Heritage Open Days
As my time has been pretty much entirely absorbed by preparing for new educational events; readying the learning environment in which I now principally teach; and writing; I haven’t posted anything substantial in a long while. A great deal has happened since my last series of posts, which outlined my involvement in the 2017 Heritage Open Days; yet I find myself once more on the topic of HODs, as I prepare for this year’s event.
Last year, in the guise of my Georgian counterpart, ‘Mrs Leach’, I held an exhibition at the ‘Antiquarian Academy’ as part of the HOD festival, on the theme of the ‘Material Worlds of Jane Austen’, inspired by the bicentenary commemorations that marked the author’s death. The walls and surfaces of the publicly accessible rooms were covered with exhibits & displays on various topics relating to Regency era life and culture – with particular reference to local experiences (a few photos of which I’ve posted on Flickr), highlighting subjects that I intend(ed) to teach. I also incorporated several related activities to inform (& entertain) the slow trickle visitors I expected – going by the free events I had previously delivered.[i] However, the numbers were far in excess of those anticipated, leaving insufficient space to explore & carry out activities; and I was almost constantly engaged in answering enquiries, leaving little time to mention them (whereas their introduction & discussion might have encouraged participation).
I was in general satisfied with how this event went (given the limited time and budget I could command), and although it was a little disappointing that the activities I had prepared went untried, this was not a major cause for concern. Nonetheless, visitor feedback expressed an interest in more activities; and I’m well aware (in practice, as well as theory) of the benefits of learning through practical experience, and have usually incorporated participatory learning within classes when teaching for Higher Education Institutions, and other Adult Education providers.[ii] So when I afterwards considered how I might learn from this event to improve subsequent events, activities were foremost in my mind.
Learning by Doing
My experience in Adult Education teaching (having taught off-and-on since 2000, through several Adult Education organizations – mostly in university Continuing Education departments);[iii] and in working on and directing public projects;[iv] has taught me that different age and social groups tend to have different needs with regard to educational sessions and resources, and often prefer to approach learning differently (a subject to which I intend to return in another post) – a challenge to which I must rise. This is further increased if (as I do) aiming to expand attendance to those not usually attracted by the subjects, which a free event such as a Heritage Open Day might more readily realize – particularly if adopting different formats to those traditionally used in Continuing Education & Public Archaeology.
While a more relaxed event might more likely attract a varied audience, it is clear that a more structured, participatory, approach might more effectively enable (& demonstrate) the achievement of specific educational outcomes. In reflecting upon past teaching experiences, events that I have previously delivered,[v] and upon last year’s (2017) HOD event; and given the venue and subject matter; it is apparent that this might be better accomplish in small groups, which to maximise attendance would require several sessions.
For various reasons (including the prospect that without a deep interest in the topics, the general public might be more inclined to attend a shorter one-off session; the need to limit disruption – the venue being principally a domestic building; and my own circumstances – particularly disabilities constraining availability), delivery of a series of short sessions on one day or evening seems most appropriate. As weekends seem preferred to weekdays – and Sunday evenings more popular than other times, I settled on a similar time to last year’s event (6.30-8pm), for the second Sunday of the HOD festival (16th September).
But for such a complex subject as Archaeology (integrating sciences, arts & humanities, and drawing upon the methods and ideas of numerous disciplines in theory & practice – unsurprisingly History, but also including Anthropology, Art History, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science & Technology, Engineering, Geography, Literature, Languages, Philosophy, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, and others), the provision of sessions that are both interesting and informative through the format of ‘micro-lessons’ is far from easy.
So, as I have long adopted a multi-media approach in teaching methods & for learning resources;[vi] in presenting research;[vii] and in directing several public projects;[viii] extending the sessions through digital & social media (& printed material for those without access to the internet) seems the most fitting solution.
