The Lamplough-Lidster collection

I’ve mentioned the wonderful opportunity I’ve been given to gain some work experience whilst studying at the University of York. The volunteer work I’ve been doing on the Lamplough project has been invaluable experience for me, and has really opened my eyes to the way that Heritage institutions work. 

Click here to see my introductory post on the YMT blog.

Advertisements

My thesis in the making: archaeology in gaming.

I decided to make this post because the time has come to really start thinking seriously about writing my masters thesis. This is a somewhat daunting prospect, and really rather new territory for me. I am, by the very nature of my undergraduate training, a prehistorian. I relish dealing with weighty theoretical discussions centred around really rather ephemeral evidence. Now I am required to mentally shake myself and enter the real world. My masters is in Digital Heritage, and as such I must deal with some sort of digital media in my research.  The data I’ll be dealing with will be qualitative data provided by living, human participants.

Yes, this will be very new territory for me.

The title on my thesis proposal was as follows:

Experienced archaeologies: A qualitative study of the way in which people engage with the past in role playing games.

I’ll come up with something catchier at a later date, but for now I feel like this pretty much sums up what I want to do.

My primary focus will be on the way that people (everyone!) interact and engage with the past in video games – RPGs in particular. I’ll use my research to construct ideas about how gaming technology might be used for disseminating experiential interpretations of archaeological data.

I feel like I might be jumping on a bit of a bandwagon, as it seems that archaeology in gaming is about to become a hot topic. However it is something that I feel very strongly about, and I think that if I come up with a robust enough methodology my research could be some of the first of its kind (in archaeology at least) and potentially of use to others in the future.

All in all I think this is going to be an exciting piece of work to do, and something that I hope to learn a lot from. I’m pretty sure that my primary source for information is going to be my good old friend, teh interwebz, so I feel that recording some of my musings about it here is quite an appropriate thing to do.

Earlier this evening I tweeted to gauge interest in the research, and to see if anyone would be interested in participating. My plan is still very much unformulated, but I think that at this stage it would be wonderful to hear people’s thoughts on how this sort of research would be best carried out (I’m not afraid to ask advice when I’m completely new to something!) and if anyone has any resources that they think might come in useful.

An MSc in Digital Heritage: contemplations on a personal future.

I can hardly believe that I’m in my final week of timetabled master’s lectures (and have under two weeks in which to finish my final summative assesments, oh god!) – the time has absolutely flown! I’m feeling very reflective about the whole experience, and whilst I’ve struggled at times, both with the content of my course when placed alongside my previous research interests and the simple case of balancing work and study, I wouldn’t change it for the world!

I’ve learned a lot about what the real world of Heritage is like, beyond the Universities. I’ve become more independent, and grown up a lot. But I think that most importantly, I’ve made contacts.

I’ve been extremely lucky to be involved in a hugely interesting project with the York Museums Trust, and last week the past few months of contemplation on the project came together as I interviewed a certain Mr. Lamplough on camera. Mr. Lamplough, now in his 70’s I believe, has donated a large and extremely important collection of Bronze Age objects to the Yorkshire Museum. These objects were retrieved from a series of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites across the North York Moors in a series of rescue excavations in the 1950s and 60s when Mr. Lamplough was a boy of around 10. The work was pioneering and of the utmost importance.  I will be blogging about the collection on the YMT blog and visual material from the interview will be pushed over the web over the next few months.

I’ve also been offered the opportunity to go and do some work on the ever-changing and often challenging museum at Çatalhöyük. This will happen at some point during the fieldwork season, and wouldn’t even be happening without the influence of my greatly admired supervisor, Dr. Sara Perry, to whom I am hugely grateful!

All of these opportunities have been amazing and eye-opening, and I really don’t know what to do with myself next (although I have an entire thesis to write before I can move on to the next adventure!). I have moments where I think oh god, what am I doing? I need to get out now before it’s too late! but I just know that it’s not over yet. I’m not done with archaeology yet.

I came into this course with a very simple aim: to equip myself with the qualifications necessary to get paid (ha!) work in a sector that I am passionate about, rather than end up doing work that will suck my soul out through any available orifice (I’m looking at you, retail). A group discussion via Google Groups between students on the second Cultural Heritage Management module at York has made it absolutely clear that almost everyone is worried, nay terrified, about finding permanent and stable work in the heritage sector. And I’m getting that itching feeling that I had at the end of my bachelors where I’m thinking I’ve come this far, why not just carry on!? I could be the first person with a Doctorate in the family!

I think if I do decide to attempt to get funding for a doctorate though, I need a good long time to evaluate just what I want to get out of it. The course I’m on now was a quick decision, and whilst it is one I don’t regret for a second – it’s brought me to a wonderful place –  it’s caused me to deviate hugely from my primary interests in archaeology. As I’ve learned and developed intellectually, I now find myself lost. I can’t remember what my original interests were in the first place (if I ever really had any!) and I’m pretty sure that they will have changed and morphed over the academic year.

Why archaeology needs Game Developers and Other Nerds*

I recently discovered the wonderful online magazine, Love Archaeology, created and run by postgraduate students at Glasgow University. This discovery in itself merits the creation of a blog post (I strongly recommend checking it out, the thing has a wonderful feel – a mix of enhusiasm, knowledge and general good spirits!), but it also links nicely on to a little archaeology rant that I’ve had brewing up inside for almost a year now.

