The Ordered Facility: Considering the Built Environment of the Historical Public Institution from an Archaeological Perspective

Organisers Katherine Fennelly (University of Manchester) and Laura Scharding (University College Dublin)

Following changes in legislation and widespread property development in Britain and Ireland, the built heritage of the public institution has become a matter of widespread interest. As academic research is being undertaken on institutions such as prisons, hospitals and schoolhouses, for example, applied theoretical and methodological approaches are developing rapidly across a range of disciplines. Though this area of archaeological research is established in the broader field of historical archaeology, consensus has yet to be reached on archaeological approaches to this subject as it relates specifically to the remains of institutions in the British Isles.

This session aims to facilitate the presentation and active discussion of new research on institutional archaeology and interdisciplinary approaches to the institutional built environment inBritainandIreland. Of interest are papers concerned with various methodologies and archaeological approaches to the study of the built environment and physical space of the largely standing and sometimes inaccessible remains of these institutions. We also welcome papers concerned with ideologies and motivations surrounding the construction of these buildings, and theoretical approaches utilised in considering them.


Workhouse Stories & Poor Law Networks: Archaeological approaches to institutional buildings

Speaker: Charlotte Newman (University of Nottingham)

The national significance of our institutional buildings is underscored by The National Trust’s investment in The Workhouse at Southwell Nottinghamshire. Workhouses continue to have important, complex implications for local communities and academia plays an important role in sustaining the momentum of public interest in them. This paper will begin with an overview of the collaboration between The University of Nottingham and the National Trust, which aims to integrate academic research directly into the interpretation and visitor experience of The Workhouse. Crucially, this project works within an interdisciplinary framework, combining the expertise of historians and archaeologists to develop the story of Southwell Workhouse. This allows the opportunity to challenge public perceptions and established scholarly wisdom on the Workhouse and gives room to study individual narratives of its inhabitants and the unique relationship they shared with their lived space. By anchoring the project within a specific regional context, the paper will comment on the varied responses to poverty evident in the complex network of Poor Law provision in the nineteenth-century.

Identity & Ideology in the Built Environment of the Forts of Hadrian’s Wall

Speaker: Robert Matthew (University of Manchester)

The Roman military is traditionally seen as the aggressive face of Roman imperialism, imposing the political power of Rome through wars of expansion and the maintenance of one of the world’s largest empires. Perhaps the most iconic of the archaeological remains of this institution in Britain are those of the forts and fortresses, in and around which the soldiers, their families, slaves, servants and traders lived and worked. These sites (which share a distinctive ‘playing card’ plan) have traditionally been interpreted along functional or broadly symbolic lines, within a narrative of Romanisation that has treated soldiers and civilians as diametrically opposed opposites. But has this approach limited our understanding of the essentially institutional nature of these sites? The archaeology of space in other parts of the Roman world – most notably in Pompeii, but also within villas and other urban contexts – has left military sites as comparatively under-theorised. This paper draws on a mixture of historical and archaeological arguments to reinterpret the institutional use of space in the forts of Hadrian’s Wall as a means of ‘controlling’ a population often viewed by the Roman elite as potentially dangerous and culturally remote: the non-citizen auxiliary soldiers of the Roman military itself.

From the Rhine Crossing to the River Helmand: The Architecture of Military Training

Speaker: Martin Brown (University of Bristol)

A Pembrokeshire beach is defended by Tobruk Shelters and 88mm gun positions. The Siegfried Line crosses Wiltshire downs. Watch towers surveyed the Irish border as it ran through Norfolk. Vanya remembers Sarajevo on Salisbury Plain and the Afghans trade in an East Anglian market place, ever watchful for insurgents.

All of these apparent fantasies are statements of fact and all reflect the sometimes literally concrete evidence of training by the British Army since 1940.

This paper will not concentrate on fieldworks, trenches, gun pits and temporary fortifications but will consider both the creation of new structures and the manipulation of existing buildings within the built environment of one of the most significant institutions of State – the Ministry of Defence. By examining the structures it is possible to assess a number of factors including:

–     The search of authenticity in training
–     The materiality of the projection of military power
–     The presence of the overseas conflict in the domestic landscape
–     The military experience of the soldier, who was not always a volunteer
–     The renegotiation of built training features in response to new threats
–     The journey from training feature to heritage asset.

By seeking to understand these features the paper will also explore the significance of some of the built remains as factors within landscape characterisation, landscape management and heritage management within a dynamic training environment.

Archaeologies of historical political imprisonment & their relevance to wider society.

Speaker: Laura McAtackney (University College Dublin)

It is ten years since Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas’s groundbreaking volume, Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, contemplated whether archaeology of the ‘recent past’ was simply an ‘archaeology of us’ (2001) or had the potential to be something more. Could archaeology be used to critique social realities and inform policy markers? I would suggest that archaeologies of political prisons not only provide us with the opportunity to explore material manifestations of power relations within post-conflict societies but they can add to current debates on their continued roles.

In modern, post-conflict societies prisons are important. As society moves from conflict to peace the ability of prisons to symbolise both the power and vulnerability of the state and those incarcerated means that they are the most contentious remnants of the past (Jarman, 2001: 290). Whilst there is often political pressure to either completely discard or preserve these institutions little attention is given to the complexities that such material remnants can reveal. Using Long Kesh/Maze as a case-study this paper will explore the role that archaeology can play in understanding recent conflict and their potential to inform approaches in moving towards a new future whilst not forgetting the issues of the past.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?: Creating & Enforcing Boundaries in the Victorian Mental Asylum.

Speaker: Emily Starkie (University of York)

The institutions constructed during the Victorian era for the confinement of those suffering from mental illness loom large in our landscape, despite their recent widespread closure. At the time of construction, mental health problems carried such a stigma that it seemed appropriate to warehouse those considered ‘insane’ in asylums. 1808 saw the instigation of the County Asylums Act, stipulating construction of mental hospitals in each English county. These buildings were large and often intimidating complexes, designed to transmit messages and enforce routines. The inmates of these asylums were required to live a certain way, and their daily lives were tightly controlled by both the staff and by the buildings they inhabited. Through the use of archaeological analysis of individual asylum buildings, alongside the integration of theoretical and historical background research, this paper will examine the ways in which those asylums that formed the County Asylums system were used to create and enforce both physical and mental boundaries. It will look at the construction of the buildings in relation to creating physical segregation from the outside world and from other inmates, but will also consider the mental boundaries that may have been created through the rigid enforcement of this physical separation.

From earning a wage to washing away sins: reflecting on the Monto Magdalen Asylum.

Speaker: Laura Scharding (University College Dublin)

During the last several years there has been increased interest in Ireland’s Magdalen Asylums and the issue of female institutionalisation, embodied more recently by James Smith’s 2007 book, entitled Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment. Archaeologically this rising interest was reflected in the 90s with Lu Ann De Cunzo’s “Reform, Respite, Ritual: An Archaeology of Institutions; The Magdalen Society of Philadelphia, 1800-1850.” De Cunzo recreated, using excavated finds and historical documentary sources, what she termed the ‘material world’ of the institutionalised women and related it to that experienced by those outside the Magdalen asylum walls. This was done using an interdisciplinary approach through the medium of Historical Archaeology.

This paper will reflect on the religious, architectural and archaeological significance of the asylum and what it meant to the women of Monto red-light district of Dublin. It will examine the role the asylum played in society through the application of feminist theory, spatiality theory and an interdisciplinary approach. The Magdalen Asylum embodied Ireland’s views on women, their sexuality, and place in society. It is an area of archaeology long neglected that still has a reverberating effect on contemporary society today.

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