IWD

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#UniRdgWomen

This year to mark International Women’s Day we asked Echo Rew, a recent graduate, and Laura Hampden, who graduated in 2013, to reflect on women in archaeology – how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

Echo Rew (BA Ancient History and Archaeology)

“I am a Post-Excavation Officer at Thames Valley Archaeological Services (TVAS).

The improvement for women in archaeology over time is undeniable. Although there are still challenges that unfortunately some women (and men) have to face consistently throughout their career, the progress cannot be disputed. I think one of the main reasons for this is the increased communication on the subject. During my time at university this topic, although somewhat difficult to address, was never shied away from in the archaeology department. Instead, it was embraced in an open discussion approaching the matter without a rose-tinted view. It gave us not only a realistic insight into life after university but also the ability to deal with these situations should we come across them during our careers.

A definite change in perspective is becoming more prominent and, most importantly, we now have role models. Every day we would go into our lectures and see women spearheading research projects, winning awards or writing papers, thus creating a culture of respect and encouragement within the department regardless of gender; giving us the confidence in our ability and the fact that I am a woman means absolutely nothing to my ability to do my job. I am lucky enough to have graduated university and moved into a commercial archaeology firm in which this perspective is very much at the forefront and I am given the daily support, encouragement and opportunities to progress in the field with my gender being completely irrelevant.

It would be impossible to say that everything is perfect for women in archaeology – the challenges and imbalance is still there however to say that there has been no progression in regards to the issues that female archaeologists face would be untrue. Nevertheless it is difficult to distinguish whether the issues facing women in archaeology specific to the field or just representative of wider societal perception.”

 

Laura Hampden (BSc Archaeological Science)

“I studied for an Archaeology BSc degree at University of Reading graduating in 2013. I really enjoyed my time at Reading. I loved that there was a broad range of modules on offer that gave me a chance to develop my own interests and gave me a solid foundation and understanding of Archaeology and archaeological practice here in the UK.

I started work as a Historic Environment Records (HER) Assistant at West Berkshire Council within a few weeks of graduation. I had learned about HER’s and Planning Archaeology within a Professional Practice module at Reading, and used HER data within my dissertation. I’m now a Historic Environment Record Project Officer at Historic England within the Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service.

Over the years there has been some change for women in archaeology. Having spoken to women who have been working in the sector for 20-30years it was much harder to get by, and gender dynamics were very hard to navigate.

I graduated in 2013, and thinking back on it it now I was really spoiled to have been able to learn from leaders in the field, who were also women at Reading Uni. And to have had a great female manager and mentor at West Berkshire within my first professional role.  I thought this was common place but in reality while there are more women who study archaeology at university than men, and more women within the profession than men, there is still an imbalance favouring men at a higher career levels.

So, there are still a few challenges to overcome. I’ve noticed there is a tendency for women, people of colour, and people from more working class backgrounds to carry with them a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’. Which is basically a feeling of inadequacy, or feeling the need to constantly prove that we deserve to be here; working in an environment or space that was not traditionally designed for us to occupy.

That said recently there has been a real energy and desire within the profession to change this. I have found that women really support each other within this profession. There are now far more opportunities for mentorship and support from other women who are well established within the profession. And there are some great people and groups within the sector working together to challenge inequality, and create a more diverse and representative environment. Joining these groups, sharing stories, hearing about and celebrating the success of women within the sector is the key to change. We need to encourage each other and support women to go for those top positions.”

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Last year we profiled some of our staff to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year, we asked some of our brilliant PhD students about their research and their inspirations.  Read on for a selection…

Josie Handley

What is your research specialisation/topic?

Through my PhD I am assessing the impact human activity and climate change has had on the sustainability of terraced agriculture in the Peruvian Andes through the analysis of phytoliths, pollen, non-pollen palynomorphs, and charcoal analysis.

What made you choose this area?

Since undergraduate level, I have been interested in how past civilisations interacted with each other as well as their environments and, in particular, how this may be able to tell us more about environmental changes currently taking place, or those that may take place in the future. This inspired me to undertake an MSc in Environmental Archaeology here at the University of Reading. Whilst working on my master’s dissertation with my now PhD supervisor, Dr Nick Branch, I fell in love with Peru and its history and because of this he encouraged me to apply for a PhD.

 What is a current exciting development in your area?

In recent years, several new climatic records from speleothems, marine cores, and lake cores, have been published from Peru and South America. These illustrate how the climate has changed over the course of the Holocene; information that was lacking at the beginning of the decade. This is valuable information for those that want to understand whether agriculture has been resilient to climate change in the past.

 What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

To get as much experience as you possibly can early on, whether that be through volunteering on digs or work experience in labs. I found that getting involved with local events and helping out in the lab have not only been beneficial training experiences but was also a lot of fun!

 Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My parents have always motivated me and supported the decisions I have made, both for my education and my career; this has been absolutely fundamental in getting me to where I am today. I was also lucky enough to have two very inspiring female geography teachers in secondary school that sparked my interest in earth sciences at quite a young age.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

When I am not working on my PhD I enjoy getting out into the countryside, going for walks and getting some fresh air, it is really important to find time for you whilst studying; it’s helpful in clearing the brain for a while! I also enjoy baking and being creative.

 

Claire Nolan

What is your research specialisation/topic?

My research examines the relationship between heritage and wellbeing, exploring the therapeutic value and potential of the prehistoric landscapes of Stonehenge, Avebury and the Vale of Pewsey, in the present day. It is particularly concerned with how the historic environment impacts people, personally, and what it means for them.

What made you choose this area?

My love of prehistory and psychology, my passion for helping people and a hunch that heritage is fundamental to our wellbeing and development.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

The heritage and health sectors are beginning to work together increasingly to find new ways to promote wellbeing and justify the deeper impacts of heritage.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

Do what you love – if it inspires you, just go for it!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

The late Dr Tessa Adams. Celebrated psychoanalyst, theorist, and my former masters supervisor, Dr Adams was a force of nature, had a brilliant mind, and recognised the potential links between archaeology and wellbeing. I have also been inspired by the work, support and encouragement of Dr Jim Leary, Prof Tim Darvill and the late Prof Peter Woodman.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Walking in prehistoric landscapes!

 

Rebecca Scott

What is your research specialisation/topic?

My main interest is the use of soils and sediments to understand the archaeological record. My PhD draws on this by investigating the use of fire by early humans in the Palaeolithic. In the earlier parts of this period (the Lower Palaeolithic and parts of the Middle Palaeolithic), we simply don’t find much evidence for it – why? My research, therefore, focuses on the effects of fire on different soils and sediments, and the conditions under which evidence for humanly-controlled fires are preserved. I study this by using experimental archaeology – I build fires and try to identify the factors affecting their visibility.

What made you choose this area?

Although my background is in the environmental and earth sciences I have always had a keen interest in archaeology. I became fascinated by Quaternary geology and Pleistocene climates during my undergraduate degree and I am particularly interested in the interactions between humans and the environment – both how humans have shaped their environments and, conversely, how environments have shaped humans, particularly via subsistence strategies.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

Research involving the early use of fire has had a resurgence in recent years. We now have a range of scientific techniques at our fingertips which we can use to help us answer the many questions we have about this important development in human history.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

Go for it! Get experience if you can, work hard, read widely, and most importantly – ask questions!

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

My mum who always encouraged me to read and pursue my interests (however weird and wonderful they may be!), and of course all of the pioneering and forgotten women of science – the Trowelblazers, like Mary Anning and Charlotte Murchison – who were disregarded, actively discouraged, and written out of the textbooks.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

In my spare time, I enjoy relaxing at home with my cat and some good music, and cooking/experimenting in the kitchen.

 

Candace McGovern

What is your research specialisation/topic?

I am a Biological Anthropologist and currently researching puberty and childbirth in Roman-Britain.

What made you choose this area?

As an Ancient History undergraduate, I was assigned to read Sarah Pomeroy’s Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves which was a life changing moment for me as I was also becoming more active in the LGBT community. Since that moment, I have been interested in studying those less represented or marginalized. Childbirth has been primarily studied from an evolutionary perspective by males, my work aims to widen the scope of research we can gain from the topic.

What is a current exciting development in your area?

Working on addressing the stereotypes associated with obstetric hazards and early marriages among past populations.

What advice would you have for young women wanting to study Archaeology in the future?

For young women who are considering Archaeology, or a related subject like Biological Anthropology, I encourage them to pursue their passion. Develop a sense of inner strength and perseverance, so when they might be the only woman in a class they have the courage to speak out. Also, help each other out instead of tearing each other down. I always thought I was rubbish at science once I got to secondary school; however, now I love biological sciences and I am really glad I had the opportunity to continue on with it.

Who inspired you to get to where you are now?

I can’t credit a specific person but there have been many strong women along the way who have inspired me. I have always been headstrong and inspired by my grandmother who left home at 15. She joined the army a few years later, one of the first women in the US to do so and traveled all over in the 1940’s and 50’s. It was all really ambitious for a young farm girl. I was also lucky to have a few really good mentors in school who saw my potential and encouraged me to stick with it, even when I was really close to failing.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

As a PhD Researcher I don’t have much free time as I also work as a tutor for SEN students. However, I really enjoy travelling and making yummy vegan food.

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