My career (and past year) in podcasts

Two interviews and a whole bunch of professional change in between…

Career in Ruins S2 Ep3
My interview with Lawrence Shaw and Derek Pitman, hosts of the very funny and insightful Career in Ruins podcast, available via Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/s2-ep3-a-career-in-connection/id1461662525?i=1000459793597

In 2019 I had the good fortune of both starting and ending the year with features on two fabulous archaeology-themed podcasts. I began the year in interview with the excellent Josh Guerrero (a University of York alumnus) on 15 Questions with an Archeologist [note that the spelling of Archaeologist follows the convention of the Southeast Archeological Center, a unit of the US National Park Service], which you can tune into via their website or on Apple Podcasts. And I ended the year in interview with Derek Pitman and Lawrence Shaw as part of their truly entertaining series Career in Ruins. You can listen to the latter on their website (Season 2, Episode 3: A Career in Connection) or Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and you can also see below for the full transcript.

Whilst I was very nervous for both of these interviews, I found them quite powerful in helping me to pause and think critically about the career choices I’ve made and the larger rationales behind the projects and partnerships that I’ve formed in recent years. Lawrence and Derek caught me just as I was moving from my academic position at the University of York to my new role at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). Their lovely banter and thoughtful contextualisation of the interview made me very reflective about my choice to move from a permanent academic post into the commercial sector, which, as we discuss, relates to my interest in creating spaces for larger professional and sectoral change.

Since Lawrence and Derek interviewed me in October, I’ve been so overwhelmed with finishing up my previous commitments, saying goodbye to my beloved friends and colleagues in York, moving with my partner to London, learning the basics of MOLA, and managing various personal issues, that it really wasn’t until I listened to and transcribed this interview that I’ve been able to fully contemplate the path that I’m now on. Anyway, your *constructive* feedback is always welcome, so please have a listen. Or, alternatively, for those who would prefer a different means of access (instead of audio), I’ve pasted the transcript below. I’ve taken inspiration from one of my phenomenal PhD students, Ashley Fisher, who through her inspiring work on accessibility in the heritage sector has introduced me to some simple tools, including audio-to-text transcription software, which open up access options and hence the possibility to share this recording easily via text.

Season 2 Episode 3: A career in connection

Intro  0:00

Welcome to Career in Ruins, the podcast that puts the log in archaeology. What?

Lawrence  0:14

Welcome back to Career in Ruins with me, Lawrence Shaw.

Derek  0:17

And me Derek Pitman. It’s good to be back. It’s just a bit more normal…

Lawrence  0:24

Although it has been, it’s been super fun being out and about and working with the Council for British Archaeology. Council for British Archaeology – that one.

Derek  0:35

We haven’t been talking about it in solitary for the last three weeks.

It was good to get out and about. And I’m looking forward to doing a few more podcasts on location over the year.

Lawrence  0:43

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’m open to ideas if anyone’s got suggestions and things like that. But in the meantime, back to normal. We got a fantastic interview today with Sara Perry.

Derek  0:47

We do. Sara Perry from MOLA coming up and we will introduce that in a little bit. Very, very interesting conversation and a genuinely interesting career trajectory, I think.

Lawrence  1:01

Yeah, very much so but you’ve been well otherwise?

Derek  1:02

Yeah, I have been pretty good. I’ve been exploring and introducing myself to the world of middle management which is a steep and sometimes occasionally…sometimes rewarding. I’ve been good – I’ve had a bit sinusitis the last few weeks. So not much new going on really just kind of getting through plodding on. How about you?

Lawrence  1:36

I’m all good. I’m good. I’ve had a great couple of weeks out with our friend and colleague, Ashley Green. Where we’ve been using a magnetometry cart with about 15 different volunteers and a massive field in the New Forest. And we’ve been mapping archaeological sites that are buried beneath the ground using a gradiometre. And we found some great stuff from what we think to be a Durotriges settlement – a Late Iron Age settlement. Yeah, which could be potentially the furtherest south west of a Durotriges tribe. And I’m just wondering if the listeners can hear you slurping…

Derek  2:13

On my Christmas cider … I must admit I thought Lawrence’s gone on a bit of a monologue here.

Lawrence  2:21

…On top of that, we found a lovely circular enclosure which is very similar in style and composition to that of a prehistoric enclosure we were excavating this summer.

Derek  2:30

That’s quite a distinct monument.

Lawrence  2:32

Yeah, perfectly round, about 15 meters in diameter ditch feature. And the one thing we’ve been excavating and it’s got two phases of ditch, and it’s backfilled. And in the top fill of that ditch, they’ve actually dug out and put Bronze Age cremation urns. So this one’s older than its older than the Bronze Age cremation urns. So I’m looking forward to the report, which will come out soon but in the meantime, maybe only five kilometers west of that site we think we found an identical monument. So that’s exciting, particularly for the New Forest where the prehistoric period is quite poorly represented. So that’s good. And otherwise just been looking at the use of things like the Internet of Things in archaeology. So I’m not gonna go into the whole monologue of how the Internet of Things might work or does work. And if you don’t know how it works, Google it, but it’s effectively – we’ve been working with a company that looks at these small discrete bits of hardware, which then talk to a larger network and how we can use that to monitor sites and monitor people as they move through an area and record information. Perhaps where mobile phone coverage isn’t quite up to scratch. And, yeah, some interesting things coming out of there from recording of movement of ponies to a number of people that stopped at an information board in an area where you wouldn’t normally get that information and where there’s very low power supply for example.

Derek  3:59

So these sort of internet enabled things, can they kind of reach areas that you wouldn’t necessarily get to with your 4g?

