This video was created by University of Bristol students.
Plus, thanks to BAJR for gifting us with a cake fund to thank the community participants!
This video was created by University of Bristol students.
Plus, thanks to BAJR for gifting us with a cake fund to thank the community participants!
Students, Berkeley Castle and community participants provided feedback that demonstrate a measurable effect on their archaeological learning and level of engagement. All feedback was reviewed and reflected on by the Engagement Team and its coordinator (me!). Key lessons learned included:
It has also been importance to us to respond to what the community wants. The project emerged from community comments that they can’t always attend our public talks and free tours. By bringing the archaeology to them, we creatively deliver engagement that suits them, in a way that is feasible for us.
Second-year student, and mini-project manager, Rebecca Saunders writes:
… it’s been a lot of work but really rewarding. It’s been great to put into action some of the things that I’ve learned in the lecture hall about public engagement. I was given space to be creative in designing how the trays and the posters looked. I really appreciated the fact that my vision came to light and it has been so inspiring for me as a student to see this project from its first days to where we are now. It really gives me hope for what I can achieve once I’ve graduated. I’m really passionate about people engaging with archaeology, especially here, because residents can be curious about what we’re finding. One of the most common questions I got asked by locals was ‘are you finding anything good?’ This is why I think the Town Museum project is a fantastic idea not just in terms of engagement with the community but also as a project that is student led.
Local resident Chris Stokes says:
Previously … you’d be there for a few weeks and then you’d go away, job done and we didn’t know much more than that. [Now I feel] absolutely more connected. One of the main reasons [to be involved is that] I live locally to where you’ve been digging and it’s just interesting to know what you guys are up to up there. And to be part of displaying some of the artefacts that you’ve been finding I think is good for the local people to know about it, and to be involved as a local person in supporting what you’re doing up there.
Local business owner, Rose, from La Lune Art Gallery and Shop says:
It’s nice to bring something different to Berkeley, with the history of Berkeley and the castle, it’s definitely good…This is nice because it involves everybody, different businesses, all together.
Statement from our heritage stakeholder, Berkeley Castle:
We are delighted that the University of Bristol has engaged with the residents of Berkeley to set up the Town Museum Project this year. It’s wonderful that the students have had such a good response from those living in the town of Berkeley and it’s very reassuring that so many locals were keen to get involved.
We always look forward to welcoming the team back from the University each year and to seeing a new group of students, they are always a pleasure to have around. It’s very exciting when the students excavate new areas, their discoveries tell us more and more about the history of Berkeley and of course, the Castle itself!
It’s also a great added attraction for our visitors, we really appreciate that the University team are happy to provide guided tours of the excavation area and its associated finds, to those who are interested in finding out more about the site.
Formal feedback forms were provided to the twenty local participants. Of the 18 collected responses, 100% said they enjoyed it, 100% said they would do it again, 100% would recommend it to others, and 100% said they learned more about archaeology because of it. Likewise, the positive response from our students was overwhelming and they really loved getting involved. They also identified a wide range of skills developed just on this aspect of engagement at Berkeley (based on 6 responses from those most involved in the Town Museum project):
The students responded 100% positively (yes) to the following questions too:
Further evaluation of the responses is underway and there are lots of plans to further develop engagement at Berkeley in the 2016 season!
Contact: Aisling Tierney email@example.com
Over two weeks, the town of Berkeley was transformed into a museum where the community became temporary curators of their own past. The Town Museum project proved to be an effective way to bring archaeology into community life at Berkeley. The community were pleased to be so actively included within our research efforts and applauded the project vocally. Local businesses also saw the project and associated media coverage as a means to promote their business and support the local economy. The community also improved their knowledge of history, archaeology of their local area, and artefact analysis.
All stakeholders benefited from the project. Berkeley Castle were delighted to be able to share their history within the community, so as to enhance community relations, which is a priority for them. They also welcomed the possibility of increased publicity of their heritage site.The research efforts of the Department were showcased to great effect in a public venue.
