I was out at the Silchester Excavation site today for one of their annual Open Days. For those of you that don’t know, the Silchester Excavation is examining one insula (or block) in the large Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum and the Iron Age settlement Calleva which lies beneath it. Since 1997 Prof Mike Fulford and Amanda Clarke have been leading a team of dedicated excavators at the site. Silchester is the University of Reading Archaeology Department’s training dig and students make up the majority of the ‘diggers’.
Visitors on the viewing platform
Students also get involved in the interpretation of the site, this year under the guidance of freelance museum educator Ross McGauran. The site welcomes school groups and has a training pit, Roman garden, tours and activities for visitors to the site. I was also really impressed by their head-sets which linked visitors not to a pre-recorded tour but to a microphone. This meant that site directors could jump around the trenches providing information while visitors listened from a viewing platform. On a windy day like today this was much needed.
This kind of activity also gives students an opportunity to communicate their passion for the subject with the public. In recent blog posts I seem to be repeatedly talking about how easily the popular image of apathetic students is overturned when you look at heritage volunteering. Academics and professionals can assist in this process by providing support and giving students a platform to express themselves. To link back to a previous post on this blog two of the students were Nerdfighters and the three of us chatted about how we had been inspired to use social media to communicate about arts and heritage. I am currently thinking about how I can integrate social media training into my teaching to help students in this process. The students that I met at Silchester were excellent communicators and the kids who visited were enthralled. I walked back up the path at the end of the day to find a 7 and 3 year old ‘being archaeologists’ by picking up every piece of gravel. If you want to be similarly inspired the next Open Day is on 3rd August…
Firstly apologies for the lack of images and links. Blogging on the move with only an iPad takes some getting used to. I am actually posting this from Philadelphia train station!
Our second stop on our whistle-stop tour of the US was Lynchburg Virginia. Randolph College has had a long running exchange programme with the University of Reading. One of my former students Maggie is a Randolph alum who now works in an art gallery in the States. She had waxed lyrical about the Maier Museum (see image for website) so it was great to finally visit.
There was beautiful art in the gallery, including an exquisite Hopper. However, what struck me was how they use the museum as an experiential teaching space for their students. Students co-curate exhibitions, facilitate community education programmes and even create their own iPod tours. Our two student tour guides Stormy and Hannah had an infectious enthusiasm for the collection. Until recently the college was women only and the art, and their interpretation of it, also demonstrated a strong awareness of issues of gender. I was so impressed that I have asked them if they will write something the blog. I am sure that they will do more justice to the collection than I have in these few paragraphs.
It might have been when you had your first spark or the first time you went to a museum with your family.
Maybe it was when you saw something in a painting that inspired you.
Could be when you went to a museum with your grandparents.
Perhaps it was a memory when you went back to a museum as an adult.
You can find the official homepage here:
My earliest memory of a museum is going with my reception class to the National Museum Cardiff as part of a day long outing which also took in Bristol Zoo. I vaguely remember a large dinosaur and an oversized bed bug which gave me nightmares. However, my strongest memories are of buying dinosaur stationery in the shop and one of my class knocking something over and having to go to the local A&E. NB this would have been around 1986 so I am sure H&S has improved since then and my class was probably a bit boisterous.
I think about this when teaching as it reminds me that for many of our youngest visitors the content of the displays may be the least interesting part of the day. Leicester’s ‘What Did You Learn at the Museum Today?’ Project convinced me that I was not a 6 year old philistine. Flicking through my copy of the booklet ‘What Amazed Me Most at the Museum Today’ (MLA 2004) I saw that one child had listed the journey as the most amazing part of his day. In the analysis I found the following quote “children respond positively to the whole experience of the visit. The site, the journey, the activities, the facilitator and even the packed lunches are valued by pupils. All these factors combine to make the visit an engaging and stimulating break from normal school routines”. For me the social interactions, the unfamiliar scales and the experience of being able to *gasp* buy something for myself stuck with me.
A slightly more inspiring story took place when I was 17 and applying to read Archaeology and Anthropology at university. As preparation for my interview my headmaster called somebody at the same museum. I wish I could remember the name of the kind member of staff who showed me around the store and let me handle a prehistoric axe. The sense memory of the axe stays with me and always springs to mind when people talk about the power of touch.
I guess what these museum memories have in common is that they are connected not just to specific objects but to the whole experience. I often recall these memories when I think about the kids and students who come into this museum and wonder what they will remember 10 or 20 years from now…
This is the first of a series of short posts to flag up websites and blogs which I think are worth having a look at. This one was developed with the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading. It was produced in collaboration with Runnymede and the AHRC and looks at diversity in Roman Britain. Romans Revealed challenges the perception that diversity is a modern phenomenon and encourages school age children to think about the lives of different kinds of individuals in the past.