The Berkeley Castle Project began in 2005 and set out to excavate and explore the archaeology of Berkeley Town, Glous. Over the past ten seasons of digging, the project directors delivered numerous public talks and tours, and we received media attention at home and abroad.
In 2013, I spoke with the directors about the possibility of starting engagement efforts to build further on this work, to include social media and more diverse engagement projects. This would benefit the profile of the dig, improve student skills relating to public engagement, and help ensure that the local community felt part of the project.
A community engagement event in 2014 was the start of welcoming the community’s comments on the project and was a great success (supported by a grant from the University of Bristol’s Green Apple Scheme). We also created more blog and video content, fun online quizzes and even archaeology top trumps! This sat alongside the free “artefact handling” sessions offered to every visitor (a selection of artefacts that students talk through with visitors and allow them to touch and explore).
Fun, downloadable archaeology Top Trumps – another student idea!
One of our students used specialist skills to develop a 3D model of one of the excavated buildings!
Engagement embedded within teaching
In 2015, we aim to continue these offerings and go even further. We incorporated engagement training into two undergraduate courses in November 2014; Post-Excavation Techniques (2nd year) and Managing the Past (3rd year). These units are tied the excavation and every student who takes them must partake in two weeks of fieldwork.
In Post-Excavation Techniques, we explored communication strategies, covering the nature of final archaeological publications, types of report strategies, grey literature, open source content, public consumption of research materials, future proof publication and interpretation. This included assessing how findings and elements of research papers and publications are re-interpreted in the press and via social media. The sessions covered ethics on a global scale, as social media engagement with the public is an ethical concern for heritage, academia and general archaeological practice.
In Managing the Past, students reflected on how social media is used within different areas relating to their discipline and how it can enhance their employability. They assessed museums, archaeological companies, universities, international bodies like UNESCO, etc., critically reflecting on the content and stylings offered by these bodies. They also considered their own public profile and what steps they might take to utilize social media to enhance their employability and professional profile, thus supporting career skills development.
Feedback provided by students identified the following:
Post-Excavation Techniques: Students improved their learning in a number of fields, but particularly: (75-100%) public engagement; social media, planning engagement strategies, skills that you can take into future careers, benefits and drawbacks of public engagement, and how to be careful with your personal and professional online profiles. Other comments: “Really enjoyed lecture, would be great perhaps to see a future unit on archaeology and the media” / “I really do think better engagement with the university community could be good, … Perhaps in a year or so, it can be something the university is collectively proud of!”
Managing the Past: Students improved their learning in a number of fields, but particularly: (87-100%) credibility; press releases and the press association; critically assessing how archaeology is presented in the media; and (67%) communication strategies; ethical issues; social media; and public engagement.
Within both units, student ideas for engagement at Berkeley were explored within three informal seminar sessions. Here’s a snapshot of the student suggestions.
Engagement ideas developed by University of Bristol undergraduate students
The above suggestions will be incorporated into the Engagement Team planning stages. It is hoped that many of the ideas can be worked in to implementation, so as to ensure all students feel involved in engagement, even if they do not elect to join the Engagement Team. Inviting student ideas ensures that they feel part of the project and know that their voice is respected. This can also encourage personal investment and dedication into the department’s efforts.
Following teaching, the next stage is recruitment for the Engagement Team who work alongside the excavation at Berkeley. Here, students practice the skills developed in the classroom in a real world environment.
Induction meetings have been completed for all current applicants. Applicants are drawn from all levels, from 1st year to MA level. During induction, students reflect on what aspects of engagement they are most interested in and every effort is made to place them in a team accordingly. Project planning is already underway and includes:
Developing downloadable key-stage learner packs for teachers and school children
An innovative “Town Museum” community project. This places excavated artefacts on display in homes and businesses alike to create a town exhibition where the community become curators of their own past.
Both projects transform University research into outputs that deliver tangible educational and engagement impacts, and ensure that students gain valuable experience of project planning, management and delivery.
Health & Safety prevents public access, but we try to work around it!
*The above teaching strategies are part of a University of Bristol ‘pump prime’ teaching development grant awarded to Aisling Tierney (Engagement Coordinator and current PhD student) and Dr. Stuart Prior (BCP Director and Senior Teaching Fellow in Archaeological Practice)*
The Land of the Summer People (2014- ongoing) is an art-science research collaboration between the artist Seila Fernández Arconada and Prof Thorsten Wagener of the Water and Environmental Engineering Research group at the University of Bristol, UK
Our collaboration wishes to construct an active approach to ruins in non-urban environments. Over the winter, spring, summer and fall 2015, we will focus our attention on a serie of wartime architectural remains in the surroundings of London, in the Thames estuary and along the East coast of Britain. Access, function and the traces of human activity, are central to our project. Lia Wei is an art historian and archaeologist, focusing on epigraphy and rock-cut architecture. She was brought to academic research through the practice of calligraphy, landscape painting and seal carving in China. Rupert Griffiths is a cultural geographer whose work focuses upon marginal urban landscapes. He came to geography through a background in architecture and as a practicing artist, creating trajectories between built form, materiality, landscape and identity.