Çatalhöyük 2011 and so much more

Prepping materials for the Çatalhöyük Visitors' Centre, August 2011

Well, it seems about time for an update, as otherwise my blog will soon be on the verge of obsolescence!  We returned from c. 3 weeks of fieldwork at Çatalhöyük at the end of August—this time with a team of four second-year undergraduate students from Southampton.  Our work at Çatal continues to be broad-based in nature, ranging from creation of public presentations to assessment of the conceptual rigour of digital imagery.  We are committed to affordable, locally-sourced, community-led and substantively-evaluated outputs—an approach which demands significant coordination and communication time on site and in the local villages and cities.

I have primary responsibility for the Visitors’ Centre, where we’re slowly redesigning and evaluating responses to the exhibition space.  Our methodology here privileges small-scale, carefully-researched, locally-sourced and changeable design strategies and displays above permanent, outsourced, large-scale expositions.  In proceeding as such, we are able to constantly experiment with exhibitionary styles, content and layout without fear of concretising the displays.  What is critical about our approach in the Visitors’ Centre is that each year when we return to Çatalhöyük, we subject our previous year’s outputs to evaluation via interviews with staff and visitors.  The temporary nature of our displays enables us to disassemble and reassemble them in line with this evaluation.  Not only does such a strategy allow us to be true to the ever-changing nature of the archaeological excavation itself—updating and revising the materials as new finds and ideas are processed—but it also provides the ideal pedagogical environment, as students have the opportunity to plan and implement temporary exhibits that are later critically assessed by members of the academic and non-academic community.  More so, it offers a chance to challenge and rethink museological practice itself.

I’ll post a link to our 2011 project report when it’s published, so that you can read in much greater detail about all the different angles to the work that we’ve been pursuing.  Our reports from 2010 and 2009 are available here.

Some other random news…

  • The lecture that Matthew Johnson and I gave at the Society of Antiquaries of London in June on the Alan Sorrell project was mentioned, in passing, in the Times Higher Education journal.  The topic of that article—effectively intellectual property rights—is a poignant one that admittedly did not feature very prominently in our talk, but has had a lot of coverage in various forums and under various guises recently, for instance as regards open access and publishing in academia.
  • I’ve recently been elected to the board of the Society for Visual Anthropology—a three-year term starting at the close of the AAA meetings in Montreal in November.  I’ll post on this subject again in the upcoming weeks, as Jonathan Marion and I are chairing our fifth annual Visual Ethics Roundtable at these meetings, and we have an absolutely wonderful line-up of speakers coming from around North America to participate in the discussions.
  • Next week I’m heading up to York for my first full introduction to the archaeology staff.  I’ll be planning my teaching schedule for 2012, although I already know I’ll be lecturing during the spring term on the MA in Cultural Heritage Management.  My York webpages are under development too—you can link to them here if you want!
  • I’ve been doing a lot – a LOT – of digital humanities research and exhibition work lately, and we’re launching much of that work in the next month… this will be the subject of my next post, I think…  In the meantime, you can browse the international Heritage Portal web feature on the Portus Project, whose content has been developed by a team of us from Southampton and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Society of Antiquaries lecture, Thursday

Alan Sorrell Project blog, screenshot by me

Thursday (9 June) marks the culmination of our pilot project on the Alan Sorrell archive, as Prof Matthew Johnson and I present our findings to the fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London during their regular Thursday night meeting.  I have to admit that I’m anxious about this event especially because of the nature of the Society, with its incredibly rich historical and intellectual legacy.  If you’re keen to know more about the institution, you can browse their website here, or look at Joan Evans’ (1956) impressive tome on its history, or the more recent edited volume Visions of Antiquity (2007), or many other articles published in, for instance, the Society’s own Antiquaries Journal.

We’re speaking for 50 minutes, and I’ve put together a very small exhibition to accompany the talk (of some of the visual material from the archive that we’ve been studying).  The exhibition will be displayed in the Society itself, so unfortunately only Fellows and Fellows’ guests will be able to see it, but some of the imagery is visible on our project blog here, and we’re hopeful that the exhibition will have a life beyond this showing alone.

I feel very fortunate to have been involved in this project, not only in the sense of having an opportunity to navigate the halls of the amazing Burlington House (home of the Society, alongside an array of other learned institutions) and to collaborate with the Society’s hugely kind and supportive staff, but also to meet and work with the Sorrell family–an inspiring group of artists and writers who have warmly welcomed me into their home.  Moreover, I’ve been in touch with interested people and organisations from around the world who have similarly shared their archives and ideas with me.  Obviously I’m keen to keep in contact if anyone has thoughts or materials that might be relevant to this research – thank you!

If you are interested in the nature of our talk, I’ve posted the abstract below.  And perhaps I’ll see you on Thursday evening…


Abstract:  Alan Sorrell is best known today as a ‘reconstruction artist’, employed between the 1930s and 1970s by the Ministry of Works and other bodies to produce reconstructions of ancient monuments and recreations of ancient life.  The archive containing many of his papers, working drawings, correspondence and other material is currently on loan to the Society of Antiquaries of London.  This paper reports on initial researches into this and other archival materials funded through a British Academy Small Grant.  It discusses how the archive throws new light not just on Sorrell’s career and achievements, but on the intellectual and professional development of archaeology as a whole in the mid-20th century.

Audio-Visual Engagement and TAG 2010 Bristol

Life has been busy over the past month—a fact epitomised by me having to travel up and down to the 2010 TAG conference this year in a single day.  In the process, I missed seeing virtually all of the event, and of course, missed all but the first 15 minutes of the annual party.  Even though my time there was so short, I was still reminded of what I like most about TAG: the young, energetic atmosphere; the sense of learning that’s cultivated by the university classroom-based sessions; the mix of senior and junior scholars and practitioners; the supportive yet still critical audience.

The session in which I participated—hosted by the UCL-based Centre for Audio-Visual Study and Practice in Archaeology (CASPAR)—was excellent, with significant periods of questioning and discussion.  For me, this conversational time made the event quite distinctive, complemented by the fact that it included (both in the audience and amongst the presenters) some of the archaeologists whose work has been most influential on my own.  I actually think the session deserves deeper intellectual exploration, as it featured multiple themes that struck me as running through the various talks, like accountability, experimentation, viewership, and governmental support and public response to the overall archaeological project.  Indeed, of the few papers that I saw, those by Wickstead, Tringham, Morgan, Pett, Smith and Bonacchi touched on more than one—and sometimes all—of these topics.  More so, though, there were multiple other sessions at TAG this year (which I either missed or which ran concurrently) whose content converged with ours.  These include one organised by my friends and colleagues Angeliki Chrysanthi, Pati Murrieta Flores, and Costas Papadopoulos from Southampton on Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process, as well as Mhairi Maxwell’s and Pat Hadley’s session on Possible Futures for Archaeology and Creative Work.  What strikes me here are both the mass and the momentum that currently underlie visual-orientated studies in archaeology.  As discussed during the CASPAR session, ideally such energy and weight of knowledge-making would be capitalised on in the future as disciplinary agendas are negotiated and concretised.  Certainly, we’re aiming to do this through VIA, but the conversation extends much further, I think.

There are so many other things that have happened since my last post in November, but I’ll just note some of them in point form here and return to discuss them further in the upcoming weeks.

Firstly, the University finally published the little piece about our work at Çatalhöyük, which can be viewed online here (see pp. 20-25).

Secondly, we have just launched a basic webpage for the Alan Sorrell Project.  This will be followed in the early new year with a dedicated blog, to which we hope people will feel comfortable to contribute their memories of Sorrell and their thoughts about the past, present and future of archaeological visualisation.

Lastly, Jonathan Marion’s and my article on visual ethics in anthropology has just been published in the journal Visual Anthropology Review.  Here is the abstract, and please get in touch if you have any interest in seeing the full paper.

Happy holidays to all & looking forward to blogging again in early 2011!