This post outlines the successes to date of my initiative to synergise student learning, research and public engagement through a series of final-year student archaeology conferences leading to peer-reviewed academic publications. As such, this constitutes an innovative approach to integrating student learning and academic research in the field of public archaeology.
Background – Archaeology in Contemporary Society
Archaeologists at Chester are research active and excel at incorporating undergraduate students into their research through field work, field visits, lab-based investigations, research dissertations, and projects. Furthermore, acutely aware that archaeology is a subject that is as much about our present and future as our past, we have long delivered a core module for final-year single honours Archaeology students called ‘HI6001 – Archaeology and Contemporary Archaeology’ in which the ethics and contexts of archaeological research is explored. The module critically explores the many intersections and relevances of the discipline to present-day society, addressing a range of key issues, from climate change and digital and media archaeologies, to the insights and critiques provided by archaeologists on today’s global diasporas and the rise of pseudoarchaeology and alt-right misuses of the past. More than ever before, our society needs solid, informed, loud and clear voices to communicate the latest research on the past in order to evaluate, critique challenge the uses and significances of the past in the present.
To further foster student participation in, and communication of, archaeological research within their undergraduate degree programmes, a key pedagogic innovation in this module took place from 2016. As a formative exercise leading to their summative assignments, final-year single honours Archaeology students were tasked with designing, advertising, organising and populating a public free academic day conference on a specific and key theme in public archaeological research. Cheshire West and Chester’s Grosvenor Museum kindly agreed to host the event, making it fully accessible within the heart of the city of Chester to as many people as possible. As well as enhancing opportunities for students to research and debate archaeology’s significance in contemporary society, the events would also show-case the University and Department, provide a venue to invite guest speakers on the topic to enhance student learning, and encourage students to develop not only knowledge and skills, but confidence as both proficient researchers and public debaters. Through the combination of public talk, debates and video-recorded dissemination, the aim is to afford students with an appreciation of how archaeologists might operate as public intellectuals, taking their ideas and approaches to broader societal debates.
By creating free, public conferences as formative student exercises in liaison with, and generous hosting by, CWAC’s Grosvenor Museum, and supported by the Department of History and Archaeology, the events operated as staging points for a bigger strategy of student engagement in original research in public archaeology through to publication. The student conferences created the potential to subsequently involve students in a series of academic research outputs. Therefore, as module leader, I committed to leading each conference towards peer-reviewed publications.
The first University of Chester Archaeology Student Conference was hosted by CWAC’s Grosvenor Museum as a free public event. It focused on a key area of my research: ‘public mortuary archaeology’ – the ethics and practies of public engagement with human remains and mortuary contexts (tombs, cemeteries, memorials and grave-goods) in museums, heritage sites, academic and popular publications and digital media. With support and guidance from me as module leader, the event was designed, promoted and organised by students who sorted out the programme and chaired sessions.
In addition to the student presentations, the day also included a fabulous and far-ranging keynote lecture by Dr Ing-Marie Back Danielsson of Southampton and Uppsala Universities.
The first conference was also videoed by LIS and can be viewed here, thus creating a permanent record of the event for public dissemination.
Subsequently, I worked with those students who wished to be involved in both the editing process and authoring contributions. This resulted in a co-edited book containing both student contributions and high-profile heritage professionals and academics. The results of the long and complex editorial process resulted in a peer-reviewed edited collection published in January 2019 by Sheffield-based academic publishers Equinox Press: The Public Archaeology of Death. See my recent blog-posts about the publication here.
In the book, 4 former-undergraduate students contributed authored/co-authored chapters, while a further member of the group co-edited the book (Jennifer Osborne). A then-Cheser postgraduate also served as co-editor: Ben Wills-Eve.
The second student conference took place on 5th April 2017 and tackled the theme of ArchaeoEngage: Engaging Communities in Archaeology: linked to the research expertise of Dr Caroline Pudney and myself. Again this was a free public event hosted by CWAC’s Grosvenor Museum deployed as a formative exercise for final-year single honours Archaeology students taking HI6001 – Archaeology and Contemporary Society.
This time, there were two prestigious keynote speakers – Dr Mike Heyworth and Dr Lornda Richardson and the students innovated in a wider range of presentation formats including vlogs, posters and podcasts.
Once again, LIS video-recorded the entire event for further public enagement: https://vimeo.com/album/4579092
The edited book will have a new title, reflecting the specific issues and themes addressed: Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement. This book is now in an advanced stage of preparation for publication and due to be released by Archaeopress (Oxford) in late 2019 as part of their ‘Access Archaeology’ open access online series (open access online and print-on-demand in colour). It will include no fewer than 6 chapters authored/co-authored by former UoC students, plus contributions by current Chester PGRs, plus papers by heritage professionals and academic archaeologists. The book is again being co-edited, this time with Dr Caroline Pudney and former-student Afnan Ezzeldin.
The third student conference was a successful event, focusing attention on the controversial public archaeologies of the Early Middle Ages (often popularly referred to as ‘The Dark Ages’). As well an exciting range of formative student presentations, the event incorporated two keynote talks by leading experts in digital public archaeology and early medieval archaeology respectively: Dr Chiara Bonacchi (University of Stirling) and Dr Adrian Maldonado (National Museum of Scotland). Note: given the particular sensitivities of the topics addressed, the decision was made not to video the student presentations.
At least 6 of the UoC undergraduates will be published in the proceedings, to be edited by me. They will join a range of commissioned papers on the public archaeology of the Early Middle Ages. The book is in production, with papers subject to peer-review once again. It will published by the end of 2019 or early 2020 by Archaeopress (OUP), again as part of their ‘Access Archaeology’ open access online series.
Three years of final-year Archaeology single honours students have participated in successfully organising and delivering a UoC Archaeology student conference as a formative exercise embedded within module HI6001 – Archaeology and Contemporary Society. The publications are original and high-quality peer-reviewed collections, building on existing academic literature in distinctive ways. The first book: The Public Archaeology of Death, complements my two other recent collections on public mortuary archaeology – Archaeologists and the Dead and Death in the Contemporary World: Perspectives in Public Archaeology.
The second book will be called Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement. It will evaluate current directions and new perspectives in public archaeology, with a clear focus on art as subject, medium and technique/process in public archaeology. One book is now published and two are set for publication in 2019.
The third book – Digging into the Dark Ages – will be the first-ever public archaeology book focusing on the specific appeals, challenges for public engagement, and socio-political uses and abuses, of the Early Middle Ages in contemporary society.
Enhancing the student experience, knowledge and confidence with potential benefits for their careers, it is clear that this initiative hits points 2, 3, 4 and 6 of our University of Chester’s Teaching and Learning strategy head-on:
- Promoting innovation, imagination and creativity in the design, content and delivery of inclusive Teaching, Learning and Assessment;
- Developing and enhancing of Partnership activity, with students, academia, industry and the community;
- Embedding of Academic and Employability skills in the curriculum;
- Delivering appropriate Learning Environments – both the enhancement of physical accommodation for extant and new provision, and support for the development of individual digital capabilities.
With adequate support and guidance, there is the potential for this initiative to continue to support student learning at undergraduate level, but also the research and profile of the archaeologists of the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester.