This show explores an approach to new media that we rarely get to see — a coordinated, research-based strategy that brings together cultural heritage institutions throughout a country. One of the organizations spearheading this efforts is the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Sites of Scotland (RCAHMS). This interview features Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager for RCAHMS. Philip will talk about the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Initiative, and how is own organization is going beyond social media engagement to encourage user-contributed content. If you’ve struggled to build consensus about digital outreach even within your own institution, you’ll find this interview compelling.
As I mentioned in my first post for Voices of the Past, the Paisley’s Past Project is a community archaeology project that I am in the process of organising. The focus will be on the town centre of Paisley, Scotland’s largest town. It is planned that this project will highlight the importance of the town to Scotland’s long and illustrious history. Paisley’s historical importance has been something that has been ignored and downplayed for far too long.
Since the start of 2011, I have welcomed two colleagues to the project. Firstly, there is Ellie McCulloch, who is a fellow archaeologist, and like myself, Ellie studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow. Secondly, there is Dr. Anders Ingram, a history graduate from the University of Edinburgh who has come on board as the projects historian. Anders will be working to uncover as much of Paisley’s history as is humanly possible. This will add to our understanding of the town’s development, as well as shedding light on the archaeology that will be uncovered during this project. So far, both Ellie and Anders have proven to be invaluable assets to the Paisley’s Past Project.
A successful reconnaissance mission was carried out in the January of 2011. This involved the three members of the Paisley’s Past team exploring much of Paisley’s town centre and discussing the project in depth. This allowed for both Ellie and Anders to get up to speed with the project, as well as for the both of them to bring fresh ideas to be brought to the table, all of which can only lead to an even better project.
Gaining Community Support
To date, the project has been offered support by a number of local organisations that have played major roles in Paisley in recent years. These organisations include Reid Kerr College, the Renfrewshire Local History Forum and the University of the West of Scotland. The support that has been offered so far will include getting students from both the college and the university involved in the project. Archaeology Scotland, which is one of the leading archaeology charities in the country, has also offered their support to the project.
Volunteers from throughout the town will be encouraged to take part in the project, as this will be Paisley’s project. A number of queries have already come into the project’s Facebook page about volunteering on the project, or taking part in some shape of form. Everyone who has already contacted us about volunteering are being kept up-to-date on a regular basis about the project. The support that has already been pledge and the amount of interest that has been shown so far in relation to the project is highly encouraging and shows that there is already interest in the history and archaeology of the Paisley area.
Publicity and Funding
So far, the project has been featured in local newspapers, including the Paisley’s People. An article on the project has also been featured in History Scotland, which is the magazine for Historic Scotland, which is one of the leading conservation bodies in the country. There are also plans that an article that on the project will also be featured in the Evening Times, which is one of Glasgow’s most popular papers. It is hoped that these will be the first steps in getting the project national coverage.
At the moment, the Paisley’s Past team are working hard towards getting funding. This funding will go towards supporting the field and post-excavation work that will be carried out during this project. Even though a date still has to be set for when the fieldwork will be starting, one thing that we can be certain of, is that there is still plenty of work to be done before even the first piece of turf is lifted.
A note from Jeff: Some of the most powerful “heritage experiences” I’ve had resulted from public archaeology projects. Like social media, they are rooted in the concepts of openness, interactivity and action. A lot of individuals and groups in heritage fields just don’t know where to start with a grassroots campaign. There are no “perfect” answers, but the path is made clearer through the shared experience of others and discovering you aren’t alone.
When Claire wrote me about the new community archaeology project being started in Scotland, I thought this would be a good opportunity to feature an in-progress case study about the project. It’s also a way for you to share your ideas and experiences in launching a community heritage project, including how to communicate it online. Claire bravely answered the call and agreed to blog the project’s progress over the next few months. I hope the Paisley’s Past story–and your feedback–will serve as encouragement for many more community archaeology projects throughout the world. Here’s the first post in the series that outlines the concept …
The Paisley’s Past Project came about after I had spent a number of years complaining about the state that Paisley was being allowed to fall into. I had always wondered why no-one seemed to be willing to do something about it, while doing nothing about it myself.
It wasn’t until the September of 2010, after having a brief email discussion with Scott Manson from Paisley2020 that we made the decision that a community archaeology project would be a brilliant way of getting local people involved in the proposed redevelopment of Paisley’s town centre. To find a project manager, I didn’t have to look too far as the baton was swiftly passed to me and the idea slowly started to become a reality. We are planning that the project will continue for three years on a number of sites throughout Paisley’s town centre.
Paisley, for those of you who may not know the geography of Scotland, lies to the south-west of Glasgow and is the administrative centre of the area of Renfrewshire. The town was home of one of the two Clunic monasteries that were founded in Scotland, of which the town’s abbey is the only part still standing and in use today. The town is also known as the home of the world famous Paisley Pattern and the shawls that it can so often be seen adorning. Other than the Abbey and the town’s industrial past, not much is publicly known about the town’s history and archaeology.
Purpose of the Project
The Paisley’s Past Project is planned to bring local people, students, businesses and organisations together in order to allow for the people of Paisley to play an active role in the investigation and conservation of their own history and heritage. Volunteers will be allowed to take part in surveying, excavation and post-excavation. We will be getting the volunteers involved in working on a number of sites throughout Paisley and will hopefully increase our understanding of the town’s history beyond what we already know about the Paisley Abbey and the town’s industrial past. We will also be giving the volunteers on this project the opportunity to take part in the investigation of the oral history. The volunteers will discover that oral history can add an extra dimension to our understanding of the archaeology and the written histories of the area. All of these will be vital elements to the success of this project.
Volunteers from throughout Paisley will be encouraged to take part in this project, in whatever way that they can, with nothing to stop people of different ages and genders playing their part. People from different backgrounds, whether it is ethnic, social or cultural, will be accepted as volunteers, especially as this project is about inclusivity rather that exclusivity. As part of this, I am planned that the Paisley’s Past Project will play its part in the proposed redevelopment of Paisley’s town centre. We are planning that the Paisley’s Past Project will added to the revitalisation of the town’s museum and art gallery, especially in relation to up-dating the museums displays and widening what these same displays cover.
Even though the Paisley’s Past Project is essentially an archaeology project, I am hoping that the role that the project will play in the wider community will be greater than just a small number of interested people investigating a small number of sites. We are hoping that the work that will be carried out during this project will encourage people to take an interest in what is going on in their area and to take an active role in these same events.
Moving Forward: Ideas Welcome!
At the moment, I am working towards getting as much of the Scottish press interested in this project. This will involve getting newspapers, as well as other news agencies, interested and covering what will be taking place; therefore increasing interest on a wider level. To date, I have set up a Facebook page for the project, which will be one of the main ways that people will be able to keep themselves up-to-date with how the project is developing, as well as what has been taking place. When the ball really starts rolling (no Indiana Jones jokes please), I will be leading public meetings will also take place in order to inform people as to what the aims of the Paisley’s Past Project are, how we will go about achieving them, as well as what we hope that this project will bring to the town.
Community archaeology projects will be great ways of showing that archaeology is not just for the archaeologists, but is for everyone. I am open to ideas and suggestions on how to increase awareness of the project, as well as on other aspects of the project.
Photos courtesy of Claire Casey.
Additional teaser graphic element sourced from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbowskill/5087208324/