Guest blog at Castle Studies Trust

Bodiam Castle is well known in castle studies; whether it was a fortified structure or built to display the status of the owner. This debate has been explored elsewhere, particularly by Professor Matthew Johnson[1]. Traditionally the building has been considered from the exterior, with a few notable exceptions[2], further until recently only ground floor plans…

via Bodiam Castle and the exploration of space — Castle Studies Trust Blog

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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)

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!

Palaeolithic Archaeology, Ice Age Island and Echoes

Huge thanks to Sam Griffiths for helping me write this blog and to Jon Whitmore for the photos.

I have just come back for a weekend visiting the Ice Age Island Project on Jersey. During this time I spent a lot of time discussing the experience of sound with early humans/ other hominid species something I know nothing about I hasten to add. However, the issues if somewhat larger in an earlier period are still prevalent in my medieval work and primarily stem from how we can approach the experience of sound for a group of people whose experience of life is so departed from our own.

La Cotte de St. Brelade

La Cotte de St. Brelade

In the Medieval period I have discussed how the world was a lot quieter in comparison to how it is today, meaning that smaller noises would be heard more clearly and would be related to in a different way. However, these issues are even larger in the Paleolithic, my understanding is that in pre-modern humans there is a huge discussion about when language began to form. From what I have discussed with people there is no defined date to confirm when speech became possible. I was even more curious to discover that although this debate raged no thought had been turned to the development of the ear and how hominids relate to sound.

This primarily came out of a discussion about various experiments with sound that I have discussed briefly in my previous post. A lot of prehistoric work in Archaeoacoustics discusses the ephemeral nature of sound specifically in relation to echoes. Without our modern understanding of how echoes work they are assumed have been understood as magical or work of the gods. However, as Reznikoff (2008) suggests in his discussion on resonance maybe it was considered a more useful tool for exploration than light and sound. He discusses the use of sound to explore caves, where light travels only over short distances sound can be projected forward and used as a guide to find shorter or longer passages.

Both discussions have both issues and positive suggestions.

Jon's position in the entrance to La Cotte

Jon’s position in the entrance to La Cotte

While on Jersey we clambered round to visit La Cotte de St. Brelade, the cave was very busy following a Jersey Heritage tour and instead we decided we would swim back and meet some of the other project members back on the main beach. Having swam out a short distance we saw our friends climbing up into the cave and thought it would be a good point to get a photo. Without much hope I shouted back up to them, my experiences with swimming and sailing has always suggested that sound does not project well. In fact I heard my voice echo back off the cliffs. My friend Jon Whitmore not only heard up but said he could hear us as clearly as if we were sat next to him. We could not hear him.

Swimming in the sea at La Cotte the red circle shows our position

Swimming in the sea at La Cotte the red circle shows our position

This acoustical phenomena might not have existed in the past, as with buildings landscapes change over time. Where we floating in the sea would have been dry land and this would have had an effect. Equally the erosion of local bedrock could have changed the acoustical properties of the headland. However, the water was only a couple of meters deep so our height was not too far out of reaching the site. A new suggestion is that this natural acoustical property could have been taken advantage of by those inhabiting the site. It could have been used as a signal for the approach of things or as a method of communication over a larger distance.

Either way it was a fascinating new way for me to experience the site and I can’t wait to get back there to go on a closer exploration.

Reznikoff, I. (2008). Sound resonance in prehistoric times: A study of Paleolithic painted caves and rocks. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 123(5), 4137–4141.

Acoustical modelling

Oriel Chamber at Ightham Mote photo courtesy of Tony Fordham

Oriel Chamber at Ightham Mote

Old Chapel at Ightham Mote photo courtesy of Tony Fordham

Old Chapel at Ightham Mote

Great Hall at Ightham Mote photo courtesy of Tony Fordham

Great Hall at Ightham Mote photo courtesy of Tony Fordham

About 2 months ago I set off for Ightham Mote in Kent to begin the data collection for my second digital project. Working with a team of PhD students from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at Southampton our intention was to record the Impulse Response for three areas of the building: the Hall, the Old Chapel and the Oriel Room. This would be used to create a model of the building in CATT-Acoustic and to calculate values for clarity and intelligibility when we returned to Southampton.

