The Virtual St. Stephen’s Project — Allen Archaeology

In Spring 2016 we were subcontracted by University of York to convert a visual model of the pre-1834 House of Commons, St. Stephen’s Chapel Westminster to an acoustic model. The work was commissioned as part of the Virtual St Stephen’s Project, an AHRC-funded research project and was a collaboration between the departments of History (Dr…

via The Virtual St. Stephen’s Project — Allen Archaeology

The Archaeology A Level

On Wednesday the AQA decided to scrap the A Level in Archaeology, and unsurprisingly the Archaeological world has responded.

As an Archaeologist I think this is a terrible idea to lose this qualification. As others have highlighted, there is a shortage in Archaeologists. Further, having a degree should not be the only gateway into a career which doesn’t have to be academic. Beyond encouraging people to start a career in archaeology there are a host of other reasons as to why archaeology is a great subject and others have written about them far more eloquently than me.

Before I continue, I have signed the petition, and I do think you should to.

However, I’m concerned with how the A Level is being discussed. It must offer a fantastic grounding for those wishing to begin their career, I don’t know because I didn’t have the opportunity to study it at A Level. It wasn’t offered at my 6th Form (the local comprehensive). You could argue I could have gone to an institution which did offer it or possibly studied it as an evening class. I possibly could have attended a different HE, but it wasn’t really an option. I’m not convinced there was a route via public transport and if there was it would have involved at least two buses and a journey winding through rural Wiltshire for over an hour in each direction. The argument with evening classes is the same, no buses ran out of my village after 6pm.

If we are being totally honest neither of these is the real problem. If I had really wanted to do an A Level in Archaeology either at a college or in the evening my parents could have taken me. I’m a white girl from a middle class background growing up in a village in the Cotswold’s with parents who have supported me through 10 years of education.

But that’s the point really isn’t it. Not everyone has that option.

When I started my degree 10 years ago I came straight from school with A Levels in Chemistry, Geography and Maths. I had done a bit of volunteering at a museum and had the standard long term love of the past. At every interview I had attended to get my place at university I was informed that I wouldn’t be any worse off for not having an A Level in Archaeology, History or a related subject. However, when I started I did feel behind my peers who had a stronger grounding.

I currently work for a commercial unit. A high percentage of our staff have a degree, but not all of them. Some staff have worked on commercial sites since they were 15, others have come into the company via our trainee scheme after they finished Further Education. Would the A Level have set them up any better for their career?

The opportunity to study, and now work in archaeology has been fantastic and I have loved every minute of it. I do not want to see that lost, and A Level’s particularly at colleges offer a fantastic gateway for people of all ages to engage with the subject or start their career. I would have loved to have taken it, I think I would have achieved better results and been more engaged with the other subjects I studied. But can we be clear that having an A Level in Archaeology is not essential or crucial, and it isn’t the only way to begin.

 

(Written in haste and trying to not whine)

Mood boards: Comfort

Looking at the interior of Bodiam today, particularly if visiting on a cold wet day, it is hard to imagine it being a comfortable space. I brought together images of furnished space: such as Dover Castle with manuscripts of household scenes. These I felt elicited a feeling of warmth and comfort similar to those used in stock photography as seen here.

Mood Board: Comfort

Mood Board: Comfort

Comfort visualisation

Comfort visualisation

Image sources:
Detail of a miniature of the birth of Alexander the Great, at the beginning of book 5, from the Miroir Historial (translated by Jean de Vignay from Vincent of Beauvais’s Speculum Historiale), Netherlands (Bruges), 1479-1480, (British Library, MS Royal 14 E I, vol 1, f.177v-178r) (BritishLibrary 2014f)
Delilah shearing Samson’s Hair, by the workshop of the Boucicaut Master (Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M 394, f 112) (TheMorganLibrary&Museum 2014)
Griet
Penshurst Guidebook
Newboult, J. & Newboult, E., 2014. Rye Jug. Trinity Court Potteries: Medieval Replicas webstire. Available at: http://www.trinitycourtpotteries.co.uk/1Contact details.htm [Accessed November 21, 2014].
Griet, 2012. Augustinus, La Cité de Dieu, Paris, Maître François, c. 1475-1480. Wikipedia. Available at: http://wiki.reenactor.ru/index.php/Изображение:Augustinus,_La_Cité_de_Dieu,_Paris,_Maître_François,_c._1475-1480(9).jpg [Accessed December 1, 2014].
Photo of the Barley Hall, York courtesy of Alexis Pantos
Northern Dutch Book of Hours from 1489. Haarlem manuscript with miniatures by the hand of the Dutch artist Spierinck.
The Hague, KB, 76 F 10 fol. 42r The deathbed of St. Hubert of Liège

Mood Boards: Eating

It has been a long time since I have updated. I completed my PhD at the beginning of December (2014), viva’d in February and finally had my corrections confirmed at the beginning of the month. Having spent a busy month somewhere in between working at Winchelsea (http://cma.soton.ac.uk/events/2015/04/winchelsea-medieval-port-project/) and Bucklers Hard (http://cma.soton.ac.uk/events/2015/04/shipwrightery-at-bucklers-hard/)

This post is going to discuss the first of a series of mood boards I created as a way of engaging with the 3d model of the private apartments at Bodiam as part of my PhD. The idea was that discussions (and critiques) surrounding archaeological visualisation have tried to engage with subjectivity and uncertainty in different ways. I suggest the presenting the representations of the past alongside some of the source images used to create them. Each of the boards I have created is themed around some element of medieval life or experience.

