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Archaeology

Looking for somewhere to visit this coming weekend? How about doing your own mini Edinburgh History Trail? The Toddler and I like museums, so here are a few pics from our recent wanderings – maybe they’ll inspire your own visit?

This little adventure had an Antiquarian theme. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, if not, then check out www.socantscot.org asap. The Society is now based in the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) but the accomodation history of the Society is really interesting. From the granting of the Royal Charter in 1783 to the present (2015), the Society has been housed in a number of places (see this page by the Society for more information).

These photos show some of the evidence that the Society used to have accomodation in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, as well as a photo of the Lady History in the Grand Hall, just because The Toddler said “lady nice”. Aren’t the photos inspiring? Wouldn’t walking under that shield to gaze in wonder at the museum collection help transport you right into the collections? Wouldn’t sitting in that library just make you *want* to read and read and read? The library of the Society can still be consulted within the NMS, but at the moment visits are by appointment only (more here).

The Portrait Gallery is good, and lots to look at to entertain a Toddler. There is plenty of fun to be had climbing the stairs to the upper galleries and the star ceiling and Scottish History murals in the Grand Hall were big hits. Not buggy friendly though, they have to be folded and left at the door, so best to walk, backpack or sling little ones.

What will you discover on your adventures?

 

I haven’t had a blog rant for a while so here goes, todays topic is Your Academic Footprint.

In an age when your online presence is arguably as important as your offline being when it comes to career progression, how can you maintain academic credibility when websites for projects disappear?

The inspiration for this post is personal. I have worked on a number of short to medium lived archaeology projects where amongst the many outputs was often a website. Huge amounts of time, effort and money were spent on these projects and the websites they created represented not only archaeological knowledge for all to access but a snapshot of the thinking and methodology of the time.

Screenshot of old VERA website

Screenshot of old VERA website

Case study number one comes from the University of Reading and the Silchester project. The Silchester website was first created in 2001 and consisted of a few static pages. They did the job, containing practical information on how to get to the site and what students might expect from the field school. I joined the team in 2007 as the Archaeological Project Assistant on the Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology (VERA) project. Part of my work involved redesigning the website and so, in time for the 2008 fieldschool, the project ended up building one in Drupal. It introduced lots more archaeological content, you could download old site reports, browse through photo galleries, use embedded features like weather and map widgets, share interesting content to new and exciting places like Twitter and Facebook (!), leave comments, ask questions and generally immerse yourself in the life of the archaeologists involved with the project. The audience for this new website included protective students, current students, staff, researchers from around the world – it was widely hailed as an informative and pretty website which did a great job of showcasing the archaeology.

The redesigned site even won a BAJR Heritage Web Award in December 2008! BAJR gave the following reasons:

The Silchester site won the award for the clean, easy to use design, the wealth of information available. The additional information is constantly changing, tapping into web 2.o and allowing the user to feel that this is a dynamic website, such as the well written blogs, images and finds gallery. The Virtual Environments for Research in Archaeology section, is a welcome addition, informing people a new direction in technology and archaeology, and inclusive of researchers and professionals as well as the public, who are well catered for on the site. A site to emulate.

Old Silchester website

Old Silchester website, c2001

More than that though, it also happened to showcase my flair for website design, my skills in HTML, PHP, and Javascript coding and growing experience with the new emerging social media world (it was back in 2008 after all!). I put the link on my CV and in post-Silchester interviews it was obvious that the interviewers on some of the panels had looked at and loved the site.

I am currently on an archaeological career break. Becoming a mummy a few years ago means I’ve had to delve into the world of the more stable workplace. I love my current job and I can see myself in it for another wee while, but not forever. I want to return to Archaeology and Heritage in the next few years, and if it had any sense, that world would want me and my skills and experience back. I keep an up to date CV in case I see something and, here speaks the digital curator in me, I periodically check the links it contains.

As you can see if you visit vera.rdg.ac.uk. or silchester.rdg.ac.uk, most of my work is now gone. VERA has been replaced by a pile of 404 signs or timeouts. The Silchester website still exists but in a very different form – it has in my eyes sufffered, but others may disagree. The website has now been got by the branding people at University, and imposing the corporate look and structure. Websites taken down at some point after the project ended, but not straight away – lulling readers into the false sense of security that they would be there next time you wanted to look. No warning given, I suppose the people doing the unplugging wouldn’t know who to warn. The end result is that there is very little to show for years of my work, other than the memories that lie with some colleagues that “Oh yes, Emma. She did a good job of that she did.”.

If you look closely, there is some evidence that these websites aren’t just a figment of my imagination. The Silchester YouTube channel (including my old https://www.youtube.com/user/SilchesterExcavation) and Twitter account are still going strong, for example.

Contrast this with somewhere else I have worked, the Archaeology Data Service and Internet Archaeology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given what they do, they have proof for all to see that I have worked there and done *stuff*. You can go to the staff pages and my name is still there, (although since I first though about writing this post, even the acknowledgement pages of IA have changed!), you can see the staff updates page to see where I went next, I am thanked by authors of papers etc. The result is that if a potential employer really wanted to check my work, they could make a good start just with a simple web search.

I know that change is inevitable, and that not all project websites can be maintained forever, but I’m struggling to see a solution. Short of attaching print outs of screenshots or old excavation reports to my cv, or directing potential employers to look at the wonderful wayback machine, how I can I prove these things ever existed? Do I take the URLS out of my CV? I guess that at the end of the day, my web footprint isn’t everything and my CV should be enough to convince people to give me an interview (well, you’d hope!) but it would be nice to have a but more substance to things. Thankfully, ScARF is still going strong and with this now being the Year of Archaeology and DigIt! 2015 somne of my more recent work will hopefully be around for a while.

Thoughts? Comments? How does this affect you? Is Archaeology and Heritage particularly susceptible because of the way projects are funded?

I read a news article the other day which pondered why Harry Potter didn’t just use Google.

The book was published in 1997, so presumably written a few years before that. The article asks why, when faced with a search for some information, Harry had to struggle through the library to find a book. Now, I’ve never read the Potter books so i have no idea how arduous a task this was but I get the impression death and disaster were imminent. The author of the article suggests that younger Potter readers, brought up in the information age, would google what Harry needed rather than have to go through the library trauma in the first place. The point is that Hogwarts wouldn’t have had internet access in that day and age and that Google didn’t really take off until the year after the book came out.

What does this have to do with archaeology journals? Well, I miss my equivalent of Hogwarts library. Yes, I have a very good ‘local’ library (National library of Scotland) and am also a member of the National Museums Research Library and can borrow books and journals from both. I also have excellent broadband at home so the world of archaeological research should be mine for the taking.

But it isn’t. Without the backup of institutional subscriptions many journals are out of my reach. I’m not the first person to realise this but work at the day job has recently made me more aware than ever of what I could be missing out on.

Spending the last few weeks reviewing bibliographies, checking for misplaced commas and references for thousands of entries, I have had my eyes opened to the many and varied sources used for discussing archaeology in Scotland today. There are the usual suspects one might expect (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Antiquity etc) as well as more specialised reading and some rare gems – mostly local history society transactions and self published monographs.

Most of them are subscription only, not as many are open access. Although this situation might be changing for some (find a very good list here) it is unrealistic to expect that verything will become free to view, nor should it – journals cost money to produce and will always need people to work on them. Obviously, there is a difference here between leviathans of publishing such as Elsevier making millions and smaller more independant publications who are still peer reviewed and of excellent quality but who barely make a profit. Arguably, if it wasn’t for the whole impact factor issue more journals could afford to be open and reach more people, I could go on.

My point is, that in order to subscribe to all the journals I want to for the next year say, I will need to spend at least £350 (but that includes my New Scientists! :p). As I said, I don’t mind and actually is really isn’t that much when you consider everything. However, this is only for a few core publications (Internet Archaeology, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, JRS, Britannia and some others). I’d like the opportunity to read more, but when individual articles can be up to $20 it does sort of put you off. I’m lucky, given that my interests are databases, publication of archives and Romans – if I was into science it’d be much much more costly (see this post for example.)

I guess if i didn’t want to broaden my mind, keep up to date with archaeological goings on and think about future jobs and maybe post docs I could just not subscribe at all, but where would the fun be in that?

So a new year, a new start. True, it might be enforced rather than through choice but it has to happen all the same.

I’ve been looking for a career type job since the end of June 2010. Obviously, I’ve done some paid work since then including excavation, watching briefs and a stint in Game. All of these were (in various doses) fun, dull, warm, cold, exciting, mindless but money is money and the mortgage doesn’t stop just because work does.

So if I’ve been after a computing and or archaeology career advancing job since June why am I ranting now, 6 months later?

Well, because an otherwise perfectly decent saturday morning was ruined by the arrival of a letter informing me that I haven’t reached the interview stage for a post I really wanted. Not only did I really want the job but I could have carried out all the essential tasks blindfolded and handcuffed, presuming my fingers were free to type. I hear you saying that these things happen all the time and there are more fish in the sea etc (unless you’ve been watching the channel 4 fish season and I recommend that you do). However, the fact that the letter kindly informed me that a shortlisting officer had reviewed my application made me nearly spill my now tainted by letter opening cup of tea. What kind of job/person is that? Does that mean that my application didn’t even make it into the hands of someone who could understand the value of my experience and past work? Some HR monkey who couldn’t see context, only keywords? The same organisation turned down my application for another post a few months ago, so that HR person can expect a fairly stern phonecall this coming Monday asking why I wasn’t shortlisted. Grr!

