September 2015: Nadia Bartolini, geographer

My interest in the last few years has been to examine how pasts – specifically tangible pasts – are incorporated in urban environments. Most of my work looked at particular sites in Rome where a number of experts are brought in to find options in which remnants and modern development initiatives co-exist.

But London, the city I’ve lived in for the past 7 years, has also proved a fertile ground to reflect on the same issues. One of the things that I’ve been increasingly interested in is how pasts are part of the everyday landscape that I frequent. Since London isn’t a ‘fieldwork site’ per se (where I travel to investigate, gather data and then leave), I have been wondering about what the past in broad terms means for urban memories, and also what it means to ‘dig deeper’ to find things we hadn’t thought of uncovering.

Benjamin’s Metaphor

As a non-archaeologist, one of the ways that inspired me to think about archaeology as a discipline and the idea of excavating is a quote from Walter Benjamin in ‘A Berlin Chronicle’:

He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging. (…) He must not be afraid to return again and again to the same matter; to scatter it as one scatters earth, to turn it over as one turns over soil. For the matter itself is only a deposit, a stratum (…) True, for successful excavations, a plan is needed (…) Fruitless searching is as much a part of this as succeeding, and consequently remembrance must not proceed in the manner of a narrative or still less that of a report, but must, in the strictest epic and rhapsodic manner, assay its spade in ever-new places, and in the old ones delve to ever-deeper layers. (Benjamin 1932/1997: 314)

Benjamin thinks about the practice of archaeology as a metaphor for uncovering buried memories: digging, going over the same matter, and considering ‘new’ alternative recollections that may reveal multiple meanings. I find that these words give me a license to play with archaeology by questioning the extent of its artefact-based inquiry, and by attempting to ‘do’ archaeology without the rules and training. (It almost feels like I’m a fraud, but I’d like to dip my toes in the term just to see where it can go.)

Urban Archaeologies

While I am unclear at this stage what I would be doing in September 2015, I have some ideas about the kinds of enquiries that intrigue me. If my reference point is London, I would like to explore the following ideas flowing from Benjamin’s metaphor:

  • look at the different layers of times and meanings amidst contemporary urban developments
  • consider other types of ‘artefacts’ that can be traced in and out of the city with reference to Andreas Huyssen’s (2003) metaphor of the palimpsest

To explore these aspects, I was thinking of spending half of the month of September 2015 in London trying to get impressions from the general public, experts and councilors and expose reflections on the Public Archaeology 2015 website in the following areas:

  • around the city’s ‘ancient’ pasts to explore the impact of tangible remnants in everyday circumstances (see figures 1 and 2), and
  • in the borough of Haringey to contemplate how Banksy’s artistic imprints could be seen as artefact-palimpsests that are indicative of regeneration and community identity (see figure 3).


bartoli 1 2

Figures 1 and 2: Roman remnants publicly accessible in London

bartolini 3

Figure 3: Graffiti art on a Poundland wall in Haringey

In the course of 2014-2015, I will be involved in other research projects that will lead me to Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle. I hope that this (and any other suggestions that people might have!) will inspire me for the second half of September 2015. These research projects will enable me to interview community members as well as participate in an art exhibition which could potentially materialize in September 2015. These public engagement activities would coincide with posting reflections and photographs on this website.

3 thoughts on “September 2015: Nadia Bartolini, geographer

  1. Hi Nadia,

    I’m interested in the potential for intersection between your project for PA2015 and other existing funded research. It would seem to suggest at the moment that the public engagement side is potentially lacking or restricted in the other particular research projects. There’s a potential ‘afterlife’ of PA2015 to be found in you being able to demonstrate a greater engagement with the results of your research from the work you do extra to it (does that make sense?).

    An alternative would be to set up and manage/document a kind of anti-project where you create the situation where your funded research could be mirrored by members of the public without (much) academic oversight.


    • Hi James,
      Many thanks for your comments! I agree that I would need to do something ‘extra’ to the research projects to include the public engagement aspect for PA2015. I guess the point of posting this now is to gather ideas from others that can help me think through/develop that ‘extra’. I like your suggestion about an ‘anti-project’, which for some reason reminded me of Young’s ‘counter-memory’ concept… in this case, perhaps ‘anti-project’ is more akin to something (an area of interest demonstrated by a community, for instance) that isn’t part of the officially funded and sponsored project, something less structured that could pop up during the official projects, and that I could document alongside the official project so as to achieve the public engagement aspect…

  2. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #2 | Doug's Archaeology

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