The board in this post relates to eating. Stock images from sites such as GettyImages tend to focus on people physically eating rather than things associated with that task.

Eating (7)

Eating (1)

Image sources:
Queen Elizabeth receiving the Dutch ambassadors. Painted between 1570-75 the artist is unknown. It is currently at Neue Galerie, Kassel, Germany. (Jokinen 2008)
Luttrell Psalter Featuring the Lord at Dinner (Copyright 1989 The British Library Board)
(British Library, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 76v) (BritishLibrary 2014e)
(Royal MS 19 D II f. 273r)(BritishLibrary 2014g)
The Book of the Queen – Christine de Pizan in her study – by Master of the Cite Des Dames in 1410 (British Library, MS Harley 4431, f. 4r)
The Coronation Chair, Westminster Cathedral (BBCHistory 2014).
The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum (TheBritishMuseum 2011b)
British Library Royal 14 E iii, miniature of King Arthur’s Court.

Busy week (2) – Digital Heritage, External Engagement & Conservation workshop

Following our adventures at Knole I was back in Southampton for the night before heading off to a workshop organised by Dr. Kate Giles and Dr Gill Chitty, University of York. I was invited to present a 20 minute paper on the broad topic of my work using “digital heritage to present and enhance understanding of, and visitor experience at, heritage sites”. This sounded like an exciting but terrifying prospect and I wasn’t sure which element I should go for, the wonderful Kate Giles helped to clarify by stating that the workshop was interested in focussing on the potential and limitations of working with external partners. So in the end I decided to give an overview of my experience of a Collaborative Doctoral Award working with Trust.

The workshop took place at the Weald and Downland Museum, which I have visited many times over the course of my thesis. We were based in Crawley Hall, a beautiful a late 15th early 16th century first floor hall. Richard Harris gave a wonderful introduction to the building and the museum giving us a real insight to the workings of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum and their wishes to further peoples understanding of rural life and landscape.

The day was split into three broad sessions Issues and approaches, Techniques and applications and working with partners.

Kate Giles started the day by introducing her work at the Guild Chapel in Stratford-upon-Avon, I really enjoyed her honest approach with her first encountering of digital visualisation technologies, the wish to highlight exactly how it would have looked according to one’s own research. This overtime develops into a wish to display different interpretations or presentations of the data, allowing viewers to engage with as much material as possible. This was followed by Daniel Mutibwa presenting on the Pararchive project. He gave us an insight to some amazing datasets that they are hoping to make available and a methodology for creating useful digital resources. Starting with an idea or something that is needed and then finding the right digital tool for the job.

The second session on Techniques and Applications I found really engaging. I had met Sarah Duffy briefly on Jersey last summer, and was very interested to see her present on the use of multiple digital techniques and finding the best technique for each job as it comes. Her work on public engagement in Sudan was fascinating.

Although I have worked closely with Gareth Beale on other things (Seeing, Thinking, Doing) and heard him discuss the British Memorial project it was wonderful hearing him discuss the overall aims and direction the project is going in. The same with Jude Jones and Nicole Beale on the use of RTI towards visual presentation. It was lovely to see a much more detailed paper on their project particularly following a mini project Jude and I are pursuing on a similar vane.

The final session focussing on working with partners began with a presentation from Pat Gibbs from the Centre for Christianity & Culture at University of York. He presented some wonderful digital heritage applications. I found his ideals about creating something that aims to engage with a visitor before, during and after their visit, extending the interest and experience of the space. I was up next and I hope I highlighted how wonderfully rewarding working closely with a large organisation can be but also how frustrating it can be trying to find out who your research is for. This is something I wish to discuss more in the coming months. Finally Stuart Eve from LP Archaeology, gave a depressing but informing discussion on the issues of pursuing digital engagements when working on developer funded sites. He put it in no uncertain terms and there simply isn’t enough money in the budget for commercial companies to produce digital output with legislation as it stands. For this to change there needs to be a change in the law forcing developers to encourage public engagement with the results of archaeological investigation which will allow companies to include this in their budget. I am definitely not informed enough on this area of engagement but Lorna Richardson has just finished her thesis on Digital Public Archaeology which Stuart suggests discusses this in detail, i’m looking forward to seeing her present at Digital Heritage 2014 next week.