Lawrence  4:07

Absolutely. So yeah, quite an interesting bit of technology. And I went on a very random tangent about how you might be able to record the impact of a large event. So if you’re inviting lots of people to a party, you send out these devices, a party invitation, they have to bring it back to get into the party, and they reach around the globe if you’re that well connected. And then you see when they arrive, the people’s movement as they come to the party, the people that don’t come to the party and put it in the bin.

Derek  4:37

So these invites, are they getting mapped on the whole journey?

Lawrence  4:39

Yeah, that’s right. So you got your starting point, next, finish point, and then a return point, or if it goes in the bin, the landfill point well, so that could be either from an arc…an assessment… sort of processing.

Yeah. I thought it was really interesting. And then the other bit of news which is quite relevant to this one is … I was made the Chair of the Computational Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology UK Chapter or CAA UK.

Derek  5:16

So what does being Chair of the CAA involve?

Lawrence  5:17

You know, not a lot – there’s other people doing a lot more work for me now. It means working with a great team in the shape of Cat Cooper and Victoria Donnelly, and looking to organize yearly conferences and encouraging people to share their uses of technology and digital outputs and quantitative methods to understand record, interpret, engage archaeological information.

Derek  5:48

It’s an interesting area because I must admit I’ve come into the world of computational archaeological, something, something, something fairly recently and I’ve been to a couple of CAA conferences, and they’re always very nice. And everyone there is incredibly interesting. And it strikes me that increasingly elements of our subject are moving towards that kind of computational driven, or computationally supported projects. So even sort of a more traditional style of project may be going out and digging trenches and doing traditional excavation, there are computational elements and resources; we can add a whole suite of useful information to that. For example, Harry, who was one of our guest hosts, way back when, and I’m hoping he’ll be a roving field reporter at some point… He was processing some of our aerial photography from the dig we did last summer and making 3d models and he’s got a 3d model – a point cloud derived from a 3d model – from the very first week when we started excavating, and the very last week just before we backfilled the trenches, so obviously very different these two models. But spatially they exist in the same spatial arena. So we’re looking now at taking the two models with two point clouds, essentially overlying them and looking at the difference to look at the volume of soil moved to look at the changes in the site from when we started to when we finished. So it’s a very traditional process of excavation and recording. But we’ve now got this computational dynamic that is helping us interpret it and understand the process in ways we hadn’t before. So it’s really useful to almost every part of the discipline.

Lawrence  7:27

That’s it. It’s such a broad church, and I’m so excited to be working with this group. Obviously, I’ve been attending the conferences for years now…

Derek  7:36

…that’s how we met…

Lawrence  7:38

That’s correct. Yeah, it’s great. I’m super excited to be working with my colleagues on the committee. And we’re very excited to be linking up with Lancaster University for the next conference. But otherwise, yeah, just the people that are involved are brilliant and anyone that isn’t currently involved, I would thoroughly encourage you to sign up to the next conference.

Derek  8:00

It’s actually quite prudent as well, because it was at the CAA UK conference where we managed to sit down at the end with Sara Perry and have a good chat. And what was really nice about that as, as you’ve heard from podcasts in the past, it’s only very occasionally Lawrence and I get to interview a person together. We tend to interview people when we can. It’s very opportunistic. We’re, we’re still kind of finding our feet in that respect, but to have the opportunity after the conference when everyone left the room to sit down in the empty conference suite and have a good old chat was really nice.

Lawrence  8:30

No, that’s right. And so Sara is recently just started as Director of Research and Engagement at MOLA or Museum of London Archaeology.

Derek  8:40

They dropped the ‘S’ – so Museum of London Archaeology.

Lawrence  8:42

Yeah that’s right. But she was formerly a Senior Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Management at the University of York. It’s somewhat of a slightly different step forwards in her career and often you see people moving from commercial and going into academia, but Sara has decided she can make a better change, a better influence…

Derek  9:05

Yeah, a step in a different direction and she touches on it. It’s quite interesting to hear her take on.

Lawrence  9:10

Yeah, she’s absolutely fantastic. I think we should just jump into the interview and have a listen.

Sara, welcome to Career in Ruins. Thank you for joining us today. And we’re actually doing a bit of a practice on a three way interview as well. So Derek…

Derek  9:33

I’m here too, hello everyone.

Lawrence  9:34

Have you both been at the CAA Computer Applications in Archaeology conference today?

Derek  9:39

I think attendance on my part is loose. I turned up to the last five minutes because I’d been working all day but it seemed interesting…

Sara  9:47

He made an impressive entrance.

Derek  9:52

When I saw the door I thought I can just sneak in the back…Oh no, it’s behind the speaker.

Lawrence  10:01

Anyway, we should progress. Sara, welcome to the podcast. And I wonder if we could start off by you just introducing your background and how you got to the point you are in your career today, what it is you do and what you specialize in. And, yeah…

Sara  10:13

Lots of questions! So my speciality is in how we present the past to different audiences and how we produce data that enable us to tell stories about the past to different audiences. So some people, I think, label that as Cultural Heritage Management or cultural heritage interpretation, but I was trained as a field archaeologist. So I would say that I’m an archaeologist. I have quite a wind-ey career trajectory. Because I didn’t really get introduced to archaeology until quite late, when I was in a high school class in Canada. And we did a ridiculous activity where they gave us a box that was filled with sand and you had to excavate it.