Students developed an extensive range of transferable engagement-related skills, from communication to time management, and also enjoyed the experience. They valued the trust placed in them to lead the project and invested much personal time. Likewise, the community valued the trust given to them to become temporary curators of the artefacts.
The project outcomes and impacts are sustainable as they directly relate to the ongoing engagement efforts tied to the BCP. The BCP will continue for years to come, and students have a three year track record of electing to volunteer their own time to the Engagement Team efforts that sit alongside this, setting a precedent that is likely to continue. Talks are in place to identify funding streams to support her coordinator post for future years.Outcomes and impacts were publically shared via the BCP social media channels the University even covered the story in a press release: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/may/town-museum-project.html. Interest poured in from multiple directions online, and the Museums Association and Culture 24 also got in contact to cover the project.
The project serves as an adaptable example of good engagement practice that can be shared widely across the University and the wider HE sector, including subject areas beyond archaeology (e.g. Engineering, Geography).
Contact: Aisling Tierney firstname.lastname@example.org
One of our students used specialist skills to develop a 3D model of one of the excavated buildings!
Engagement embedded within teaching
The main aim of my visit to Bristol Wood Recycling Project was to talk to people about archaeology. Specifically, what I wanted to do was to find out why people were making use of the BWRP and what they were doing with the materials they left with. I’ve always found that these simple conversations lead into discussion of wider issues. Archaeology is good at working on different scales at the same time, looking both at objects and at the wider-world systems they are part of. So are regular people.
The person I spoke to most was Kaleb, in charge on the day I visited. I’ll come back to my conversation with him on Friday.
What I noticed really clearly about the place is that a very large proportion of the custom came from young couples. BWRP is obviously playing a part in people kitting out their first homes, itself a really important thing. I didn’t talk to any of them though, I focussed on the people who looked like they knew what they were doing, I wouldn’t want to put off anyone unsure of their DIY needs and skills!
The first person I chatted to was with Kaleb when I arrived. He was doing something fairly straightforward, taking a piece of plywood to turn into a tool shelf for the back of his van. A small job, for sure, but a small example of the interdependence of projects of this kind and independent businesses. One of the main attractions is that it’s cheaper of course, but the person in question was also keen to support the BWRP and its wider aims (see yesterday).
The next person I chatted to was Ben, who I found taking wooden pallets apart.
Ben is a long-term customer of BWRP and used local reclamation yards as well before they closed. I chatted to Ben about the kinds of things he has made with wood from the BWRP (see below), of which there are quite a lot. He told me that he has always worked from a philosophy of fixing rather than replacing things, more for practical reasons than because of any green philosophy. In one sense, what we can see in these regular, very practically-minded regular customers is one of the ways in which people work hard to inhabit individually the world as constrained by politics, economics and more. Yet Ben was also clearly aware of the environmental and social issues at the heart of the BWRPs aims – and the fact that people can do something about them – so he is certainly an important part of enacting that wider network. Here are some of the things he’s made (thanks for the photos and permission to post them, Ben).
Shortly before I left, I talked with Sarah, who I overheard saying she was looking for wood for an art project. It turned out that a friend was being very productive in some DIY that day so she had decided to join in and make a table. She had come to the BWRP having seen it when walking past walking dogs. Her plan was to get an old cupboard door and fill the recessed centre with pebbles and resin. Discussing the archaeological take on BWRP, we moved onto a discussion about precarity in the city, Sarah being a post-doc researcher in a university department where she works in a room full of other researchers all on two-month contracts. I wonder whether the BWRP is also useful as a kind of therapy for people who need to do something practical to take their minds off wider issues.
So, these are some of the people of the BWRP, people who took time out of their DIY Saturdays to let me stand and talk about archaeology with them for a bit. I’m grateful to all of them for letting me disturb them.
I’ll draw out a bit more of what this all means for public archaeology (and urban archaeology in general) on Friday.
Each of these Public Archaeology 2015 projects includes some kind of engagement away from the blog site. Being interested in material networks and what they can tell you about the city, I wanted to go and talk about archaeology with some of the people making one of these networks happen. As you might have seen from yesterday’s post, there are lots of examples of the ends of these networks, bits of street furniture appearing in different contexts for instance. It’s actually quite hard to get at what happens in between. With the street furniture examples, many councils have central depots holding benches, lampposts, flag stones and so on that have been taken from one place for whatever reason and are waiting to be relocated (or sold…). It’s really hard to find these places! It’s understandable that they’re a bit hush-hush, their contents are really valuable. So, with street furniture, I only have ends and no middle. Then I read about Bristol Wood Recycling Project.
BWRP has been around since 2003 in premises given by the council for peppercorn rent. Click here for the full story. In one sense, what they do is very simple; salvage wood and recycle it for secondary use. It is more complicated than that in reality. Like any of the many similar projects around the country (and the world), they have a number of core aims. These, as listed on their website, are:
What makes this a site of public archaeology? Bristol Wood Recycling Project facilitates the movement of a particular material, not just in local re-use contexts, but in relation to national networks of waste disposal, so it’s invaluable for learning about how that particular material moves around. It’s also consciously socially-engaged, working with volunteers, providing a service for local people, and doing so while remaining not-for-profit.
It’s not quite a site for working with people to learn about the past, but it is a site for working with them using archaeological methodology to understand the present and the future. To be honest, in these contexts, it’s me doing most of the learning, but it’s always a conversation. I’ve done enough work in this area now to be able to provide the ‘big picture’ and to be able to explain how a project like BWRP fits into the wider world. However, I need to talk to people to understand the details of how individuals fit in and what the impact is of this kind of project on people’s lives.
The Bristol Wood Recycling Project is important in itself, but also an incredibly important kind of thing. It is a kind of thing that shows us more clearly than elsewhere, a particular intersection of people, the environment, the city and politics, and understanding its rhythms is, I argue, key to understanding Bristol.
I spent five hours with them earlier in the month, having a long conversation with Kaleb, the man who was in charge on the day I visited. It was quite a punctuated conversation as it was a very busy day. In the gaps, I had a good look around the yard myself and chatted to a few customers, generally the ones who looked like they knew what they were doing. Over the next three days, I want to develop the public archaeology of projects like Bristol Wood Recycling Project. Firstly, I’ll tell you about the people I met and what they were doing with wood. Then, I’ll throw a bit of my own archaeology in with a post on what I could tell about the place from going and looking at it. Lastly, I’ll come back to my chat with Kaleb and conclude with some thoughts on how my time with BWRP helped me develop some ideas around the ‘public archaeology of the future’.
Hope you find it interesting. As we go, please do chip in with any similar projects you know, or have used, or volunteered for.
This week, I’m moving away from eBay to look more into how objects move around cities and what that tells you about how those cities work and how people negotiate them. My work in this area bring together two different ideas of public archaeology; using archaeology to understand the lives of people in the present day and working with people to understand contemporary material. These two overlap and are best done together! I mentioned a bit of this project late last year in another post. I explained it well enough that time so I’ve reproduced bits of the text below (sorry).
Reading Sarah May’s great blog Heritage for Transformation I really enjoyed a story about a piece of gravestone found in a neighbour’s garden and how it came to be there after the bombing of a nearby graveyard. This story appealed to me greatly because I have always believed that urban regeneration – by which I simply mean urban areas changing over time – happens as much in the small scale as in the larger scales of planned re-development that we more commonly associate with the term. So, the building of a new shopping centre is urban regeneration, but so is you choosing where in the city to live or by what route you walk home from work. The building of a mass transit system is connected to that ‘top down’ urban regeneration, but so is a piece of grave from a bombed graveyard being reused as paving.
