I am the founder of Heritage for Transformation, a social enterprise using heritage resources to support community and organisational change. My interests are prehistory and the contemporary world. I am also a post doc on the Heritage Futures project

Heritage as Future Making Practice

One of the things I love about my career in archaeology is that it keeps changing. I love learning new things, that’s the discovery hit that so many archaeologists thrive on. While archaeology has a strong culture of expertise, of knowing as much as possible about a tightly defined subject, it also revels in connections between those subjects. So there’s room for people like me who love the new.

My new job this year is as a Post-doctoral research associate on the Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage project, more commonly called Heritage Futures.  I once read an undergraduate essay that began “Archaeology definitely deals with the past” and that may be true, but heritage is intimately concerned with the future. Many archaeologists are committed to the project of ‘saving the past for the future’. What is this future like? Why do we care about it? How do we contribute to it? My new role is to help answer these kinds of questions.

Luckily I don’t have to do this all by myself. Heritage Futures is a four year project with teams at four different universities, all dealing with different aspects of the topic and all comparing heritage practices of future-making with those of other disciplines. My own work is concerned with deep futures and I’m comparing practices of World Heritage with nuclear waste management and messages sent to deep space. My fieldwork is in the Lake District.

As you may imagine, there’s a fair amount of reading and thinking involved in the work and getting up to speed in future studies, nuclear waste management and space communication is no mean feat. But this summer I am also planning my fieldwork for the autumn. As the project is a heritage project, much of my work will involve ethnographic approaches working with people building futures in the Lake District, shepherds, B&B owners, heritage managers, distillers and more.

But since I’m an archaeologist I’m also interested in what material traces of these futures exist in the landscape today. Water, stone, soil, and plant life all hold futures in different ways. The future of this tree is mismatched with the future of this street furniture.

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If the topic didn’t provide me with enough challenge, we’ve also committed to using film making practice in our research. Film making is an entirely new skill for me and I was really excited to join the rest of the project researchers in an intensive course organised by our Creative Fellow Antony Lyons and run by Nathan Hughes of Rough Glory films. In addition to teaching us basic camera, audio and editing skills, they encouraged us to think critically about how films construct understanding. A process much more akin to archaeology than I had realised.

One of the things they impressed upon us is that fumbling with your equipment doesn’t make for good interviews. So I’m keen to practice though the summer so that I come across professionally when I get into my fieldwork this autumn.

With that in mind I took the opportunity to film at Thingvellir when I was transferring through Iceland earlier this summer. A World Heritage site on the intercontinental plate boundary, the world’s oldest functioning parliament where new land is appearing every year, Thingvellir feels like a great example of future heritage to me.


So I’m spending the Day of Archaeology editing that footage, using different editing and audio styles to see what kinds of different arguments I can make in this new (to me) medium. I’ll post what I get when I’m done, rough and ready as it will be.

Oral History at a POW camp in Hampshire

For my day of Archaeology I picked up an elderly neighbour, drove to the suburbs, then had lunch in a country pub. It was absolutely exhausting.

My neighbour, John Miller, was born in Germany, on the Czech border, in 1922. He came to Britain in 1945 as a prisoner of war. Captured in the Netherlands in February he spent the rest of the war under canvas in Yorkshire. In August he was moved to Portchester where he was held until 1948. He managed to get a message to his parents in 1947, but he never saw them again. When repatriation was being arranged he realised that his home was now in East Germany, and what that meant. He, with many others, was given leave to stay in Britain as an agricultural worker. It didn’t feel like a choice.


From:L. Burton and B. Musselwhite, 2006 the Book of Fareham Halsgrove, Tiverton. Mr. Miller (standing centre) 1946

Most of our conversation is about his life in post war Portsmouth. His careful life, slowly improving jobs, marriage, buying a house, raising children bears similarities to those of his new neighbours. When I met him, it was as the longest established resident of my terrace, with the least altered house. It was many years before I felt confident to use his experience to help me understand the Heritage and Archaeology Prisoner of War camps. There is a lot a military heritage in the Portsmouth area but there are aspects of that heritage which are overlooked and on the road to being forgotten. I don’t want his story to be forgotten.

Today was the second session of oral history recording for us. In the first I learned the sequence described above and got some sense of where the experience sits in his perception of himself (a long way from the centre). In this session we went to the site of the camp he was held at. I had two hopes for this trip. Firstly, that he could help me understand the site, and the second that being on the site might elicit different memories for him. I was concerned that bringing him to site would be distressing (He’s 92 and undergoing chemo) But he said “I can go back anywhere I’ve been, because I have always behaved as an honourable man”

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There is very little remaining at the site from its use as a Prisoner of War camp. All that remains above ground is the street pattern. Mr Miller brought a sketch map to help him remember. “Here was the guard house, here the British cook house, here the huts, here the church, the fence was over there”. We stop outside the house that has replaced his hut. The hut was number 26, the house, number 47.