The third issue of Love Archaeology considers how the study of material culture in imaterial worlds – that is, fictitious creations such as novels and popular games like the Elder Scrolls arc that have their roots firmly placed in our own, human archaeologies – can contribute to archaeological thought. This sort of thing has been hovering on the edge of my brain for god knows long, but I never quite took notice. Clearly I am preoccupied by the past, and that preoccupation has made its way into my hobbies in the form of nerdalicious pursuits such as the playing of Skyrim for really quite unreasonable amounts of time, and the perhaps more honourable act of reading great works of fiction such as George R. R. Martin’s epic political medieval fantasy. I’ve always maintained that I’m an archaeologist for the sole reason that I am also an escapist, and I very much enjoy pretending that the real world doesn’t exist by immersing myself in other worlds, populated by our ancestors. I suppose it just didn’t occur to me that this is exactly what a very large percentage of the population in most developed countries is doing as well.

Does this make us all archaeologists? I certainly believe it means we all think like archaeologists. Or does it mean that archaeologists think like humans? And I suppose that is indeed the goal – to get inside the heads of our human ancestors.

Anyway, I digress. The above discussion is a very interesting one, and one which I might attempt to pursue and perhaps somehow twist into something resembling a thesis. My main point for this post was, however, why the world of archaeology needs game developers and other hardcore gaming-type nerds in general.

This is an opinion that I’ve been brewing ever since somewhere around the middle of my third year studying for an Archaeology BA at Cardiff. I shall illustrate it with this beautiful piece of artwork that I stumbled across whilst surfing the web. Okay, I didn’t stumble across it at all, I was actively seeking out epic bits of concept art for the aforementioned Skyrim.

Image

(c) Bethesda Studios 2011. Art by Adam Adamowicz. Cross section view of a long hall built by the fictional race who live in Skyrim, the Nords.

This wonderful piece of art was released in 2011 previous to the release of the actual game, Skyrim, the fifth in the Elder Scrolls series. The games are set on the fictional continent of Tamriel, of which Skyrim is a northern province (imagine mountainous landscapes filled with viking-esque settlers and warriors). More images belonging to the same collection of concept art can be found here.

Anyway, I digress once again. My point is… my point is just look at the above image. It looks like an archaeological reconstruction. Or rather, the best archaeological reconstruction anyone has ever seen, ever, in the history of archaeological reconstructions. The image clearly shows both the interior and exterior of the building. It shows the different stages of the build, and the contents of the building, the way it would look if it was occupied by people. The attention to detail is absolutely stunning, and the skills with which is was drawn are undoubtedly phenomenal. This is the sort of digital art that the archaeological world desperately needs.

The people who develop games like this are clearly extremely creative individuals. They’re also clearly hugely talented. We need them.

We are living in an increasingly visual world. In general I think people don’t read as much as they used to, and engage with their real and virtual environments in an increasingly  visual and visceral way. I feel like one of the main things holding archaeology back (don’t get me wrong, archaeology is definitely going places,  just a bit slower than the rest of the world) is our lack of ability (or reluctance?) to represent our findings and our theories in a visually creative and accessible manner. Although deeply rooted in academic scientific knowledge, archaeology is also fundamentally linked with the imagination, and in order to communicate the results of our imaginings, we need to use creative means. I’m interested in the way that archaeology has been artistically represented in the past and, although I’ve barely scratched the surface, what I’ve found has been pretty dire most of the time.  I’m not saying that there are no archaeologists who are good at drawing, definitely not. And I’m not saying that there aren’t some instances of really great visual representation in archaeology. What I think is probably the case is that most archaeologists are so preoccupied by their own research that they cannot bring themselves to spend huge amounts of time representing the things that they simply want to know more about. Or perhaps more realistically, and more depressingly, we simply don’t have the means to fund the creation of such effective images. I know if I was as gifted as the person/people who drew those images linked above then I’d be letting Bethesda pay me handsomely to do their concept art rather than trying to get penniless archaeologists to pay me for interpretive drawings.

Something that I’ve found during a large amount of the class discussions for my MSc in Digital Heritage at York has been that there are so many ways in which archaeology could be headed, making the digital dissemination and preservation of archaeological knowledge more effective and more widespread, but there is this one, terrible looming factor that holds us back. The ever-essential financing that would make such endeavours possible.

So what I would suggest, then, is that we communicate more with the people who have got all the skills and resources to produce such inspiring and imaginative creations. They’re already doing an archaeology of their own, what’s stopping them from getting involved in our archaeology as well?

*By ‘Other Nerds’ I mean ‘Other Hugely Specialised and Talented People’. Obviously.

The student life

This blog entry is brought to you from underneath over five layers of clothing. News flash: York is COLD a lot of the time!

It’s been quite some time since I visited WordPress. I’ve been rather caught up in life. The past month has been filled with enrolment and socialising and attempting to find my academic legs once again. I’m currently suffering through the somewhat severe symptoms of Impostor Syndrome, but am trying to convince myself that I’m not as think as I dumb I am and that I just have to get out and get involved in and around the archaeology department.

Needless to say my ambitions for creative writing have to be put on hold (sorry, NaNoWriMo, not this year!) as I concentrate on my studies. I still plan to use this blog to write about my experiences as an archaeology postgraduate at the University of York.

You can also follow me @laternosrsly where I tweet about archaeology and my mundane life intermittently. Disclaimer: there will be swears.

Now I must begone, for this was merely a performance of procrastination; I have got 5500 words worth of assessment to write by Wednesday!

Good news!

I’ve done it! I’m into York for the MSc in Digital Heritage! Hurrah et cetera.

However now I’ll be panicking about finding funding, accommodation and new friends, so maybe it’ll be writing on hold. I’ll blog if anything ever comes to mind; perhaps I’ll try and log my experiences at York. I think it would be interesting to look back on this blog in a years time and see what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed.

Now I must write a million letters to people begging for money, because I am so unable to fund this by myself. Even the biggest loan won’t cut it.

In the mean time, I’ll probably be drawing (something I possibly enjoy more than writing) in the name of procrastination.

drawins

in the name of jazzing up this post