This short blog-post is to announce a brand-new open access academic publication in the Offa’s Dyke Journal volume 3 for 2021. The article is called: What’s Wat’s Dyke? Wrexham Comic Heritage Trail by Howard Williams and John Swogger.
This is the formal publication of a e-booklet map designed to introduce and engage local people and visitors in the varying survival and complex story of Wat’s Dyke: Britain’s third-longest linear monument. To do this, we selected 10 locations in the vicinity of Wrexham where Wat’s Dyke has endured in contrasting landscape settings and historic environments and different levels of preservation. Each comic panel visualised Wat’s Dyke in different landscapes and at different times, some set in the Early Middle Ages, then the later Middle Ages, the Georgian, Victorian and contemporary landscapes. Each takes a different perspective and allows complementary themes to be developed about the function, significance and story of Wat’s Dyke.
The aim is for the comic panels and their locations to sit in isolation and stand on their own terms, as well as retaining the possibility of using this as a virtual trail, heading north-south or south-north through Wrexham’s suburbs and surrounding countryside. Hence, the maps are connected by a map to locate these sites and work out how to get to them when it is impossible to walk directly between them and some are only partially visible and accessible.
This project evolved alongside and was informed by research into the public archaeology and heritage of Wat’s Dyke by myself, which showed how poorly and fragmentary its interpretation has been. This was published in the book: Public Archaeologies of Frontiers and Borderlands.
In this same book, John and I published the rationale and context for the comic, identifying the potential of comics as a medium for telling Wat’s Dyke’s story to a host of new audiences.
The comic is also directly inspired by John’s experiences and projects working on the heritage of borderlands, including his work published Offa’s Dyke Journal volume 1 for 2019.
The final dimension of context is the research I did revealing that Wat’s Dyke and Offa’s Dyke are present and engaged with as much through place-names – roads/streets and dwellings – as much (and sometimes more than) the surviving linear earthwork itself, as reported in Offa’s Dyke Journal 2 for 2020.
The comic designed as a collaborative exercise between archaeological illustrator John G. Swogger and myself, and including text by both of us, with images by John.
We launched the comic with a YouTube video and uploading it both as individual panels linked by a digital version of the map and as a pdf to the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory website. This launch coincided with the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology.
The creation of the comic was funded by the Offa’s Dyke Association and the University of Chester’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities Research Fund. We also received funding from the University of Chester to print several hundred copies for circulation at live events – and already half of these have been circulated in the Wrexham area.
So, having made the comic available digitally via WordPress and a video as well as print copies, we also wanted to archive and share the comic via the academic open access Offa’s Dyke Journal. For while this is a public-engagement strategy, it is simultaneously distilling new research ideas regarding how we understand the biography and landscape context of Wat’s Dyke in relation to other linear monuments from the Early Middle Ages and other periods. Moreover, we have paired this comic with a peer-reviewed article, building off the Swogger and Williams (2020) rationale and context, reflecting on the practice and process of making the comic. Publishing the comic in an academic journal, therefore, serves to put the ‘product’ on a par and alongside a discussion of its production.