I have also long felt that one approach with great potential in generating interest in academic and public research & practice, as well as acting as an interpretative tool (but is still little used in the UK, in comparison to North America and Australia)[ix] is ‘Archaeological Story-Telling’. This technique integrates the factual discoveries of historical study within a narrative framework that aims to communicate social and cultural context to modern audiences. I have found this to be an effective verbal teaching method, and have dabbled in adopting this approach when writing for the general public.[x]
I had already planned to incorporate this method within at least some ‘Antiquarian Academy’ sessions. In particular, this approach will lend itself well to the ‘tea-time talks’ that I’m developing, in which I intend to emulate the mode of gossip in exploring various topics that usually provoke sensationalist reportage (such as crime & punishment; love & marriage; family & community; social hierarchies & mobility; poverty & welfare; gender & age; consumerism; and travel & tourism), which I aim to contextualize through academic research in an easy-going manner. Consequently, this approach immediately seemed an interesting way forward when considering how I might develop more interactive learning as part of this year’s HOD (and the digital tours that I plan to provide).
Determining the format by which I would communicate much of the narrative – letters between the character that guides the adventure, and participants – was again a relatively simple decision, bearing in mind that much of what we know about Jane Austen’s life (and the experiences of others of comparative social and economic status) is obtained through the numerous letters (preserved in various collections) between the author and her sister Cassandra. As a Historical Archaeologist (and at undergraduate and post-graduate trained in analyzing language & literary sources in conjunction with material remains),[xi] my research often integrates a range of sources, including written evidence.
First draft of a ‘Seeking Sophie’ letter
Deciphering Documents & Dialects
When studying medieval inscriptions & manuscripts, I found the process of transcription could (at times!) be quite fun, so I though it might be interesting to incorporate an activity in which participants could decipher unfamiliar language & text that would at the same time say something about the distinct culture of the time & place in which the story is set. Using regional dialect offered an interesting way to relay some of the narrative – involving issues such as literacy & education; gender & age; travel & communication; and social rank & mobility – including that relating to the 18th- and 19th-century antiquarians who recorded speech in the past. As I will explain in another post, I am no expert in this field; but (with the fortuitous provision of an antiquarian work) I may provide at least a very general idea of the sounds of regional speech among the ‘lower orders’ is the 1790s – 1810s. [xii]
Experiencing the Past
This feeds into my attempts to understand material encounters as a student of experience, sensation, and emotion relating to material culture in the past – which I aim to share in teaching, particularly through my ‘Antiquarian Academy’ events & resources. From the beginning, when planning the narrative letters other written (& illustrative) resources used for the HOD event activities, I knew that I would, where possible, emulated contemporaneous forms, styles and appearance of language, script, materials, and finish (particularly materiality with regard to use and wear) – which the use of digital resources makes possible.
Adopting a multi-media approach also provides opportunities to explore public interest in, and efficacy of, the methods and materials I’m developing for digital tours – which as I really enjoy leading field trips, but have increasing mobility issues, I hope will provide one way for me to continue to encourage and enhance appreciation and enjoyment of the historic environment.
I wanted to encouraged participants to get out into the historic environment, particularly after having to cancel an event I intended to provide in the form of an ‘educational picnic’ at a local historical site (encountering problems with securing the venue). I also wanted to include aspects of the subject that this event was to cover – travel & tourism – as part of the HOD activities. So I’ve spent time looking into turnpikes & toll-bars in the county during the Regency era, and integrated this within the narrative, ‘evidence’ & activities.
I also incorporate elements from other topics that I teach in this event. As I recently taught an ‘Antiquarian Academy’ session on Love & Marriage, and am developing sessions & resources on Death & Burial (for a talk in Autumn), and Crime & Punishment (prospectively for a 2019 event), I combined these subjects in forming the narrative, being particular suitable in portraying the effects of social and political turbulence during the 1790s – 1810s: the chronological focus of my ‘Austen Age’ sessions.
To the victor…
Having created family portraits in the style of Regency silhouette (if a team wins) or miniature portrait (if an individual wins), I thought it might be a nice touch to offer a portrait to participants. But though I would obviously not have the time to create one for every participant, I might do so for the ‘winner’: I had early on thought of introducing a competitive element to the activities, to lend a little excitement to participation – which the primary subject matter lends itself to well. But there’s a limit to how many ‘contestants’ I can instruct in the necessary skills (& how many entries I can process), so I’ve had to limit this prize to those who attend the micro-workshops.