The role of things in this is subtle. New things can be made or built and things can be moved around to become part of new ‘statements’ on daily life. Things also move on their own or in unintended ways like the fragment of gravestone. I give you two examples:
Back in 2008, David Cemlyn in Bristol chained himself to a lamppost to protest against its removal and relocation to enhance a conservation area on the other side of town. Article here. A fascinating act in itself, but when I ‘followed the money’ to the conservation area that would be receiving this piece of active street furniture, I found out that it was not removed to order at all, but that a local amenity group (I interviewed their lamppost afficionado Maggie Shapland) had saved money to buy it from Bristol City Council to replace one that had been damaged.
So, just crossed wires? I think we have to take it more seriously. A lamppost WAS moved and that movement of material caused a protest (reported internationally). At the other end, a local amenity group raised money to physically change the place in which they live. In the middle is a council goods yard (location???) full of street furniture removed from its original contexts and waiting to become part of other ones.
As part of my PhD research, I did a photographic survey of Bristol’s Broadmead shopping centre shortly before it was repaved as part of the Cabot Circus development. In the centre, and dating to 1998, was a paved area with benches and flowerpots each bearing a large ‘B’ for Broadmead.
These were duly removed and replaced with new paving and a large sculpture called Tree Rings by Wolfgang Buttress. Imagine my surprise when I encountered them again, quite by accident while on a train through Bristol, reused in the Stapleton Road Community Garden.
Here a similar story of removal from one context and insertion into another, this time with a little more knowledge of the ‘chain’ from all involved. A late 20th century attempt to relaunch Broadmead and counter the threat of an out-of-town retail park now repurposed as a series of permaculture spirals (Disclosure: I also have two of the paving bricks as seen in the top photo which sit on my desk and occasionally travel to conferences with me).
Understanding how material like in these examples moves around has the potential to make a difference to people’s daily lives. Away from the large-scale regeneration tropes of decline, gentrification, cultural aspiration, population movement and so on, they present a more subtle urban regeneration that works at the level of the individual and allows people the autonomy to ‘do’ urban regeneration themselves.
So, here, public archaeology has a purpose in both uncovering these material networks and disseminating knowledge of them and their role in the contemporary city so that people can make use of them in their own lives. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my day with the Bristol Wood Recycling Project.
In the remainder of this month I want to turn to a particular kind of recycling. What I’m interested in is the ways in which relatively mundane material moves around, what examining that movement tells you about people and how people can use that research themselves. It’s a kind of public archaeology that tries to find ways for people to appropriate archaeological methods or perspectives to aid their own interventions, whether in shaping cities by deciding where to live, opposing planning proposals or even voting in local and national elections.
What I’m planning over the next fortnight is to start, on Monday, by introducing these ideas and their public archaeology potential in a bit more detail, before moving on to talk about my recent work with the staff and customers of the Bristol Wood Recycling Project. After that, I’ll conclude the whole month with some thoughts on material networks and public archaeology and how the two coming together can change the world (maybe).
In the meantime, I wonder whether anyone out there has come across any existing links between archaeology and recycling/re-use or has worked with community groups like the Bristol Wood Recycling Project. Comment below and let me know!
Here are a few pics until Monday…
As I have said in previous posts, when I have mentioned to people that I’m doing a project on eBay – however small and experimental – the usual response has been a smirk and a shake of the head. It’s clear to me that eBay is seen as a problem, or at least as something not worth engaging with, but I have struggled to pin people down on exactly what kind of problem it is and why. Two main potential problems spring to mind.
The ethical minefield
Perhaps the obvious problem, the one that turns archaeologists off straight away, is that eBay contains a lot of metal-detecting finds. It also, potentially, contains objects acquired in even more problematic circumstances than that. There is much written on this and I don’t need to go into details myself here. Paul Barford for instance has written extensively on the subject on his blog Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues and has even written specifically on eBay. Also of interest is Kurt Montgomery’s work on the influence of the internet on militaria collecting, which highlights many of the same issues, among much more.