And then you had to reconstruct the pot and paint it and then tell a whole story associated with it. And this is the moment where I understood that you could actually have a career in doing this, and I went off to do an undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University in Canada and then I dropped out almost right away because I just didn’t adjust well to university. And then it took me a long time to get back into archaeology. I went into computer science and hence now have an interest in digital practices, but I didn’t fare well in the computer science program. Anyways, to make this long story shorter, I found my way back into anthropology at University of Victoria in Canada, and did some field projects on the northwest coast of Canada and then came to the UK to do my PhD. And then I got a job at the University of York, which is where I’m based right now, but I’m about to move into a new role.

Lawrence  12:13

We will come back to the new role, but your PhD, what was that? What was that looking at?

Sara  12:19

Well, I had a different vision of what it was going to be when I started….

Derek  12:26

That’s good to know for other people…

Sara  12:26

I won funding for it, and then it turned into something completely different. And what it turned into was that my supervisor, Professor Stephanie Moser, who’s an amazing person, and had said, Well, you’ve come to the UK now and you need to take advantage of some of the incredible archives that are out there related to the history of the discipline – Because I’m interested in how we use media to communicate about the past. And she had encouraged me to go seek out these different archives related to the history of the discipline. And so that’s what I did. I scoured all of these departmental archives. And I ended up focusing my PhD on the development of the Institute of Archaeology now at UCL. But at the time, it was based at University of London, and how they used different types of media to kind of build their profile, build their research profile, but also build their profile as an institution that was well known amongst the public and amongst other academics. So that kind of bled into what I’m doing now.

Lawrence  13:33

So now, you’re at MOLA London, and what’s your job title there?

Sara  13:38

So I’m about to move there. I start on the first of November. And I’m about to move over to MOLA as Director of Research and Engagement. So I will be working with the teams that do their long term engagement initiatives like Citizan or Thames Discovery, and the teams that do all post-ex and then also infrastructure-based archaeology. I’ll be looking at enhancing their research and engagement programs, doing work around training across the sector in the UK, and maybe thinking about how we can better embed interpretive exercises earlier on in the process of excavation. So like when you’re out in the field, doing whatever it is that you’re doing, the interpretive work can start a lot earlier. And so that’s the vision – we’ll see how it how it all unfolds.

Derek  14:48

Really interesting career step. So you went from a lectureship at York to a commercial unit.

Sara  14:54

Yeah.

Derek  14:55

What was the driving force behind the move? Was it the change of direction? A change of scene? Or just interesting new challenges?

Sara  15:03

I’ve had an amazing experience at York and for what I do there, for my specialty, I don’t think that there’s a better place that I could be – both in terms of the digital skills that they offer and the kind of critical digital lens that they encourage – and also for their heritage programs. But because I’m interested in how we change the structure of archaeology, so how you enable genuine disciplinary change, I know that I can’t achieve that in academia. And even if I’m doing… I changed my contract last year so I could do part time consultancy work, but even in that part time role, it wasn’t possible to get enough space or to get enough buy in and belief that and I could do this [change disciplinary structures] in that part time role… So it’s to be able to better achieve that kind of structural or systemic change.

Derek  16:01

So you wanted to be in a position where you could drive that change rather than see it from the outside or comment on it?

Sara  16:05

Yeah

Derek  16:05

That’s really interesting.

Lawrence  16:08

Fantastic. I think that’s very different to people we’ve had so far.

Derek  16:21

Oh, I forgot how good it was to talk to Sara. That was a lovely chat.

Lawrence  16:25

Yeah, she’s a legend.

Derek  16:26

Yeah, what a lovely life history as well. And it’s just wonderful to see someone becoming inspired in archaeology in a sandpit.

Lawrence  16:36

I’d be to interested to know the number of people that have been inspired in a sand pit. Even as late a stage in your school life as high school, but yeah… Well, what I particularly liked in the early part of the chat was how she declared that her PhD ended up being very different from what she’d…or it changed into something completely different.

Derek  17:01

You take some comfort…

Lawrence  17:02

Yeah absolutely. I think I’ve accepted that now being four years in, but I think there’s still a lot of people out there that are early doors in the journey and they should remember this.

Derek  17:12

Yes, it’s well worth thinking about. It was exactly the same for mine. You set off with these incredibly focused, lofty intentions, and then you grow into yourself, you grow into your research, you grow into understanding how you work within the discipline. And inevitably, there’s twists and turns and it changes and some of the best outcomes in my own work were those that I didn’t anticipate, didn’t expect, but actually, they made it stronger. And there’s a lot to be said for that.

Lawrence  17:40

That’s right. That’s right. But interestingly, from my point of view, what was great about Sara’s interview is that the academics we spoken to so far had a relatively standard approach to their transition, in that they do their degree, their Masters, their PhD, they might do a bit of commercial and then they’ll come back into academia. Or they’ll carry on straight through.

Derek  18:02

It’s been a pretty familiar trope among the academics…

Lawrence  18:05

Yeah, yeah. But Sara’s stepped out of that.

Derek  18:08

Yeah. gone the other way. And that’s a really interesting move to sort of witness or kind of observe a discipline from a perspective of being in an academic institution, to thinking I can’t effect the changes that I want to effect where I am. I need to be out there, doing it.

Lawrence  18:25

Precisely.

Derek  18:26

That’s huge – that’s being the change you want to see in the world. There’s something very, very admirable. Truly, truly interesting to see. I must admit, though, I did a little bit of a disservice to MOLA there. Saying they are an archaeological unit. Actually, they are much more than that. Indeed many, many archaeological units in the UK are much more than companies that just do field archaeology. MOLA itself it’s got over 300 staff; it works over a range of areas. It’s a registered charity, and even has a Time Truck that it uses for outreach.

Lawrence  19:11

Does it travel? It travels on roads, not through time?

Derek  19:17

On roads, not through time. Only metaphysically. But it’s worth remembering. And it’s kind of the state of the discipline today, which I think is quite positive. If you were to look at a cross section of commercial archaeological units, maybe in the early 90s, when many of them became the entities that they are, they were focused very much on rescue archaeology, protecting heritage. Whereas a remit I think, as part of that protection and as part of our rescue, has expanded to outreach and impacting the public and sharing archaeology.

Lawrence  19:49

And even interpretation, which is exactly Sara’s bag. But if you think about a couple of weeks back when we were at the Mithraeum, and we were chatting to Sophie Jackson, who had been leading on that interpretive approach…

Derek  20:00

…And that was a MOLA project.

Lawrence  20:02

Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, yeah, you’re very right.

Derek  20:06

Yeah. Massively interesting. Shall we jump back into it?

Lawrence  20:09

Yeah let’s do that.

Sara, I don’t know if you’ve heard any of the episodes so far, but we have three set questions that we tend to ask participants.

Sara  20:25

Give them to me!

Lawrence  20:27

The first one is to do with a piece of work that you’re particularly proud of. So over your experiences over the last few years, so bit of work that you’ve done that you’ve reflected on and you think, yeah, that was brilliant.

Derek  20:39

That’s a window into your mind Lawrence….

Sara  20:53

My naturally kind of self critical nature means that I never come out at the end thinking that was brilliant. I’m thinking about all the things that could go differently if I was to start it again. I mean, there are quite a few projects, primarily because I enjoy working in a collaborative way. And so all the projects that I have been on I have a lot of students working with me and they’re usually an international team. So one that I’ll say right now, because we’re just about to finish it is the EMOTIVE project. It’s a European Commission funded, international project that’s split across, you know, I think, six different sites and EMOTIVE is focused on developing tools for us as practitioners, and also for the public, to engage more emotionally with the archaeological record, especially sites of the very distant past where it’s much more challenging to kind of create that affective – affect with an A – that kind of emotional connection because it…you know, it doesn’t relate to you…it’s so distant in time. We have such fragmentary evidence that it’s natural for most archaeologists to not want to speculate too much. And so that project is about to come to an end, but we’ve been developing all of these different use cases or case studies associated with it including a VR experience for multiple users to be participant in at the same time; a chat bot; we have a school or  educational kit; we have an on-site experience at the site of Catalhoyuk; and my colleagues in Glasgow have been working on various digital experiences for the Hunterian Museum up there. So that wasn’t a very short answer, but I’m very proud of it.

Derek  23:00

Sounds like it’s quite large team. How many people involved in that?

Sara  23:04

Well, there’s probably, I mean, on the official management committee, there’s probably somewhere between 15 and 20. But in terms of the bigger team of volunteers and so forth, I mean, there’s at least 40 people that have been involved over the last few years. And as you might imagine, that comes with many, many challenges. But also the best work comes from those kinds of collaborative scenarios where some are interaction designers, some are Image Based Rendering experts, and some are archaeologists, others our curators, and so it’s in those tensions where I think the most interesting things come about, so it’s been really wonderful.

Lawrence  23:52

Next question.

Derek  24:00

I was busily thinking of follow up questions. No, no, no, I was gonna ask a very cheeky question.

Sara  24:05

Come on…

Derek  24:08

So within the project you just finished and this may very well be a rude question, but

Lawrence  24:13

we can always just cut it out…

Derek  24:18

You could kind of think I don’t want to tell you that because I’m going to write that as a grant application next, but I’m just thinking the next step for a project like that. Where does it go from where you’ve got it to? So you’ve obviously, you’ve achieved an awful lot to date. And yet, as Lawrence said, you’re incredibly proud of it and it’s wonderful. But the next…, where does it then go? Is there a life beyond you? Or do you carry on working and building into new projects and new things?

Sara  24:42

Yeah, so there’s many there are a few directions that I hope that it will go in. And one is that the research has really made it clear how important it is that the things that we’re developing for different audiences are collaborative in nature, so it’s not an individual experience. So you’re not just going into the museum and looking at some panels on the wall, but you’re developing it so that, you know, the three of us go out and are participating in it together and that we create the possibility for us to have genuine conversations where we debate and talk through the issues together. And it’s actually quite rare to see these experiences developed where conversation and dialogue are the main goal of it – not just presenting some stuff… So archaeologists, I think we have a bias towards doing everything in a visual medium. And, and yet all of the research suggests that it’s only really in dialogue that people can come to more complex understandings of the past or whatever it might be. So that dialogue focus, group based work is something that we’ve only really scratched the surface of. I think that’s one thing. And I think the other thing is the evaluation side of it, because I think a lot of people are struggling with how do you evaluate this work? And what… and how do you also feed the evaluation back to archaeologists themselves. So some of the research that we’ve been doing in Turkey, at Catalhoyuk, has been looking at the difference between how archaeologists are interpreting a particular subject matter and how the public who are coming into the site are interpreting it – and you know, it may not that much of a surprise, but the public come in with a really rich set of ideas about what might have happened in the past and are really keen to talk through the ideas. Yet the archeological team often cut off those conversations right away. So the whole dialogical thing doesn’t work.

Derek  26:47

Yeah, yeah. So it’s about training the archaeologists as much as the public.

Sara  26:51

So being able to properly present the results… just to show just how detrimental it is to stop those conversations is something that will be the next line of research.

Derek  27:03

Really interesting.

Lawrence  27:03

Really interesting.

Derek  27:05

So that’s the pride question out of the way. In very biblical terms, we move on to envy next.

