The Benefits of Walking in Each Other’s Shoes: Better Relationships, Better Exhibitions and Better Advocacy

As Chair of the Society for Museum Archaeology[1] I have the great pleasure of getting to know about the work of many organisations up and down the UK and never more so than at our annual conference. This year’s conference theme was “Working Together: a collective responsibility for archaeology” and details of this amazing partnership project in Cambridge were eagerly shared with, and received by, more than 50 attendees.

Whilst the focus of the project is ‘archaeology and children’ what really stands out for me is the collaboration between different types of archaeologists as well as the community. This is definitely an example of a step in the right direction for our profession but also for the many people who will benefit from the results, whether through direct and inclusive participation in its delivery or simply by visiting the exhibition when it opens.

But why is this so important and why more than ever right now?

The simple answer is that as archaeologists we tend to define ourselves by the specific roles we play, in museums, in units, for the local authority or as academics, but what we really should be doing is thinking of ourselves collectively as archaeologists – we are after all concerned with the same subject matter but just come at from different angles! Clearly we also all value the importance of being able to share what we have discovered and why this is important with members of the public and in turn we enable them to act as advocates on our behalf. It can’t have gone un-noticed that many public services will suffer as the result of austerity measures and these include those that cut across all aspects of the archaeological and historic environment. Engaging and successful projects like this one play a vital role in breaking down barriers not just between archaeologists but between individuals and organisations – if we don’t begin to find ways to understand better how each of us works then how can we ever hope to find ways we can work better together? If communities aren’t ever involved in what we do how will projects ever provide personal resonance and therefore be of importance to them?

From what I have read and heard about this particular project, the collaborative process has been extremely beneficial – building something better together for everyone concerning a subject matter that we can all easily relate to, without period, material or collection restraints. I for one can’t wait to see the results!!

Gail Boyle FSA
Chair of SMA & Senior Curator (Archaeology), Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

[1] The Society for Museum Archaeology (SMA), is recognised by Arts Council England as the Subject Specialist Network for British Archaeology and as such provides a focus for the expertise and collections knowledge of collections managers, keepers and curators throughout the UK. SMA has a number of objectives but significantly it is concerned with the role that museums play as guardians of a vital part of the nation’s heritage and as the appropriate location for the storage and interpretation of all archaeological material. www.socmusarch.org.uk

 

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