This Sunday saw the culmination of a collaborative art and archaeology project that Miranda and I have undertaken at Horatio’s Garden and the Salisbury Hospital Spinal Unit (http://www.horatiosgarden.org.uk). Our hope when we embarked on this venture was that we could bring the wider world, in the form of the landscape view from Horatio’s Garden, to the patients of the Salisbury Hospital Spinal Unit. As far as we are aware, this is the first time that an archaeologist, an artist, a garden and a hospital have come together, so this was very much an exploratory project. We had no idea if this would work, but we are very proud to say that it did.
On Wednesdays and Fridays throughout September, Miranda and I installed ourselves in the garden, where Miranda worked on a landscape drawing and I put together a view board. My view board brought together information and photographs about the archaeology of the view, in particular the parishes of Clarendon and Alderbury (which form part of one of my case study areas), and the thoughts and observations of the patients, staff, visitors and volunteers at Horatio’s Garden. The conversations that gave rise to the latter turned out to be very wide-ranging, fascinating and immensely valuable. In the course of these conversations, people’s talents and broad interests also came to light, so come Sunday, we were able to put together a varied exhibition and entertaining set of talks that included works from photographers, one of whom was an aerial photographer, artists, a musician and people running a conservation project in Somerset. The icing to this cake was that 58 patients, staff, volunteers and visitors attended – including some staff who came in on their day off!
The positive ripples created by our time in the garden and by Sunday’s event have already led to new friendships – two people have even been overheard having an in-depth conversation about Roman coins. We feel that this was all achieved by a ‘light touch’ approach, and, most importantly, by a willingness of all involved to talk and to be generous with their time, talents and knowledge.
We very much hope this will be the beginning of a long collaboration with Horatio’s Garden. My very sincere thanks go to all those involved in Horatio’s Garden for sharing their spirit and for their generosity.
At the beginning of July we had our second annual academic advisory board meeting at Magdalen College, Oxford. We were very pleased to welcome Barry Cunliffe, Richard Bradley, Helena Hamerow and Roger Thomas for the afternoon to provide us with vital feedback on the project’s work to date. The first part of the meeting was devoted to issues surrounding metadata, our data cleaning strategies and, in particular, Chris Green’s innovative approaches to handling these large and disparate datasets, much of which can be read in earlier blog posts here. This raised a lot of discussion concerning the legacy of the project, in which it was felt that a new understanding of the datasets would be key.
In the afternoon, the focus shifted to our work so far on the case studies in Somerset and Northumbria. One of the main issues here was the extent to which we should always rely on ‘flagship’ sites in our syntheses. We feel that the case studies present an excellent opportunity to explore how our narratives might change when these ‘flagship’ sites are taken out of the picture. New ways of thinking and looking at archaeology was also a theme in Miranda’s presentation on the art and public engagement activities of the project, which have been numerous, multifaceted and more far-reaching than any of us could have hoped (for more information, please take a look at Miranda’s Visual blog).
Overall, we felt this was an extremely useful afternoon, which provided us with an excellent opportunity to take stock and reflect on our work so far. Discussing our major findings and methods with a wider group of experts was very productive and has given us much to think about as we move in to year 3 of the project. The only downside was that we all wished we had even more time for discussion – next year’s meeting might have to be a day, rather than just an afternoon!
This week saw the second of our annual project symposia. This year’s theme was the agency of landscape, which provoked some lively debate about the nature of non-human agency and the use of rhetoric in archaeology. As well as the formal presentation of papers, Dan Stansbie displayed a poster on his current thinking about his PhD on food and identity and Miranda Creswell exhibited two pieces of art: ‘Four Days in Port Meadow’ and ‘Layered Notes’.
The project team kicked off the day with an overview of what we have achieved since the beginning of the project (‘EngLaID at 18 months: learning to walk’) presented by Anwen and Chris Green, followed by an exploration of landscape agency in my Somerset case study area. Gary Lock and John Pouncett (University of Oxford) then grappled with how GIS might reconcile landscape as data with landscape as narrative, suggesting that scalar approaches must be central to attain a qualitative understanding of quantitative data.
The papers after lunch picked up on these themes and explored how one might best apply ideas of landscape agency in different sectors of British archaeology. David Roberts (University of York) developed an interesting theoretical framework for landscape agency demonstrated through examples from Roman Gaul and Britain that highlighted the materiality of landscape agency in an effort to bridge humanistic and scientific accounts of landscape. The pinning down of the nature of landscape agency continued into Jonathan Last’s (English Heritage) paper, who took a different stance arguing that human agency needed to be central to our thought both as heritage practitioners and as academics. Gwilym Williams (John Moore Heritage Services) also pursued the link between theory and practice in a thoughtful account of how we create archaeological narratives. With reference to fieldwork at Nevendon Washlands in Essex, Gwilym suggested that instead of constructing linear ‘a to b’ reports, we might consider taking an alternative approach that highlights ruptures and punctuated equilibria in the development of landscapes.
Our final session of the day took a slightly different tack, looking at the relationships of art, both past and present, and landscape. Richard Bradley (University of Reading) presented a compelling argument about the importance of the nature of the rocks influencing human activity on Ben Lawers in Scotland. Simon Callery rounded the day off by presenting a painter’s view of archaeological landscapes that focused on his works Pit Paintings and Wallspines. Both of these papers brought the importance of movement, texture and light to the fore.
Overall, the day was extremely enjoyable and sparked off numerous ideas for us to follow and explore as a project. Although some members of the audience remained unpersuaded by the idea of landscape agency, the majority agreed that if used cautiously it may prove a useful tool for analysis that gives some space for thinking about how and why humans have responded in particular ways to past landscapes. Other themes that came out strongly were whether past perceptions of landscape were shared or contested and how the study of past landscapes relates to who is doing the studying.
We would like to thank all the speakers, the chair people and the audience for creating such a stimulating symposium!