So Catalhoyuk is one of those projects that I think a lot of people would love to have worked on at one time, so you’ve obviously got a good benchmark to start this from, but looking around to colleagues, friends, even people, archaeologists throughout history, is there a project, you kind of think God, I’d love to be involved in that or have been involved in that, and sort of see that happening or play a part in it?

Sara  27:39

It’s a, it’s an interesting question because I always look at it from the perspective of the person that I want to work with, not necessarily… because… because maybe the nature of my specialty means that I could work at any site of any time period with whoever it is, and it’s not that big a deal. So it’s always the people that I’m interested in and somebody who I’m a huge fan of is Katherine Cook, who’s now at University of Montreal in Canada, and her work, which has, I mean, she came up through a kind of mortuary archaeology background, working in cemeteries and other such historical spaces. But she also is a maker. So she does a lot of really exciting digital development work, teaching her students, and on her projects, helping her colleagues to kind of build digital technologies that can help you think critically about what you’re doing as a researcher and also how you’re presenting it to others. So I would love to be able to work with Katherine. I don’t… I don’t know that that answers your question very well.

Derek  28:53

No no – that was a great answer.

That was a better answer…

Lawrence  28:59

It’s nice to send people to specific sites. But also another nice thing about the podcast is to send people to other people. People who we can get people investigating. So that’s actually a really nice alternative answer.

Derek  29:10

Yeah, definitely.

Lawrence  29:12

And so our final question that we ask participants, which might be a bit of a curveball, I’m not sure how well this works, but I have a few thoughts of where you might go

Sara  29:23

Okay…I might have to ask for your help!

Lawrence  29:25

Derek and I have made a working time machine and anyone who participates on the podcast gets a free return ticket, and there’s no restrictions around time or space. So when you leave, you know…

Derek  29:41

It’s a pretty liberal time machine!

Lawrence  29:41

We have a few rules around it for seeing the past but other than that, it’s fairly free reign. Where and when would you like us to send you to?

Sara  29:51

Am I allowed to to hack into your machine and turn it into a future orientated…

Lawrence  29:54

Oh yeah! Absolutely.

Derek  29:54

Absolutely!

Sara  29:58

I would really love to be able to travel into the future, in part because I’ve been quite inspired by this project… this has been on my mind a lot, hence why I have an easy answer to this… There is a project called Heritage Futures that is based across multiple universities, and a couple of scholars, again, people that I really admire like Sarah May and Harald Fredheim, and quite a few others, Cornelius Holtorf, etc, have been working on this and doing research into how it is that we as practitioners conceive of the future. We spend a lot of time you know, working on the past and we often have all of these slogans that are like ‘working on the past to save the future’ or like, you know, ‘preserving this for the future generations’ and so forth. And they did this incredible survey that was published a couple of years ago where they asked different practitioners, well ‘what does the future look like then for your site?’ And almost everyone said, ‘well, it looks the same as today’. And then when they started to, like tease that out, they said, ‘Okay, well, let’s go back like 10 years, what did your site look like 10 years ago?’, and they tease that out and it was like so much change had happened and they could like go in these minute details about like this happened, and then that happen, and like there was this environmental thing, and then I don’t know that bureaucratic thing…  But then so then again, they interviewers asked, ‘so now what’s going to happen in the future?’ And still there was this kind of blank stare… And then I thought about it and I was like, well what does the future of Catalhoyuk or whatever site that I’ve been at look like? And those kind of future… that ability to think through and plan for different future prospects, I think is an interesting thing. So I guess my answer to this is I would like to be able to time travel into the future in relation to one of the sites that I have been working at, in order to see what exactly has happened there, both in terms of the archaeology, but also the research teams, the public, the communities that are that are around and sustained by the sites, etc. So…

Lawrence  32:07

That’s good. That’s a really good answer. And I was thinking, as you’re saying it, how depressing it could be. So I’ve been working at a site in Greece [inaudible] quarry excavation that went into the side of the hill there. I’m just thinking if we went out to us to our site in Greece… [inaudible – laughing]

Sara  32:30

I guess it’s perspective isn’t it, because if you did that and you see that around that there’s like a thriving community that didn’t exist before, right?. I mean, who knows? Who knows? I guess it could be a barren wasteland…

Derek  32:46

I’d like to think that after all the effort we’re about to put in putting up new boards and displays and sort of analog AR type things, that in 200 years we’ll go there and there’ll be a celebration. It’ll be the modern day Pompeii.

Lawrence  32:59

Or people will still be doing illegal clay pigeon shooting.

Derek  33:08

I’m trying to think if we’ve ever had anyone go into the future yet?

Lawrence  33:09

No we’ve had some go back to like, the end of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals. Yeah.

Not to be confused with the middle aged men in lycra…

But no, yeah, going forwards is a new one. I think that’s a really, really good addition.

Derek  33:28

So if you went, you went far enough forwards, presumably you find future archaeologists looking back at the remains of today, trying to interpret what we were doing and trying to make sense of some of this material culture we’ve got all around us. Is there anything you’d kind of seed to them to not necessarily trick them but give them a different perspective on the present day?

