That grey area between museums and archaeology

Museum networks are pretty strong and active in Scotland – whether an independent museum, local authority or national, a freelance curator or educator – there is a networking body for you. One such is the Scottish Museums Federation, of which I am an ordinary member, and semi-regularly write a blog post on work my work with the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF). I think of myself as being a museums person working on an archaeological project – a funny grey area where I’m not a curator, nor an archaeologist (strictly speaking). The SMF blog, then, is a really valuable way of sharing the archaeological side of my work for a museums audience, and likewise hopefully any archaeologists reading this will get an insight to a more museums-y focused project. So, this post has also been shared on the SMF blog, which you can see here.

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For a number of years now, there has been a project running called Day of Archaeology, wherein people working in the myriad different fields of archaeology (excuse the pun) write a blog post of what they have been up to that day. It’s provided a great insight to a ‘life in the day of’ archaeologists, not just in the UK but spanning all corners of the globe. Sadly, today is the last ever Day of Archaeology. I thought, then, that this might be a nice opportunity for another blog post showing where my job fits into the archaeological world, being as it is in that grey area betwixt museums and archaeology.

I’ve written a couple of posts before about my project (Museums Officer for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework) but this will give an insight to an ‘average’ day in the ScARF office.

I start by checking emails – who doesn’t – reading up on latest museum news from various mailing lists and catching up with to-do notes I’ve left myself. Much ScARF time can be taken up with meetings, events, admin and dealing with incoming requests. With a team of two part-time staff, managing our time is crucial. But, this month is uncharacteristically office-based so it is that I’m working through panel reports and research recommendations spanning all of Scottish archaeology.

 Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

Basketry in the care of Orkney Islands Council museum service. ©Anna MacQuarrie

These recommendations come from the 2012 ScARF panel reports and will form the beginning of a research framework for farming and fishing, based upon the work I’m doing with museums in Aberdeenshire and Orkney. It’s a new approach for ScARF and will take into account research on museum collections in both the aforementioned regions. A favourite part of this for me is producing maps and visual aides to help me visualise just where the collections and questions cross-over, if at all. My manager, Emma, is a whiz with data and GIS so we’re able to produce some nice maps and visuals.

Whilst all this work is very archaeological, I have to remind myself at all times that the collections in each area come front-and-centre. A quick flick through the photos I’ve amassed from visit to each area helps with this at a glance, as does the paperwork I share with my colleagues in each museum service. Their collections are broad, interesting and really speak of the places they represent.

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Arbuthnot Museum whaling display, Aberdeenshire Council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

When I’ve finished reading as much as I can handle in one go, I turn to thinking about the skills workshops we want to deliver, helping to bridge that gap between archaeologists and museum professionals. We’re looking at what themes and skills would be appropriate, who might be able to help us deliver and so on. Logistics, asking nicely and identifying needs – three important parts of the process.

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Medieval fishing hook in the care of Aberdeenshire council museums service ©Anna MacQuarrie

Finally, I review what details need sorted out for forthcoming visit to our project partners – travel, accommodation, making sure everyone who needs to know does know. My next SMF blog post will be from the road, as I visit colleagues in Aberdeenshire again at the end of next month. ‘Til then – happy Day of Archaeology!

Get in touch: anna@socantscot.org

For more information on ScARF go here: http://www.scottishheritagehub.com/

For more information on the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland see here: http://www.socantscot.org/

ScARF is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland.

Dispatches from Edinburgh: ScARF project & museums – part 2

A blank powerpoint presentation being presided over by Joseph Anderson FSA Scot (1916-1832)

A blank powerpoint presentation being presided over by Joseph Anderson FSA Scot (1916–1832)

Lunches had, cups of tea refreshed twice over (the only thing this office loves more than archaeology is tea – fact) I spend the first part of my afternoon doing some admin: monthly reports, target checking, timesheets etc. As the ScARF project I’m working on is funded (thank you, Historic Environment Scotland & Museums Galleries Scotland!) I need to dedicate time to considering my work in the context of outcomes and indicators. As I’ve not been in the job long (question from my boss: “when I can stop calling you ‘new’?“) this also helps me focus my work as I continue to get to grips with the wider ScARF project.

Targets, outcomes, indicators, targets, outcomes, indicators...

Targets, outcomes, indicators, targets, outcomes, indicators…

Admin duly administrated, I can focus back on preparatory work for Orkney. I’ll be giving a few talks when I’m there, spreading the ScARF and museums gospel, so I’m busy drawing up plans for what these will entail. Though I’ve mentioned Orkney already, it’s not just there that I’ll be working with museums. Later on in the project I’ll also be working with the Aberdeenshire Council museums service on their collections. While both museums services have Recognised Collections and rich archaeological landscapes around them, they are both really different. It’ll be interesting to see how each museum service benefits from our project, and how our work varies with the different museums involved.

Meeting notes, to-do lists, mind-maps. Therein lies the heart of the museum project. And tea. Always tea.

In preparing talks and any work for Orkney I need to consider how relevant it might also be to Aberdeenshire – I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to working with my colleagues there later on. The main research topics I’m looking at just now are farming and fishing, so I return to my trusty documents (the ScARF panel reports are free to view online or download here) and see how they’re referenced, and how museums might already have contributed to them.

Perhaps in a couple of months time I’d have some rather more exciting photos to share (who doesn’t love a good museum store?) but for now these will have to do. Last but not least… why not sign up to our monthly e-newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bCFibT to keep up-to-date with all things ScARF.

Dispatches from Edinburgh: ScARF project & museums – part 1

I’m Anna MacQuarrie, part of a team of two, working for the ScARF project at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. My role is that of the Museums Officer, working on getting further museum contributions to our panel reports. Ultimately, I’m working to fill in the knowledge gaps on ScARF through research in archaeology with a focus on museum collections.

One of our thematic research recommendations docs with two additional important things: TrowelBlazer Lottie & CAKE

My work involves a lot of desk-based correspondence and research but today in particular I’m thinking about an exciting archaeological landscape I’ll be in soon: Orkney. I’ll be working with the local authority museums service there for two weeks in September, so I’m in the midst of planning talks and spreading the good word about ScARF. I don’t need to tell you how great Orkney is for archaeological sites – and the museums are just as good.

You can see here a fairly realistic example of my desk at work: scattered with notes and papers, though there is a logic to it, promise! I work three days a week in this role, sharing space, so have to be flexible to keep on my game. If I’m not organised, I don’t know where I am.

Testing out leaflet designs and notes from meetings

This museums project part of ScARF is a recent undertaking, with my job just having started in June this year. But thankfully I’ll be here for a few years – some precious job certainty in an otherwise worrying heritage landscape.

Our office is right in the heart of Edinburgh’s old town, immediately next door to the National Museum Scotland (perfect for a lunchtime wander), across the road from Greyfriar’s Bobby and a stones throw from the University of Edinburgh. It means I’m surrounded by fantastic heritage and archaeology on a daily basis – perfect.

Lunchtime now, then, back later…