The How and Why of Archaeology Outreach: Case Studies and Reflexive Approaches to Public Engagement

Organisers: Lizzie Wright (University of Sheffield), Matt Law (University of Cardiff) & Hannah Russ (University of Sheffield)

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Outreach projects are a way that archaeologists can connect with and inspire the public. Done well, they can generate mutual benefits for archaeologists and the wider community, promoting the sharing of knowledge and skills, while increasing archaeology’s relevance and impact in society. Activities are often run by volunteers who put a lot of hard work into designing and implementing them. However, despite the success of many of these projects, archaeology is struggling to convince the public of its worth. With the rise of university tuition fees in 2012, some university departments are concerned about how this will affect their intake. University departments and archaeology firms have started introducing outreach officers in an attempt to reach local people, and it is becoming increasingly important to have outreach experience on your CV when looking for a job. It is important to share experiences and assess the success of our projects in order to tackle the issues with public engagement. This session aims to bring together people involved in outreach projects of any kind, and hopefully inspire more people to get involved with projects in the future, as well as to question how involvement in such activities have affected the way professionals engage with the archaeological record. The organisers invite papers on projects that have taken place, or on theoretical issues surrounding the idea of ‘outreach’. Papers which take a reflexive view of the impact of wider engagement on archaeological practice and interpretation are especially welcome.

Community Archaeology or Bust: What future for Archaeology?

Speaker: Tim Cockrell (University of Sheffield)

There is a crisis in archaeology that could be fatal to the discipline in its present form. Decades of cutbacks and neglect, followed by savage current cutbacks will transform what has been a dynamic profession in Britain into an elite rump, similar to that which exists in most countries in Europe. Community archaeology projects work at the heart of what has historically been the backbone of support for the entire framework of archaeology in this country; the tax paying voters, but they are often treated with something akin to contempt by many of the practitioners that they have given support to in the past. In order to survive, we must embrace community involvement in archaeology and encourage communities to give the clear message to local authorities that our work, and the infrastructure that supports it, is valued and must be properly supported. The choice is between community involvement or oblivion for archaeology in Britain.


A Time for Action: Coastal Communities & Eroding Archaeology

Speaker: Tom Dawson (University of St Andrews/SCAPE)

Scotland’s coast, the second longest in Europe, is under increasing threat from erosion. Thousands of archaeological sites are at risk and the sheer number means that difficult choices need to be made over the allocation of scant resources. SCAPE has developed a system of prioritisation, in collaboration with Historic Scotland and others, which has resulted in a shortlist of sites. The next stage is to use new technologies, (such as mobile phone apps) and ask members of local communities to visit priority sites to assess condition and assign local value. Public value is important when attempting to prioritise action at threatened sites which have already been assessed on archaeological merit.

This project grows from a decade of SCAPE’s experience of community archaeology, which includes the Shorewatch Project and four community excavations. In every case, local group members were trained in a variety of techniques, their expertise increasing as projects continued over several years. Projects also encouraged new audiences, including art students; amateur photographers; video editors and school children. This paper will detail the new Prioritisation Project and will demonstrate lessons learned, featuring video and images from previous projects


Can 3000 schoolchildren make history? – or how to involve a community in exploring it’s medieval roots.

Speaker: B. Kjartan Fonstelien (Akershus County Council) & Anne Traaholt (Akershus County Council)

This paper presents an ongoing project where archaeologists and schoolchildren in Akershus county, Norway, work together on the ‘construction’ of the history of Labo, a late medieval trading point by the Oslo fjord. After it’s excavation 5 years ago, local hobby archaeologists made impressive and rare findings at the abandoned site. Based on this, an outreach project was established. Before a new building was to be erected at the Labo-plot, 130 m3 masses of cultural layers were collected to be stored at the regional eco museum.  Since then 3000 children from schools in the region and other visitors to the museum, have participated in exploring the content of the cultural layers. This has produced tens of thousands’ of objects from 3rd century roman coins to masses of every day household dating up to 18th century.

Involving children in how new knowledge is created by making them a part of it is one aspect of the project, another is to show that archaeology has relevance and impact in society. It appears that if one knows more about ones community, it’s history and how life was lived there, it often strengthens the sense of identity and the environment becomes more meaningful.

A project run by the county provides continuity both within the administrative unit and in the population. It becomes a ’living’ project that allows for longtime contribution to our research by involving schoolchildren, and by spreading the knowledge from this to the greater public through local exhibitions and the media. And in a few years time – a lot of new recruits to the field of archaeology?!