Sara  33:48

Good question. I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that. I was trying to think… Because one of the things Sarah May has come to teach in some of my university modules at York; she does this activity with a set of cards that her and Sefryn Penrose, maybe alongside other members of their team have built, and they are future thinking cards. So they will give you… you would usually choose a site: like we’re going to focus on Star Carr or something like this. And then there’s kind of thematic cards and we do this with the students where they play this game. So the card then will say Star Carr in 100,000 years from now, you know, where there’s been this kind of external intervention and a few other things have happened. And it really… it’s… once you get past like 50 years from now it becomes really challenging, and their [and others’] work has also been looking at sites (e.g. nuclear waste sites), where they have to do future planning and basically put forward markers in order to enable people in 100,000 years time or whoever it is that is here in 100,000 years time, some kind of symbol that suggests you’re about to dig into this nuclear space. So there’s some interesting… Rosemary Joyce is somebody else who’s been doing this kind of work. And so I feel like we need to recruit one of them here because they might be able to provide you a much better answer to this question than I can.

Lawrence  35:32

Sara, thank you so much for your time this afternoon.

Derek  35:34

Yes, we better go and enjoy some VR.

Lawrence  35:36

Yeah, we’re heading to a virtual reality arcade now, aren’t we?

Sara  35:39

Yeah. Can’t wait.

Lawrence  35:55

Now then, going to a future is that allowed?

Derek  35:58

Well, yeah, I suppose it’s a time machine.

Lawrence  36:00

We’re furious I’ve never thought of this. I’m going to let it fly but… We’re so obsessed with going back.

Derek  36:08

I know we can take a note out of Back to the Future and go and get some sporting events

Lawrence  36:14

…a really cool baseball cap that has multiple colors and…

Derek  36:18

oh curses! Flying cars and whatnot.

Lawrence  36:20

Well played, Sara. Well played.

Derek  36:22

Oh, it’s interesting. I know it does make you think about the future and the future of archaeology and actually, where would you go?

Lawrence  36:29

Well, I’m gonna be waving my flags with my current employer. I’d be really interested to go and see how national parks fair in the future. Because more recently, there’s been a number of things that have come out in the news or from the government, the Times I think did a piece about national parks where nature goes to die. And the Glover Review about the role of national parks in the UK or England at least…It came out and it talks about the spectacular natural beauty and – uh, are these natural? What are you talking about? Yes it’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all completely architecturalised by human footprints and shaped and modeled, and the special habitats there, because they are ponies there because William the Conqueror made it a special hunting graduate.

Derek  37:27

Wait wait wait! Are you trying to tell me the natural landscape as we see around us in the UK today is a product of thousands of years of human intervention? Yeah yeah yeah. This feels like a personal bugbear.

Lawrence  37:41

Somewhat… At a risk of we’re going on a rant… but I’d love to see if national parks survive as the entities that they’re perceived to be today or whether visitor numbers have had an massive detriment. Also if as I predict the doom and gloom that we expect in the future… how national parks fare whether they will they become a resource again, and as a special place or whether they stay protected or …whether anyone gives a monkey’s… we’re sort of up to our waste in water and…

Derek  38:21

All the doom and gloom post apocalyptic future that we’re all fearing. It is I mean there’s a sort of perverse part of me that would kind of like to see just the shape of the world… what does the post Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Brexit future look like? Is it the kind of desolate wasteland post apocalyptic landscape, we sort of imagining it will be? Or the optimist in me kind of thinks, maybe, maybe we’re on the cusp of something. Maybe with temperatures getting hotter, climate change getting more out of control, industry being more of a struggle to rein in, perhaps we’re on the brink of maybe I’m hoping…This is probably wishful thinking… that we’re on the hope of some sort of global innovation that helps us take a big step forward. And if you look at the past, taking the past as an analog for the present, there are times when a significant revolution is taking place, the industrial revolution is one, the agricultural revolution is another, where human society, human culture, humanity…

Lawrence  39:21

Had a negative impact…

Derek  39:21

Had a negative impact on the world, or to flip it on its other side, have developed to overcome, innovated to overcome issues during the Industrial Revolution as an example, if, if it hadn’t happened, I suspect global food supplies would have disappeared by now without industrialized farming, things like that, and the rate of population growth. So in a way we’ve human beings have had a bit of a habit of really, really messing things up and then finding a way of overcoming it, which isn’t the best way forward…

Lawrence  40:00

I’m going to find out where you’re going to go, and then I’m going to go before you and just leave a note on the floor. Whatever the results – I’m not going to tell you –  it’ll either say you are right or you are unlucky.

Derek  40:09

I sort of suspect I’ll step back out of that time machine in 1000 years time and just see a blank War of the Worlds style future.

Lawrence  40:18

But Sara’s use is more productive and useful and infinitely more upbeat.

Derek  40:24

That took a bit of a turn… I’ll blame the cider.

Lawrence  40:27

But they said so I always think… it’s all great thinking about the interpretation of a site and that’s a great use of the time machine but if whatever point [inaudible] I always think I know this might be weird, you know, you might be on my own here but I always think about how I might mess with future archeologists.

Derek  40:49

Oh, yeah

Lawrence  40:50

Have you ever thought about that?

Derek  40:51

A little bit.

Lawrence  40:54

But were I to be buried at any point between now and… I’m totally gonna have like a fake robotic arm attached to my arm. A big crown. Multiple gold rings with like…maybe a microchip or something from the Internet of Things. Yeah, but and then like a piece of plastic, a plaque made up of plastic so it doesn’t degrade, and just random symbols drawn on it in maybe three lines like that. And so it’s a cipher but that it means nothing.

Derek  41:30

So you sort of creating your own Da Vinci Code.

Lawrence  41:32

Yeah. It’s comparable almost to Rongorongo writing on Easter Island.

Derek  41:39

Wait, wait, wait. Have you been to Easter Island?

Lawrence  41:42

Did I not tell you? There is a tablet that was found in some houses on … this big volcano, and a series of different symbols from bird men to birds and it looks like writing or scripts as we know it. But no one’s ever been able to decipher it. And I love this idea that someone is just messing about with future archaeologists. What about you?

Derek  42:12

You see, I think I’d have a very solvable riddle in my grave.

What? go to Lawrence’s grave?

Yeah pretty much. The great, the great treasure, the great reward of getting to this long but solvable riddle is your mystery.

Lawrence  42:29

That’s amazing. Find your rich grave, which will be slightly different, end up cracking the code to come to my grave. Wow, it’s got even more rings. But what does this mean?

Derek  42:40

On to it – I’m on it.

Lawrence  42:41

Okay, that’s good. The other thing that’s coming to my mind is who or what we will see in 100,000 years time. So Sara touched on this…will there be a barren wasteland, but who’s prevailing in 100,000 years? Is it humans or is it the genetically modified cockroaches, fish people…

Derek  43:08

Oh, that was good though. I enjoyed chatting to Sara and again just really nice to kind of share her career and we’re very grateful she took the time to talk to us after the conference.

Lawrence  43:17

Yeah, absolutely. I mean we took up a good half an hour of…

Derek  43:22

Well the VR experience was pretty good afterwards.

Lawrence  43:25

She’s pretty handy with a laser gun.

Derek  43:27

Yeah. Now you’ll notice those regular viewers, viewers? listeners, that we haven’t touched on monutrumps  yet this week. We’re still hoping we don’t really want to make these up ourselves. We want you guys to send in your sites, your monuments, your places that need some attention – that are kind of lost to the landscape. So we don’t want places like Stonehenge or Maiden Castle. We want sites in your backyard close to you that you think need a bit of attention and we can talk about it.

Lawrence  44:00

It’s about accessibility; it is about importance and raising their profile, but also maybe potentially underappreciated or underfunded sites as well…

Derek  44:09

Yeah, things that need a bit of attention and we can, we can share with our many, many, many, few… our listener.

Lawrence  44:17

Sorry, what are you talking about?

Derek  44:20

The C word.

Lawrence  44:24

As ever follow us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. And if you just subscribe to the past podcast, then you can get every episode as soon as it becomes available.

Derek  44:33

Don’t be afraid if you’re feeling generous to give us five stars, we would appreciate it very much.

Lawrence  44:38

So, have a great week everyone and we’ll catch up with you soon. See you soon.

On the 2nd Anniversary of my Lectureship

One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey
One of the highlights of my 2013: some of my team & the larger Çatalhöyük Research Project staff on site in Turkey (photo by me)

It’s the second anniversary of my academic post and I’m headed in momentarily for my annual assessment with my scholarly mentor. I continue to find the performance review process very meaningful both professionally and personally (albeit time consuming from a paperwork standpoint). This is not only because it allows me to lay out exactly what I’ve done over the course of a year and, in so doing, attempt to appreciate what is really a significant amount of work accomplished and actions achieved. But it also permits me an opportunity to reflect on all of those lightbulb moments and learning experiences that have changed me and my practice since January of last year, yet that often pass by so fast that I don’t fully recognize their impact on who I am as a human being.

2013 has been good for me, and I say this with much humility as I struggled deeply in my first year to find my way: to adapt to a new job, to new responsibilities with degrees of accountability so high they were truly frightful to me, and to a new city where I knew essentially only two people – friends from research projects – and spent a lot of time alone. More than this, I was very confused in that inaugural year on a personal level.  Andy Shuttleworth did a wonderfully candid and very resonant blog post earlier in 2013 which all new academics should read. It speaks to the kind of inner turmoil that many of us go through as we get more and more bound into our PhD and post-PhD lives – a binding that can lead you into a form of corrosive and relentless self-interrogation and absorption that is damaging both intellectually and emotionally. Escaping that vortex came, in part, for me via getting to work and enjoy time with others – students, colleagues, friends, the public, and especially my partner and family – and learning to see problems as potentially transformative moments (which isn’t easy and is an ongoing effort for me). Because of all the people that I interact with now, unanticipated differences of opinion or unexpected difficulties in implementing plans are the norm. I try to appreciate them now less as failures on my part and more as spaces for me to come out thinking in new ways – although, as per below, I will not compromise myself if these problems contradict the evidence base and my moral code.

The highlights of my year are many, and a lot of them are already documented on this blog so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. But I do want to acknowledge some of those people who have made an especial difference in my career over the past 12 months.

My students continue to be the greatest revelation for me as a new academic. I remember when I was finishing my Master’s degree back in Canada and I was teaching an anthropology tutorial to a group which was clearly not engaged with the subject matter. A member of staff told me not to get discouraged, but to rather invest my energy in the couple of students who did clearly care about the topic. Whilst this advice was well-meaning, I’m glad I never took it to heart. Because what I’ve found is that if I experiment with approaches, if I offer opportunities for students to explore the edges of their creative capabilities, if I push outside normative modes of teaching and assessment and aim to cultivate safe places for students to make and test out ideas and learn the dimensions of constructive critique, I’m actually investing energy in everyone. And those students who one might never have imagined would participate or care about the subject matter, in fact, begin to work through the most thought-provoking and potential-filled concepts. Yes, things go wrong and we make mistakes and the path doesn’t lead where we anticipated. But taking this path – I think – is critical, because in my experience (and in spite of frustrations) it leads us on the journey with the most ‘a-ha’ moments. Our reflexive exhibitionary work at Çatalhöyük is full of these twists, and I’m especially lucky to have been able to take some of our York students out this year to continue the journey during what was my best season yet (read a bit about our work in the most recent Çatal newsletter: pp. 7-8).

These collaborations with my students in the classroom and in the field are just one of a spectrum of productive working relationships that I have with a range of interdisciplinary specialists. Honestly, I couldn’t realise the vast majority of my plans without the ideas and assistance of many people, most significantly Tom Smith (Collaborative Software Specialist), who has been central to essentially all of the digital projects I’ve done at York to date. Tom is one of the most important individuals I’ve been able to work with in 2013, and my experiences have been further enhanced by meeting Simon Davis (E-Learning Advisor) and Ned Potter (Academic Librarian). These colleagues have variously advised me, taught my students, promoted my projects and challenged my ideas. They make my job not just interesting but fun and inspiring. And they are among a community of supportive people, some of whom I only know in digital form, who often provide critical feedback and much-appreciated positive reinforcement through channels like Google Plus, WordPress, Blogger, Facebook and Twitter. On top of this, I’ve also had multiple wonderful surprise introductions to individuals in different fields of practice, like digital identity specialist Abhay Adhikari, who have helped me to conceive of my own work in new ways.

The last highlight of 2013 that I’ll mention now has been the funding, data collection and preliminary reporting of our Gender and Digital Culture project. I am so deeply fortunate to have the privilege of collaborating here with Dr Lucy Shipley and (soon-to-be Dr) Jim Osborne – honestly, they are extraordinary people and I completely lucked out in getting them to work with me. We are all indebted to Dr Graeme Earl whose initial belief in the project provided us with a small amount of seed funding. In just 9 months time, that little seed has led to the launch of our project blog and Twitter account; to the full implementation and analysis of the data from our survey; to presentations at the Australian Archaeological Association’s annual conference, the University of Rochester’s Decoding the Digital conference, and the Integrity Project’s How to be a Public Intellectual conference, and an informal presentation to the University of York Feminist Society; to features in the Times Higher Education and the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog; to web-based and print publications in press or already released for Anthropology Now (forthcoming) and Forum magazine, plus a well-read blog post for Savage Minds. On top of this, we ran our online, multi-institutional seminar in November at York and Southampton; and we have an op-ed piece, two journal publications and another (maybe two more) talks already scheduled for 2014.

It is a testament to just how much can be accomplished when you have a collaborator (or two) and a few resources to help you out.

This is where some of my frustrations begin to surface, because I couldn’t have done any of that project on my own, without Southampton’s seed funding and without Lucy and Jim. I would never have wanted to do it alone, but this wouldn’t ever even have been a possibility: I just don’t have the time owing to the fact that it is consumed with endless other tasks that constantly interrupt your thinking, pulling you out of meaningful reflective moments and making it seemingly impossible for you to string together something coherent on your own. The greatest disappointment of 2013 is surely the 10 funding applications that were submitted for various projects and academic schemes on which I was either a PI or CI, but which were successful in only 3 instances. I am positive that part of the problem here lies in my lack of time to invest in the full intellectual development and refinement of these applications.

This is the demoralising catch-22 of the academic sphere (or one of them at least): I’m finding it hard to set in motion full research projects because I don’t have the time, but I can only find the time if I win sufficient money to buy me out of my other duties and fund research collaborators. But…I need time/support to articulate those funding bids in the first instance. That bit of money that Southampton offered to us led to two subsequent and successful applications to other funders, which speaks again to what might be achieved with the tiniest amount of investment up front. It is profoundly frustrating to recognise that, firstly, such miniscule investment is so elusive, and yet that, secondly, I must somehow secure it to ensure my own career progression.

I’m clearly not the only person struggling with this problem, but it leads me to another concern that surfaced in 2013: namely the now incalculable requests that I’ve received for myself or my students to offer their creative labour for free for causes that aren’t linked to any explicit learning objectives or to demonstrable and equal benefits for them. My partner is an artist, so this predicament is sadly not new to me, but it hasn’t been until recently that, via my field of expertise, I’ve also gained the status of creative producer and teacher of creative producers. In my despair about what seems to be exploitation couched as ‘good experience’, I’ve begun to do some research on the subject (which has been studied by many – amongst the better known as regards unpaid digital work is possibly Tiziana Terranova’s (2002) Free Labor – but also see the critiques being outputted now by archaeologists themselves, like Sam Hardy’s unfree archaeology blog and Emily Johnson’s #freearchaeology hashtag on Twitter). I’m distraught by the idea that in the seemingly ubiquitous search for funds and time, some (many?) heritage practitioners and practitioners-in-training appear to be taken advantage of as unpaid labourers who produce outputs that others then use for profit without providing any genuine reciprocity or compensation for such labour. Whilst I believe in the value of volunteering, I don’t want to reproduce this process, and I’m committed in 2014 to ensuring, where I can, that students volunteer their time to tasks with fair, equitable and well-defined goals which are truly pedagogically and intellectually meaningful. Ultimately, I see this as an opportunity, because long-term equal collaboration that intertwines creative producers with other professionals is a highly constructive pursuit on multiple levels for all parties involved. Indeed, this is the very subject that the last 10 years of my own research has centred upon.

I’ll end by saying that 2013 was made better for me by the many of you who, like Andy Shuttleworth, put your experiences out there for all the rest of us to learn from. Howard Williams’ reflections on the sub-Z-list celebrity status that comes with academic life was similarly meaningful to me. Please don’t hesitate to share other links and ideas!

I head into my review today feeling hopeful for 2014: committed to continuing to make a small difference in the world and, most importantly, standing up for my students, my research collaborators and motivators, my friends, family and my ethics.

Fingers crossed it all goes okay. Thank you so very much for your continuing support.