A number of these papers I have seen presented in various guises, or read papers in before. But being able to actually discuss the issues we all encounter was very engaging and lay the ground for lots of future projects. I feel the small number of participants allowed a really informed discussion on the wonderful opportunities for these techniques but also highlighted what limitations currently stand in the way of allowing them to develop. I hope the conversations continue.

The making of the Great Tower at Dover Castle

The Great Tower at Dover Castle was built by Henry II in the late 12th century. It is an English Heritage property. In 2009 the tower was reopened following a huge project to re-present the interiors.

The great tower, Dover Castle

Unlike most projects that focus on just a couple of rooms in a building at Dover they have furnished and decorated the building nearly in its entirety. To do this they have gone beyond reproductions of existing items of 12th century furniture and instead embraced a wide range of research processes to produce the results.

The aim of the project was to evoke the appearance and atmosphere of the interiors on the occasion of a major royal event in the 12th century. The team working on the project stems not just from heritage professionals but historians, designers, craftspeople and artists. Following a large body of research instead of producing copies of items the furnishings and fittings were created in the 12th century mindset of design and creation. In doing so the project embraces uncertainty and creativity in its envisioning of the 12th century.

I feel that this idea should be embraced in the creation of CGI images as well. Throughout my thesis I have been asked by medievalists to provide hard evidence for each decision I have made. Although this is necessary to give my work substance I feel we should be embracing subjectivity at the same time. We should be moving towards this type of research and engagement following the research of the hard evidence embracing the style and design concepts of the period instead of just trying to trace real items from the medieval period, which we already acknowledge as few and far between.

The results at Dover are stunning, personally I feel visiting them provides a feel for 12th century life in a way that cannot be accessed through empty rooms and partially decorated spaces.

Soot above the fireplace at Dover Castle

Soot above the fireplace at Dover Castle


More information about the project can be found here.

Buildings and the Body

At the end of June (27th and 28th to be precise) I am helping to organise a two day symposium exploring the built environment in the medieval and early modern period. Website with all the information is here http://buildingsandthebody.wordpress.com

This is just a quick post to say we have a fabulous line up of speakers, a beautiful venue lined up for the wine reception and a fascinating keynote. We want to encourage more attendies to register. When organising the sessions we decided to move away from the traditional series of papers followed by a keynote. Instead (broadly) each session is formed of 2 long papers and upto 2 short papers leading into a half hour roundtable discussion. The aim is to really try and discuss the subject matter in detail towards collaborative solutions and approaches.

Everyone is welcome no matter what background as we are also trying to work towards a fully collaborative approach, beyond discipline (archaeology, history, english), experience (we encourgae undergraduates) and beyond academic or commercial divides. We hope this is reflected in our program.

A bit of a self promotion, I will presenting a short paper on my acoustical work in the “New Approaches” session which if you are here I hope you would find interesting!

Multidisciplinarity

My PhD was conceived to bring together a range of different approaches and methodologies towards the study of late medieval buildings. It started as one of two PhDs myself based in archaeological computing and a second student with a background in medieval history. This intended to bring together digital visualisation techniques with a solid base in evidence sourced through archival research.

I have stated elsewhere how visualisation techniques have been highly critiqued and the methodology developed to work in an archaeological context. There are courses that can be sat on to teach the tools available and how they can be applied in archaeology. However, for Auralization this is not the case, there have been limited applications in archaeology and the technique still requires a deep understanding of acoustical engineering. Working with ISVR has been challenging, it took us a long time to find someone to work with who could teach me how to do acoustical survey and how it can be applied. Engineers work in different ways and focus on different things. In reverse they do not have the theoretical background in archaeology to engage with the results of the work.

Where I am going with this is that using techniques from other disciplines (even just history) can be incredibly challenging. It is not just finding the contacts and someone interested in working with you. It is knowing what techniques can be used and their limitations to apply them correctly. It is making sure you are asking the right questions when learning techniques to ensure you are getting the correct answers from your collaborators not just the easy answer.

However, I have found other aspects of multidisciplinary method more frustrating, particularly when presenting my work. These issues can be as simple as struggling with referencing; archival sources such as illuminated manuscripts are very difficult to reference using the Harvard system. I spoke to Prof. Chris Woolgar from history who said, that in essence, you have to “bodge” it. Not something that works well with bibliographic software. The same is true in engineering working to disciplinary standards, trying to find the best way of getting the information across feels impossible at times.

Presenting the results of sound work is also frustrating, rarely are conference venues setup with good quality audio, if any at all. I find it hard to reconcile myself to discussing the experience of sound without any audio accompaniment in the same way discussing visualisation without images seems ridiculous. This continues when writing my thesis, providing a mechanism for the sounds I am talking about to be heard.

I don’t mean for this blog post to be a rant, I was hoping instead to highlight some of the difficulties in working between disciplines for all multi-disciplinary research in general. As we are being encouraged to use methodologies from other disciplines, I hope the more this is embraced the easier it will get for some of these basic problems.