York Cemetery

ADS at the Heritage Jam!

ADS LogoI know the Day of Archaeology is meant to be about what archaeologists typically do, so I feel a bit odd reporting on something I’ve never done before, but it also sums up why archaeology is so great. You never know what’s going to happen… I’m at the inaugural day of the Heritage Jam; a concept dreamt up by Anthony Masinton, based on his experience incorporating gaming technologies into his digital heritage work.

I asked Anthony how the idea came to him, and he said he heard about a Game Jam that took place in Chicago, where game designers and museum curators worked together to produce innovative heritage-based outputs. While he didn’t want to create games, he saw the format of putting a group together to work intensively, and produce something over a short period of time as a way to explore heritage visualisation in a new way. In his experience, the creative discourse surrounding heritage visualisation is in need of development, and he saw the Jam format as a way to start building a canon for heritage visualisation. The Heritage Jam might have stayed an idea, but when Anthony talked about it with Sara Perry, she agreed and came on board to make it happen. They were able to secure some funding, and the ‘Jam team’ set to work to organise today’s event.

While the Chicago example took two groups of people with quite disparate perspectives and brought them together, today’s group is wonderfully mixed. Everyone has interests in visualisation and/or heritage, but come from a broad variety of backgrounds.  We have about 25 people in the room at the moment, including archaeologists, conservators, historians, artists, and digital practitioners. Even though we come from different backgrounds, its obvious what we really have is a room full of people who are combinations of all those things, and very comfortable moving into new creative territories, so the day is full of potential!

We started with a warm welcome by Sara, followed by an inspiring introduction to the Jam concept by Anthony, and a wonderful intro to the Jam topic of the representation of burials and burial spaces by Julie Rugg of the York Cemetery Research Group. Flo Laino then walked us through the extensive resources she pulled together to augment our visit to York Cemetery. Colleen Morgan also created a series of very interesting videos about the site, as well as challenges for the Jam participants, which are uploaded onto the Jam website, created by Ian Kirkpatrick. Knowing we would have lots of resources already to hand, we headed out together to the cemetery in the lovely sunshine. I must confess I’ve lived in York nearly 10 years, but I’ve never been to the cemetery, which is a pity, as it’s a fascinating place.

Walking to York Cemetery

Walking to York Cemetery

Not knowing much about the history of the place, I was immediately struck by how differently kept the site is. Everything is leafy and calm, but in some areas the landscape is manicured, while in others it appears the landscape is being encouraged to reclaim the graves. The ivy is so pervasive on the unkempt gravestones it gives the reclamation an almost aggressive quality. I walked around with one of the four groups, and we all seemed to focus on the general feel of the place, but didn’t really read the gravestones themselves. We lingered longest at the small, more private area set aside for babies. The multitude of objects surrounding the graves were markedly different from the restraint displayed with the adult graves, and we were all moved by it. After about 30 minutes, we headed back to campus, and I had a chance to speak with Julie Rugg about why some parts of the cemetery were left overgrown, while others scrupulously maintained. She said the cemetery had always been a commercial enterprise; closed in the 1960s, and left derelict until the 1980s. When the deterioration became concerning, York residents formed groups to reclaim it, though initially not as a cemetery, but as a green space. Since then, some areas are now back in active use, while others continue on as part of the green space, and the differences between the areas reflect this history.

Overgrown headstones in York Cemetery

Areas of the cemetery continue to be developed as green space.

Once back in the meeting room, everyone got to work. I spent most of the time with one group; Katie Campbell, Kat Foxton, Clara Molina Sánchez, and Mary Garrison. I got to listen to how they were interpreting the site, and the way they wanted to bring it to life visually. Ideas came from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, the Anekantavada, RTI, and well…hedgehogs.

Starting to create at the Heritage Jam

My group working through initial ideas after visiting York Cemetery in the form of a storyboard, with help and input from Julie Rugg. L-R: Clara, Mary, Julie, Kat and Katie.

At the end of the day, each group shared what they created over a glass of wine, including the paradata document (explaining their process and choices). They couldn’t have been more different, and I won’t try to explain them here. So much thought and work went into all of them, I couldn’t do them justice! They are already featured in the Heritage Jam website, alongside the twelve international ‘remote’ entries. Have a look yourself at the Jam Gallery! Brilliant day!