Regency-style Silhouette Portrait
However, as I’m putting much of the ‘evidence’ online (mostly on the ‘Academy’ website / Facebook Page / Twitter), anyone can play along for fun, if they like; though I’ll not be able to provide feedback for anyone other than the contestants who attend the event workshop, I will upload solutions to the more significant puzzles.
What to wear?!
Again, I’m aiming to create an appropriate costume for the event: a 1790s transitional garment, being a high-waist open-gown-type ‘Redingote’ (preempting the Regency empire-line closed-front version), in summer weight fabric (last year’s HOD event being very warm!). Hopefully Mrs Leach will be dressed for travelling (so that she can nip off to investigate various evidence in the field); but as a middle-aged middling-sort woman with intellectual interests, she is somewhat lagging behind the fashion. I’ll post more information on the costume if possible.
(At the moment things aren’t going so well. I don’t normally use patterns – not always the easiest way to go about producing clothing, especially as I don’t usually have anyone to help me, nor a ‘form’ on which to drape my own garments. I’ve never made the two-piece fitted sleeves of the period before, and they’re proving quite troublesome!).
Exploring solutions in self-draping sleeves!
Such attention to detail inevitably takes a great deal of time – so (as usual) I’m working flat-out to get everything finished to my satisfaction (which is why tickets have been made available a little later than intended). But preparations have so far been (on the whole) a tremendously enjoyable experience – which I hope is transmitted through the resources & activities, so that participants might share in the pleasures that this work has generated.
How to get tickets
Mailing list members have priority access to tickets here (password required) until 31 August, at which time they will be made generally available (no password required).
[ii] See note iii.
[iii] The WEA; the University of Nottingham; Keele University; & University of Oxford.
[iv] Beginning in 1997 with my work on Crickley Hill; also developing & directing Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project; co-developing & co-directing the Past Sense Project; and developing & directing Malefic Midlands. These initiatives are essentially on the back-burner while I conduct background research & develop educational sessions & resources.
[ix] For discussion and application of the ‘archaeological story-telling’ approach, see e.g. James G. Gibb ‘Imaginary, But by No Means Unimaginable: Storytelling, Science, and Historical Archaeology’, Historical Archaeology 34(2) 2000, pp.1-6; Mary C. Beaudry ‘Stories That Matter: Material Lives in 19th Century Lowell and Boston, Massachusetts’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, Monograph 3, pp.1-20 (2005).
[xi] I was fortunate to study for my BA & MA at the University of Nottingham, where there were excellent opportunities to study literature & language alongside archaeology – indeed, taking courses outside the main subject was compulsory when I was there in the 1990s. I was taught to use contemporaneous language & literature to further understand material remains in context. This involved reading & transcribing medieval manuscripts in their original form (requiring the study of various contemporaneous languages and extinct scripts – which proved particularly useful when studying inscribed monuments); and studying place-names (the English Place Name Society having strong links to the University); under the tuition of leading experts, such as Christine Fell, Tony Parsons, and Judith Jesch. I now realise how useful this approach has been, having closely studied literature when (for example) examining early 20th century domestic contexts (my studies of the work of journalist Ada Chesterton can be found here & here). And I continue to study texts from the Long 18th century in particular (of course including Jane Austen’s works!) with regard to material culture and society.
[xii] I do not claim to be knowledgeable with regard to 18th & early 19th century dialect & phonetics; I have merely (& I am sure, somewhat coarsely) used contemporaneous studies of regional speech, on the understanding that such works may be problematic (e.g. scholars of the day – belonging to a narrow socio-economic class – seemed to have often made assumptions regarding the origins and use of words, attributing unfamiliar language & practices to particular regions that were in fact widely used among what they frequently referred to as ‘the vulgar’). I hope to soon write a post about this particular aspect of my studies in preparing ‘Antiquarian Academy’ event & resources.