His memories are different from the ones we discussed in his sitting room a week ago. Sharper, more concrete. We talk about the clothes he wore as a prisoner, and particularly hats. He remembers the first hat he bought on release so clearly, a blue homburg. He couldn’t afford a new suit, but being able to tip his hat in greeting, take it off indoors, and put it on to leave made him feel respectable.


From:L. Burton and B. Musselwhite, 2006 the Book of Fareham Halsgrove, Tiverton.

On the way there and the way back he pointed out places he had worked, both as a prisoner, and as a free man. “I ploughed that field” “All those factories are pulled down now” “When we built those roads, we wondered ‘why the gap’, it was for the Motorway we didn’t know about” His knowledge of the landscape is very rich and complex. Yet it retains a sense of being an outsider. He describes changes, but doesn’t comment on them.

All the way through our conversation I am thinking. I try to keep hearing the story that he wants to tell. Not to drift off into the story I want to ‘uncover’. I try to listen for his unanswered questions, the places where my research can offer something more once we’ve finished. I try to stay open to the counter view of WWII heritage. This is why I am so tired.

We go for lunch in the Golden Lion Pub in Southwick, at his suggestion. Eisenhowser drank there while planning the D-Day Landings and it has been themed with propaganda posters and photographs of Churchill. He orders a German lager.



Heritage for Transformation

Last year on the Day of Archaeology I was just deciding to set up a new social enterprise using heritage resources to support community and organisational change. I didn’t have a name, I didn’t have a plan, and all the money came from my redundancy payment. Spoliers: this is neither a story of triumph or despair, I’m still building the company, I’ve done some good things but I have a long way to go. This post seems a good time to reflect on the year, think about how my work articulates with archaeology, and give a flavour of what this kind of work involves.

But first a little background…

I joined English Heritage in 2001 in the belief that it was a Public Heritage body. Having come to the realisation that my own interest was not enough to sustain a satisfying career, even if I could convince people to keep paying me, I thought that working at English Heritage would put me at the coal face of a socially engaged archaeology. Really.

Amazingly, this was indeed what motivated many of my colleagues, And while my own work had less public engagement than I might have liked, it was a core function of the organisation. But the review of Quangos in 2011 identified a ‘duplication’ between English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund and recommended that public engagement be left to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

It seemed like a good time to leave, and the cuts following the CSR changed my role further and provided an opportunity to take voluntary redundancy. Seed corn for a new venture, so much luckier than most.

Where am I now?
Well, my venture has a name, Heritage for Transformation. It has a blog http://heritagefortransformation.wordpress.com It has had both paying work, and voluntary engagement. And I have a huge stock of ideas for new projects, not quite matching the funds to do them.

I developed a heritage programme with Goldsmith Infant school in Portsmouth, to support their merger with Brambles Nursery. The programme is designed to help the process of change management by providing perspective and a place for reflection. I worked with the school to conduct archival research, building recording and oral history. I developed and ran a successful after school club for students building on this work and created display materials for school events. Working in concert with the reconstruction schedule associated with the merger I will be developing interpretive displays for the new entrance and events associated with key moments in the building programme.

I contributed to a Linaeus University project on attitudes to the Future in Heritage. This project is commissioned by the Swedish Atomic Energy Authority to establish how archaeology and heritage can contribute a long term perspective that will help them understand the long term thinking required to manage nuclear waste. I investigated and reported on what notions of the future are operating within English Heritage through documentary analysis and interviews with key staff.

Collaborating with Flow Associates (http://flowassociates.com/wordpress/ ), I have led a project for the RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum) in Exeter (http://www.rammuseum.org.uk ), to scope and test the market for a new online research tool for encouraging research use of their collections derived from archaeological excavation. I’ve drawn on my understanding of excavation and post-excavation resources to help shape access to resources within the museum.

Now I’m developing an HLF bid to develop a smartphone App drawing on the WWI memorials of Portsmouth. In this project I am working with historian Tim Backhouse (http://www.memorials.inportsmouth.co.uk/index.htm) and local schools while co-ordinating contracts to reinvigorate the public engagement with the substantial body of memorials in Portsmouth.

For the first year of a venture I’d have to say its a success. But there have been and are challenges beyond the financial.

Firstly, there’s identity. When I worked for EH I never had to explain. Most people didn’t know what I did, but they knew who I did it for. I had voice. I had locus. Even deciding a name took the best part of 6 months. One year on and I’m proud of what I’m developing and I’m beginning to enjoy explaining.

Then there’s the business development. I’ve done enough management to be confident with the admin, but marketing, sales and development are all new skills. Luckily, I’ve had the support of http://rubystarassociates.co.uk who specialise in accidental (and even reluctant) entrepreneurs.