The work was undertaken after the building was closed to the public as we needed each space to be empty and required a constant level of background noise. We used a lot of different bits of equipment as the ISVR students wanted to use the data for other things while I was very interested in modelling with it to compare the acoustical experiences of the space to the experience of medieval space from Visualisation. We used a microphone, Kemar (Binural microphone), omnidirectional speaker and Loud speaker to record the space in the Oriel chamber and the Old Chapel while in the Great hall we used a loud speaker but also used an omnidirectional microphone.

Kemar (binaural microphone), omnidirectional microphone, measurement microphone and microphone array and amplifier

Kemar (binaural microphone), omnidirectional microphone, measurement microphone and microphone array and amplifier

Omnidirectional amplifier and measurement microphone in Oriel Chamber

Omnidirectional amplifier and measurement microphone in Oriel Chamber

In each space we had two source positions to allow us to compare the experience of sound being produced from two different locations, and at least six receiver positions. It was my task to select *interesting* locations for these positions. They were selected based on different experiences of the space, so in the chapel I choose source and receiver positions related to whether you were performing a service or listening to the service. In the Oriel room positions close to and further away from the squint were selected. In the Great Hall I choose positions at the high status end of the room and the further down as well as a position that a musician would perform from.

We used a sin curve sound to record the impulse response (pink noise) which allows us to record most frequencies of sound that occur within nature.

After recording the acoustical properties of the room it was also necessary to undertake a basic measured survey of the room. This did not need to be as accurate as a building survey but did need to include different areas of materials to allow us to model the acoustical properties of the space. To do this I have been using CATT-Acoustic. It requires me to enter the dimensions of the room in terms of corners and planes created from coordinates.

CATT Acoustical coding

CATT Acoustical coding

I have really enjoyed getting use to this none graphical way of modelling. I am use to clicking, dragging and selecting which is very straight forward, so this was an entirely new experience. Although to begin with I didn’t find this method of coding easy once I got started and got my head around what measurements were needed and which extra corners I would need to define to be able to create planes it was speedy. Though as with any coding it required quite a bit of debugging. I also found, that as with pretty much any fieldwork, as soon as I got back I realised I needed to go back and take a load of new different measurements and take lots of photos. For this I have to give lots of credit to Camilla Rowe who came up for the day to give me a hand speeding the whole process up.

Chapel in the CATT 3d viewer

Chapel in the CATT 3d viewer

Oriel in CATT 3d viewer

Oriel in CATT 3d viewer

I’m really looking forward to getting on with the actual acoustics end of the work next. It feels strange working visually to produce something that is going to be used to model noise. These ideas are something I will be exploring further in my thesis.

What is lived experience?

It has been a while since I blogged, I have been distracted by my upgrade corrections and beginning new chapters on acoustics and literature reviews.

I began this blog a few months ago while I was in Chicago. I realised that I hadn’t ever set my work in its theoretical context and specifically avoided defining what I meant by lived experience. Today I have been updating my profiles on various websites and this blog and realised that since I started this blog my aims had changed and developed quite a lot and as such I needed to write a post to reflect where my thoughts were.

I had been straining to avoid defining what I thought about lived experience and I think this has been due to the attempt of avoiding linking my work too deeply with Phenomenology. This is essentially due to in my mind the somewhat “fluffy” image that phenomenology creates. While I agree that as archaeologists we do need to consider the experiential aspects of sites but as Stephen Murray stated we need to “reconciling our experiential responses with the task of dealing with buildings as entities that can go beyond the written document in providing vital access to the past.” (Murray 2008: 383).

For this thesis it is taken to mean how people understand the world around them, not based on some preconceived scheme but through experience: how they move, their activities, everyday paths and places and memory. This means that the documentary and physical evidence are not enough, because the past is subjective, memory: both personal and inherited are important.

My intention is to use digital technologies as a mechanism for visualising and auralising these experiences while using the reflecting ways of thinking about lived experience to critique the results.