Cheer up! you might say. Well thanks and I will shortly when I get some vino. In the meantime, I am left to ponder my future in Archaeology/Heritage/actually caring about our past. I have specialist skills. I have 5 years of varied experience. I can dig but I can also write book chapters and arrange international conference sessions about it. I think, if I do say so myself, that I am sometimes pretty bloody awesome at this stuff. Let us return to reality though, and the aforementioned mortgage. I can’t hold out for a career job forever. It’s been 6 months. I can go another 6 if I can pass the time with temping etc.

After that I fear that the discipline in which I have honed my considerable skills will lose me to a something else. I’m not sure what at the moment, but probably something that can guarantee me work for more than a month at a time and pays even half decently. I’ll probably pimp my computing skills out instead. I’d be really sad, angry and worried to leave archaeology to Camerons daft idea of a big society, which I suspect may happen as more decent archaeologists succumb to pay cuts, job cuts and downsizing. The Scottish government cuts won’t even kick in until later this year, so that’ll be something exciting to look forward to as well, not. I want to find out how many of the people I did the IFA placements with actually have clung onto an archaeology job in the long term, and I don’t meant went into further training or phds. I mean actual careers. Their website doesn’t say, maybe it is too embarrassing? Who knows? If we all have to bail out of archaeology then the skills deficit the bursaries sought to heal won’t be changed at all. Which would be a shame, not to mention a possible waste of pennies.

2011 will be the year that decides a lot of things for a lot of people, I’m just hoping that this time next year I can still call myself an archaeologist/heritage person, not some sort of suit wearing corporate drone. Albeit one who is now an elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries – hooray!

</rant>

Which is more important?

Not something I’ve ever really considered before but for the last few weeks I haven’t been able to knit and I’m left to ponder on this. I’ve been working with clay and not much else, really whacking it with a mattock. When I get home my hands are so tightened up that they look like claws and I have really bad pins and needles. I can barely hold my knife and fork let alone knitting needles. I haven’t been able to play the xbox either, so I’m getting increasingly pissed off. It is worst thing in the morning when the claws remain for a good half an hour. They seem to be okay at work, but then maybe its because I’m just trying to get on with it and think of the money and they don’t have a chance to rest. I’m off to see the Doctor about it tomorrow, more because I want to check I’m not doing any long term damage than that it hurts now. Maybe this is a window into my old age! I guess when I stop digging they’ll heal but there don’t appear to be any other jobs out there just now and I guess I should count myself lucky that i have one. at all.

Right, </rant>. I’m off to grasp a cup of tea.

I’ve not been blogging, because I have mostly been sleeping in my spare time. Why so tired you ask? Well, after only six weeks of job hunting and signing on I finally got a job. And it was archaeology as well – shock!

Cue a weeks digger watching in Blairgowrie for CFA. Not much to report except a victorian shovel head left in the bottom of a trench dug by navvies for the old railway. Then it was straight to Addyman Archaeology on a rolling contract to excavate a site in the Old Town of Edinburgh. It is a really cool site, right in the middle of the University and with tonnes of archaeology. Medieval cemetery, 17th century uni library and chemistry departments, Hamilton House and more. Is is awesome to be outside again, and getting paid to do something I love. The downside is the clay I seem to be constantly mattocking and the fact that my body is older and less useful than last time I had to do any hard physical labour! Luckily, the Piemaker is nearby so lunchtime rewards for mattocking are plentiful.


Dr Bicket at graduation

Originally uploaded by squeejay

So Tuesday saw Andy become Dr Andy, a mere 7 months after the viva :p

It was a proud day, but graduating out of Loughborough University is a massively different experience from either Edinburgh (where Dr B did his undergrad) or Glasgow (where I did mine).

Firstly, the ceremony takes place in the sports hall, with only some curtains up and carpets laid down to try and disguise the fact. There appeared to be no dress code for the graduands, which meant a lot of really short (as in suitable for a gynecological exam) skirts, oompa loompa fake tans and some hideous faux paxs such as a bright red mini dress, someone else in flip flops and someone in a sort of toga like see through mini dress with sandals that would make a Roman legionnaire proud. There was a procession of important people behind the chancellor, and there was a university mace but it just didn’t look right in a hall where people play sports. The honorary degree recipients (one of whom was a climate change scientist and former White House advisor) didn’t get to speak, which would have been really interesting. The phd recipients just had their name read out like all the undergrads – whereas I distinctly remember at my undergrad ceremony that the title of phds and how long they took to complete was announced. Loughborough also appeared to have a policy of not making people who just scraped through their time there feel inadequate, so no distinctions were made between classes of degrees during the reading.

Despite all this, Dr Andy and one other geography (and real geography, not the human kind) got to don floppy hats and watch their proud parents smile at them and I felt really proud and happy, which was nice.

Another bonus of the graduation was being taken out to dinner – see the next post!