The How & Why of Archaeology Outreach: case studies & reflexive approaches to public engagement

Speaker: Dean Paton (University of Oxford)

The Why of Outreach

Outreach is fast becoming an integral part of archaeology, and its importance is on the rise at a time where archaeologists find themselves increasingly having to justify their own existence. However, this paper discusses the role that archaeologists can play beyond traditional outreach, using the past as a means of disseminating archaeological information to the public, but also as an effective tool to tackle wider social problems and re-building fractured communities.

The How of Outreach

Using two case studies involving sessions ran for young children with learning difficulties and a landscape work-shop for teenagers from deprived areas, it will be argued that much can be achieved by thinking outside of the box in how we deliver information about the past, and how we can utilise the past both to inform and to empower. Whilst excavation will always play an important role, more accessible alternatives will be demonstrated, involving the utilisation of landscapes and standing buildings to help instil a sense of belonging and community to people living in areas that have long been centres of economic deprivation, crime and social depression.


Google Earth, Facebook, and the Peer Production of Traditional Knowledge in Canada’s Arctic.

Speakers: Peter Dawson (University of Calgary) & Lisa Hodgetts (University of Western Ontario)
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With the cooperation of Paatlermiut Elders from the community of Arviat, Nunavut, a large GIS database of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Traditional Knowledge) has been constructed, which uses social media sites such as Facebook to provide opportunities for interactivity and user feedback. This paper explores how oral histories, place names, and traditional land use information contained in this GIS/social networking system are contributing to the peer production of traditional knowledge, where the shared outcomes of online collaboration among Inuit create content which can be used in education and community outreach projects.


Employing Objects as Interviewers: Excavated Material Culture & the Power of Mnemonics

Speaker: Louise Tolson (Newcastle University)

It can be hard to balance the interests of research projects with programmes of community involvement. Such initiatives can be seen as time-consuming, expensive, and perhaps ultimately irrelevant to the interpretation of the archaeology. How can archaeologists bridge the perceived gap between scholarly pursuit and community involvement? I will argue that interaction between the researcher and wider communities cannot just take the form of the expert educating the non-expert.

Current research at Newcastle University is investigating whether an artefact-based approach to recording personal testimony can produce new kinds of information about nineteenth-century working class life, with a direct link to the sites we excavate. Pilot studies via the Ovenstone Oral History Project, and intergenerational oral history workshops with the Newcastle branch of the Young Archaeologist’s Club, have provided encouraging results. Our findings suggest that as archaeologists we need to develop our own archaeological methodology for oral history that ensures both inclusivity and relevance. The artefact-centred approach continues to develop through further testing, and next year this project will culminate with the launch of an online archive of ‘100 Stories’. What will make these stories unique is their link, through excavated material culture, to nineteenth-century archaeological sites.


Community Archaeology in Worcestershire: The development of ‘The Hive’

Speaker: Justin Hughes (Worcestershire Historic Environment Archaeology Service)

Worcestershire Historic Environment Archaeology Service has been working in partnership with Worcestershire County Council and the University of Worcester since 2005 when we were asked to carry out the pre-planning Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment for the PFI development and construction of a new joint county and university library and history centre (The Hive, Worcester) which will open in the summer of 2012.

Since 2008, whilst also carrying out required archaeological mitigation works, the Service has also been working in partnership with Worcestershire County Record Office (which will merge with our Service on opening), the University of Worcester and the University of Birmingham.

Subsequent, large scale community excavations on the site, archival research and oral histories celebrating the rich history and archaeology of this part of the city have been completed and the results of all these endeavours will be presented in the new building in the form of interactive displays and exhibitions, on digital audio-visual screens and on a networked multi-touch digital demonstrator table commissioned by an Economic Regional Development Funded programme.

The conference paper would explore the ways in which the partnerships have come together to produce and deliver inspiring research into the region’s heritage and will include testimony to how communities can play an active part in exploring a presenting local archaeological bequest.


Engaging New Audiences & Educating Educators: Ways forward in the field of archaeological outreach.

Speakers: Christin Heamagi (Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology) & Gareth Owen (Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology)
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For over 20 years the Hampshire and Wight trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA) has been devising, developing and delivering an extensive programme of public outreach and education.

Archaeology under water or on the muddy foreshore offers additional challenges for public engagement in terms of visibility and accessibility. These challenges are overcome with an endlessly evolving innovative range of projects and resources. HWTMA’s outreach toolbox includes miniature Remotely Operated Vehicles and Airlifts, an online ‘virtual shipwreck dive’, handling collections, digging & survey kits, themed boxes (e.g. Exploring Titanic, Under the Sea), children’s story books, podcasts, workbooks, animations and even a unique, custom-built mobile outreach facility: the HLF-funded Maritime Bus. Many of these resources are the outputs of public participation projects, where members of the public of all ages and backgrounds learn new skills, while developing an understanding of and appreciation for their maritime heritage.

