed their fieldwork placements, but the few that didn’t were all in their first year – maybe this was just down to the fact that they had no prior experience of archaeology and it simply just wasn’t for them or maybe the reason lay in the amount of instruction and support they received. Interestingly, ten percent less female students surveyed felt that they had received sufficient instruction than male students. Could this be because of gendered differences in communication? Could it be that there is too much ‘mansplaining’ at archaeological excavations? Indeed, most of the figures at the top of the archaeological profession are still white, middle-class males and perhaps greater racial diversity and gender equality will help rectify this problem. Archaeology students are, in general, much more diverse in terms of age and background and can often provide fresh interpretations which approach the archaeological material from a fresh angle.

Perhaps the most poignant issue raised by the survey was that the majority of students surveyed, from first year right through to masters, either said that they weren’t or were not sure that they were contributing to the overall interpretation of the site when they had clearly engaged in interpretive acts such as section and plan drawings, context sheets, photographs and discovering a significant find. This is clearly problematic, as if students are not made aware of the skills they possess, which have been developed by classroom teaching and on-site tuition then they are being failed by their institutions. This also has impacts for the future – if students are not aware that they are making interpretive contributions, how are they going to communicate this with members of the public or with colleagues if they enter the archaeological profession?

Our paper will be presented next month, so I’ll keep you updated with how it is received at the conference!

In other news, two major exhibitions are opening in Manchester next week – Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island at Manchester Museum, for which a 3.3 ton moai statue has arrived on loan from the British Museum, and Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design at Manchester Art Gallery. Of course, not one to miss a preview, I’ll be attending both and will report next week! Until then 🙂

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Archaeology, Art

Visible Diggers – Part 1

This week, we’ve been stepping up the meetings about the visible diggers project. To try and find answers to questions regarding whether students feel they are are valued and heard in the field and also whether their work during excavation is represented in the final report, we have devised a survey. This will be distributed shortly and I’ll share a sample copy with you when finalised. We will be presenting the results of this research, in some form, at the CIfA conference in Cardiff in April. The theme of the conference is ‘the Future of Your Profession,’ and there will be papers given on a wide range of issues regarding the future of the archaeological profession. You can read more about the conference and have a look at the session abstracts here. I’m really excited to be a part of this research and especially to be able to present our results at an academic conference where it could make a difference to the way archaeology is taught in the field.

Myself and other students taking a break at Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire 2014

Myself and other students taking a break at Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire 2014

This is our abstract, if we choose to give a paper, but may look at other ways to present the research at the conference:-

Visible diggers? Engagement and communication: a student perspective.

Matthew Hitchcock, Stephanie McCulloch, Liya Walsh (University of Manchester)

This is a session that is about the future of engagement, and we are the future of engagement! We are a team of students undertaking a piece of research to understand whether students feel valued, and indeed whether they are valued, in the interpretive process. In this paper we will present the findings of our study and we will think about the implications of them for how engagement occurs – can the experiences of students help us think about how we communicate in the field with other audiences who do archaeology?

We’ll also be creating a separate blog with further detail of the project’s progress, which I’ll post a link to on here.

In other news, the opening events at the Whitworth Art Gallery came to a spectacular climax on Saturday evening after a series of performances and lectures in and around the gallery throughout the day. A choir performance with synchronised fireworks over the gallery saw an end to an week that saw an immense amount of visitors to the gallery. You can view some photos of the evening and other events from the week on the gallery’s instagram page here.

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Archaeology

Fragments of Samoa

Yesterday I was working with trainee museum curator Kiera Gould on some of the Samoan ethnographic artefacts that the Manchester Museum has in its collection. Below are two examples of these, an intricately carved wooden fan and a hank of tobacco which has been packed for trade and was purchased by the Museum in 1918.

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Wooden Fan from Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Hank of Tobacco From Samoa

Samoa, since becoming independent of New Zealand in 1962, is an independent country consisting of about half of the chain of Samoan Islands in the South Pacific.  The other half of the chain forms American Samoa, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Samoa has some fascinating archaeology – particularly the wealth of prehistoric stone tools which have been found there. Leading New Zealand archaeologist Janet Davidson was among the first to pioneer Samoan archaeology when she excavated there in the late 1960s. Discover more about her finds and the archaeological collection at the Museum of Samoa here.

In other news, the piece of research I’m embarking on with fellow archaeology students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh together with University of Manchester lecturer Dr. Hannah Cobb (link to previous post) is underway. I’ll be constructing a separate blog to publish updates but I’ll keep you posted on here too. The title will be Visible diggers: researching learning through research in archaeology. The repetition of the word research is of course intentional, and its importance for students is what we hope to highlight through this project. We’re currently discussing the strategy for collecting data from University of Manchester archaeology students and how best to present this at the CIfA conference in Cardiff in April. More updates as they unfold!

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Archaeology

An Exciting Research Opportunity

Today I was selected together with two of my peers to collaborate with Dr. Hannah Cobb from the University of Manchester on an exciting piece of research. The project will revolve around the benefits of archaeology students engaging in fieldwork and primary research and whether they feel they are making a valuable contribution and actually benefiting from it. Together, we’ll be writing an article on our findings for the IfA magazine and will be presenting at the IfA conference. The IfA, or the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists are the leading British professional body who regulate standards and ethics in archaeology. Read more about them here.  I’m really excited to work with Hannah as she’s one of the most enthusiastic, interesting and engaging members of teaching staff I’ve encountered across my degrees at Manchester and Liverpool Universities. She specialises in the Mesolithic, and the transition to the Neolithic, particularly in Western Scotland and the role of material culture in the production of identity within periods of chronological transition. She also focuses on gender archaeology and queer theory. Read more about her here. I’ll keep you updated with the progress of the research as it develops!

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