What does my Day of Archaeology look like?
Mostly writing, I have a report to finish and another to edit. A fair amount of thinking, about how I can turn ideas into projects, about how to work with more partners, and about how archaeology can support change. Finally, enjoying a huge range of posts from colleagues around the world. Lovely to be part of the Day of Archaeology, it really shows the breath of work that archaeology informs and how exciting even the everyday can be.

Heritage at the Fete

Heritage at the Fete

Back to School

I’ve just begun a Community Heritage project with two local schools that are merging (Bramble’s Nursery and Children’s Centre and Goldsmith’s Infant School). The Day of Archaeology was my first day of fieldwork. Bramble’s was built in 1888 as an Infant school; Goldsmith’s was built in 1966 on the site of the Boys and Girls School which had accompanied the Infant School in 1888. Although the two schools work closely together, they have different structures, concerns, history. The merger has advantages but it will be a big change and the Heritage project is intended to support that change process by allowing people to focus on the changes the schools have gone through already, to provide a point of reflection in that process.

One of the real joys of this project is the excitement of the schools for the work. All of the people I’ve dealt with so far have been really happy to share memories, show me their buildings and find great archival material. They are also really comfortable with the idea that the heritage of the 1966 building is as important as the 1888 building; that the heritage is more than the buildings; that the previous schools are part of the story. Most of all they are keen to see heritage as all about change.

We are not recording these buildings because they, or some of their features will be lost (though they may be). We are not trying to preserve the sites, or any of their heritage. We are using their heritage as a source of strength in a time of change. Which is what I always wanted archaeology to be about.

A lot of the project involves Oral History (listening to people) and Archival Research (working with official documents like log books for the school). But on the Day of Archaeology I spent my time getting to know the buildings as an archaeologist. I already know the buildings as a parent. My son went to Brambles at 6 months old and is finishing his second year at Goldsmith’s. What’s so different about an archaeologist’s eye that I needed to do this work at all?

Every archaeologist is different, and every project has different aims, but for me and these schools the archaeologists gaze is about looking for the manifestations of change. Some may be big changes (like the plaque commemorating the building of Goldsmiths) Some may be smaller (the slight differences in the build of the staff room marking it as a later addition) some may be tiny (the holes drilled in the brickwork holding something now removed, or even the wear on the pavement in the new playground). I spent the day noticing these, noting them, photographing them and thinking about them. They are the raw materials which materialise the stories that the other aspects of the project are beginning to frame.

I can’t resist one of these stories which I can only see the edges of so far, as told by this piece of unbuilt heritage – a plan of the site from 1943. You can see the Boys, Girls, and Infants schools, and the gender/age divided playgrounds, walls, boundaries, doors and drainage all present. Except the school was bombed in 1941. In 1943 only the Infant School was still standing and it wasn’t in use. Most of the site was an uncleared bombsite What hoped for future does this plan represent? How does it reflect the schools that were bombed (which I can’t find a plan for yet)? And how can I use it as a thread in a heritage that supports a new future for these schools?

writing about fieldwork not as fun as fieldwork

Today I’m writing about fieldwork in 3 (or is it 4) different ways. I’m finishing the report of an excavation; I’m chasing modelling software to explore some results from a field experiment; I’m responding to a set of papers about fieldwork; and I’m writing this blog. But I would prefer to be doing fieldwork. While most of my time (indeed most of any archaeologist’s time) is at a desk rather than in the field, fieldwork remains the heart of archaeology.

This is partly because fieldwork generates new data. But this alone cannot explain it, because there’s plenty of existing data which can be used in new ways, not to mention the existing data which has yet to be used in any meaningful way at all.  Fieldwork *feels* like archaeology. There is a sense that direct discovery is more interesting that intellectual unearthing. More fun to say you found something new than you understood something new.

Even when we are in the field we need to translate, explain why the thing we’ve found is interesting.  Even beautiful objects and ancient monuments are interesting for the things they tell us more than for what they are.

But the field has two things my desk doesn’t. Firstly, a team. Writing can feel lonely when you remember the feeling of teamwork that the field brings. Secondly, focus. While there are lots of different tasks while in the field, they usually relate to the same project. In the office the conflicting demands of different types of project are always there.

So the day looks like this.  Come in and write ‘to do’ list. 17 items, 4 of which are writing.  The rest are largely management tasks. I had hoped to do the excavation report in the morning, then the modelling, then the discussion piece.

But the management tasks blossom in the morning so the excavation report squashes into the afternoon.

The software for the modelling is tantalisingly nearly functioning when I finish lunch. It’s a simple question I want to ask: ‘Is the acoustic ‘soundscape’ of Silbury larger because of the existence of the hill? Put another way, if you take the hill away does sound travel as far? Sadly, I can’t run the model today after all. The software still won’t function despite the best efforts of our IT support.

Well, it leaves the rest of the day free for writing and editing.  I want to say something redemptive about writing. A sense of perspective, seeing the larger patterns. I’m sure that it is true, but sat in the middle of choosing photographs and writing captions I can’t help longing for the next time I’m in the field.