The HWTMA also works within the formal education systems, delivering lessons, workshops and hiring out resources for primary, secondary school, college and university students. We have established a program where we teach teachers and educate educators by showing how archaeology can be used within and beyond the classroom.


Innovative approaches to archaeology & public engagement in South Africa: case studies presented by HeritageworX.

Speaker: Karin Scott (HeritageworX)

Misconceptions that exist regarding archaeology, both as discipline and as career, have resulted in a level of ‘disenchantment’ among graduates. University brochures promote archaeology as a field of study, without providing detailed information and guidance on career options after graduation.  This problem is fuelled by a lack of support from universities and professionals in providing graduates with essential knowledge and support to enter employment, conduct independent research, present conference papers, publish articles, and access grant money.

Many students and graduates feel that it is implied that becoming a field archaeologist is the only option, resulting in the loss of graduates (who do not enjoy field work) to alternate careers/disciplines.  This loss is fuelled by an underexposure and lack of guidance regarding career options within sub-disciplines and the heritage sector.

Having experienced many of these issues in person, and having identified the various gaps in graduate training and knowledge, the authors set out to fill these gaps through innovative means of public engagement.

This paper will focus on the ways in which the South African-born company HeritageworX aims to alleviate some of the above-mentioned challenges through inter-active learning experiences that promote the sharing of information and the accumulation of knowledge in a digestible manner without the loss of scientific/academic credibility.



Community Heritage in the ‘Big Society’

Poster Presenters: Sarah Howard (Norfolk Historic Environment Service) & Richard Hoggett (Norfolk Historic Environment Service)

Community heritage already enjoys a widespread following throughout the United Kingdom, and with the trends towards localism and volunteer action engendered in recent political dialogues this is set to increase. Drawing on a series of outreach initiatives undertaken by the Norfolk Historic Environment Service, this paper presents a number of salutary lessons for those charged with the management of heritage assets who wish to gain the greatest mutual benefit from community outreach.

A reflexive approach lies at the heart of successful community engagement, with heritage managers essentially fulfilling the role of mentor and facilitator for interested parties. A delicate line needs to be trodden between being too prescriptive and too remote, and one must be prepared to offer suggestions to the community in question but also be willing to adapt any plans in response to feedback received.

Ultimately, the still widespread assumption that ‘amateur’ researchers and fieldworkers are incapable of producing ‘professional’ quality work is something which needs to be challenged and overturned. However, it is also important to acknowledge the role of ‘professionals’ in the provision of training and support to voluntary and community sectors; to add value to our work and dispel notions that all heritage positions could be fulfilled by voluntary workers. Given the constraints of time and money placed on many professionals, is it arguably only in the amateur sector where detailed and considered work can be undertaken. In these straightened times, we ignore the potential resource offered by the voluntary sector at our peril.


Back to the Future? Presenting archaeology at the Green Man Festival

Poster Presenters: Matt Law (University of Cardiff) & Jacqui Mulville (University of Cardiff)
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In Summer 2011, Cardiff Osteoarchaeology Research Group were invited to set up a stall at the Green Man music festival as part of the Einsteins Garden science learning area, in the shadow of Crug Hywel hillfort. A number of activities, designed to cater for a wide range of ages, were presented, and over four days more than 2000 people visited the stall. This poster will briefly outline the activities presented, and will reflect on the challenges posed by outreach at a music festival, in particular how to hook the main festival demographic, and how to evaluate success. Session participants will also be invited to contribute to the ‘Washing Line of Time’, a crowdsourced timeline of human history.



The three F’s in archaeology outreach; lessons learned through time travelling with Renaissance Yorkshire.

Poster Presenter: Hannah Russ (University of Sheffield) & David Evans (Pontefract Museum)

Time Travellers was a Renaissance Yorkshire funded public outreach project which saw collaboration between Craven Museum & Gallery (Skipton, North Yorkshire), the Yorkshire Museum (York), Castleford Museum (West Yorkshire), the North Yorkshire County Record Office (Northallerton, North Yorkshire) and the University of Bradford (West Yorkshire).

The Time Travellers project took the three F’s approach: FUN – FOOD – FINGERS!

FUN: Ensuring our work was pitched at the right level, not condescending but understandable by all. Light hearted, interesting, down to earth, comical.

FOOD: Quite obvious! We used this in two ways, 1) an offer of free biscuits/tea/coffee; 2) we focussed activities around food and food preparation.

FINGERS: Something for people to do, make or contribute to. Our most successful events had something that participants could take home.

This poster will give examples of the trials and tribulations experienced during the course of the project, how we can improve in the future and the impact of the project in the Yorkshire community.

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