It is a real problem. It is a problem that means valuable information is lost to analysis and to databases like the PAS. It is also a problem that created and now sustains the particular monetary values attached to archaeological material and therefore needs to be addressed.
As my unsuccessful attempt to speak to eBay sellers shows, there’s also a problem with the forum itself. It is, of course, understandable that people using eBay to quickly and easily sell a few things don’t want to talk about what they’re doing. It becomes even more likely when those people are selling metal-detecting finds and it’s an archaeologist asking them about it. Understandable, but a bit of a shame. It’s partly the silence from eBay sellers and from eBay itself that makes it look like the problem it does.
Is thinking eBay is a problem a barrier?
There are real problems with eBay, but what is the difference between the forum being problematic and those problems becoming a barrier to engagement? My admittedly small sample data scrape of six artefact types suggests that when it comes to the objects that would usually be considered to have higher monetary values and to hold more ‘archaeological data’, eBay contains only minuscule amounts compared to, in this instance, the PAS. Is it then more the idea that eBay sellers are disregarding others’ desire for the information their objects would provide or the notion of monetizing historic artefacts that is the problem? That must be part of it, but how many sellers are aware of these problems? We don’t know because it’s really hard to talk to them. It’s almost a Catch-22.
My proposed solution to this issue is to stop approaching eBay as an insurmountable problem. When we take a start point that eBay is bad and that its sellers are bad and that its defining characteristic is the loss of archaeological material, we create a barrier that it is really hard to see past. I know that is a real problem. I know that eBay don’t help themselves by refusing to engage. However, if we take a different start point – of eBay as a group of people interested in historic objects who we don’t currently talk to, but who we could learn new things from if we could engage them in some way – the onus would then be on us to try harder, to move past or lay aside our reasons for negativity and to keep trying.
EBay and eBay sellers are just another hard-to-reach group. There is huge scope for the aims and methods of public and community archaeology to change the relationship between them and the wider discipline.
So… I’m interested in the potential for eBay to be of use to public archaeology research as a database of objects that can give some level of access to information about how people relate to objects. There are also the sellers themselves. What I wanted to do with this mini-project, after a bit of a play with the data I collected, was speak to eBay sellers about their use of eBay. I’m not directly interested in the issue of ‘illicit antiquities’ this month, largely because it is a well-covered topic and also partly because I think that debate can be a bit of a barrier. I’ll post on the subject this week. What I am more interested in for PA2015 is how much people know about where the things they are selling came from, whether they’re interested in knowing more about where they go and how active they are.
It was my first intention to send a survey link out to all of the sellers whose data I had collected back in November, but I decided against sending about 750 unsolicited emails through eBay. Instead, I wrote to two sellers for each of my artefact types asking if I could send them a survey link. I had four replies. Three of them said no. One said yes, but didn’t go on to complete the survey. So, precisely zero public engagement.
I was not hoping to collect statistics with this exercise, at least not after I gave up on the mass mailing. What I hoped to do was engage a couple of regular eBay sellers who I could work with to understand better how people relate to objects within the eBay context and to become (eventually)’ eBay archaeologists’, using their normal eBay interactions to develop and spread knowledge about the people-object networks created and enacted by the forum.
Although this failed for PA2015, it is not an end. I’m hopeful of still being able to speak to some eBay sellers at some point and I think the idea of eBay archaeologists is interesting and useful. Also, the kind of archaeology going into the idea is, as far as I am aware, quite unusual for public archaeology contexts.
What I would like in response to this post is to hear other stories of public archaeology ‘failures’. It’s not something we hear about enough and a few other people I have been chatting too have been very interested in the subject. Please add comments below and gather them together into a post at some point this month.
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
Project blog for Dan Lee and Antonia Thomas
The Archaeological Eye
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.
Public Archaeology and Heritage
Posts about theatre for young children and outdoor creativity for all ages
News on the best uses of Heritage for social and organisational change
illicit antiquities trading in economic crisis, organised crime and political violence