Raising Our Trowels to New Horizons

It’s summertime, and all over the world the trowels are blazin’ … for some of the TrowelBlazers team this year, however, the hard graft isn’t soil-shifting but grant-writing.

As a genuine grassroots collective which began in 2013 and has been growing ever since, we’ve started to throw out fresh shoots towards Big New Projects. Last year’s Fossil Hunter Lottie Doll was one such, and we have another that is going to launch in early 2017.

While our core activity of running the TrowelBlazers website still goes on, we’re also working on developing Raising Horizons, our collaboration with renowned photographer Leonora Saunders and Prospect Union. We’ve shared a bit of information about this already (via our blog), and since then lots more things have been coming together for this exciting project.

Raising Horizons will bring our aim to reset imaginations to a much wider audience through a touring multi-media exhibition. Photographic portraits by Leonora will juxtapose a group of women working today in archaeology (and geology & palaeontology), with historic women in the same fields – names to be revealed after the summer! We’ll also record oral history interviews about their careers and experiences, spotlighting not only the contributions of individuals, but the unique heritage of training, mentoring and collaborations that we find in the connections between many trowelblazers.

We’ve had a fantastic response from many organisations offering support of various kinds including the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, Council for British Archaeology, Palaeontological Association, British Science Association, Prehistoric Society, Historic England, British Academy, plus many venues for the exhibition.

We are VERY excited that thanks to generous hosts the Society of Antiquaries and Geological Society, our big launch will be in early February 2017, at Burlington House, Piccadilly (the illustrious and beautiful home of a group of learned societies). This will also be the location for the first month’s showing of the exhibition, plus a host of exciting events during this time, with plans including a panel event for schools with STEMettes.

Burlington House Image: Tony Hisgett [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Burlington House
Image: Tony Hisgett [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In October photoshoots and recording of interviews with the women (whose names we will be announcing at the end of the summer) will start, and we’ll hopefully be joined by volunteers from schools in London.

From our original contact with Leonora, the project has evolved and diversified, partly in response to the challenges of funding something like this – and this is the main focus of what I’m doing on this year’s Day of Archaeology. While we’re applying for grants, we also need direct sponsorship. We have a scheme in place which offers funders lots of exciting benefits dependent of the level of support (ranging from Diamond to Titanium Trowel Sponsors) , including a limited edition set of the prints. We’re very happy that we already have Bronze and Titanium Trowel organisations – the Prehistoric Society and Arklu, makers of Lottie Dolls-, while the Palaeontological Association have generously sponsored two ‘schools bursaries’, which will allow students to attend the exhibition and panel event at Burlington House.

Of course we’re still looking for more sponsorship to get the project off the ground, and contacting companies and organisations to ask for help is a major priority, alongside the grant applications (if you are interested, get in touch via the website or tweet us!).

It’s brilliant to see TrowelBlazers itself evolving. As well as Raising Horizons, we’re continuing to give talks, publish papers and think bigger, bolder, better. In about a month, Brenna will be running a session and speaking at the World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto, Japan, and I’ll be talking about women in archaeology for the “Stars and Spades” panel at the British Science Festival, Swansea. We’re also working towards developing our other aims, especially the TrowelBlazers Bursaries scheme, supporting young people from less-well represented background in the geosciences to visit women at their workplaces and get a taste of these careers. We’re hoping that sales of the exhibition catalogue can act as seed funding for this, but we’re also looking for individuals and organisations who would like to take part.


Trowelblazing networks- just a small sample Image by Tori Herridge

Trowelblazing networks- just a small sample
Image by Tori Herridge


And we will be launching our own shop for TrowelBlazers swag by the end of the year (somewhat delayed, as it turns out getting a bank account with signatories in three countries is no easy matter). So soon our fantastic community will have the opportunity to contribute financially as well as content-wise to what we do.

That’s our 29th July Day of Archaeology: we are all busy as we try to fit this work we value highly around complexities of shifting careers and new families. Brenna is working on her book for Sigma Science (Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death), Suzie is busy developing her lab at the University of Georgia, Tori is filming an exciting new TV series, and I’m working on a mix of postdoc publications, book writing and 3-month-old baby care (yes, there’s 3 tiny trowelblazers between us now!).

One of the best things about TrowelBlazers is discovering the importance of networks between women: training, mentoring, collaboration. Never far from my mind either is the incredible network we have built between ourselves in creating and running this ‘accidental project’: four women joined by hope, hard work and a lot of digital hugs.