Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons Heritage Media talks about inspiring regular people to volunteer with archaeological excavations using a variety of online media. Past Horizons features an interactive magazine, a blog and a YouTube-style site exclusively for sharing heritage video.
Welcome to the Preservation Today Podcast. I’m Dylan Staley and today I’ll be talking with Maggie Struckmeier of Past Horizons. Welcome to Preservation Today.
D: Hello Maggie and thank you so much for joining us today. First off, would you mind telling us in your own words, what is Past Horizons?
M: Well, Past Horizons is a web portal, providing information about volunteer archeology projects and field schools that are currently happening around the world. The site’s been online now for about two years. And it’s also to be able to let people see that they can start up community projects. For example, we are involved in community projects here in Scotland and we enjoy it very much. It’s a different type of archeological volunteering; community is very much involved in your local area and ones that we’re involved in certainly, you know people really, really enjoy it. You see how many websites there are for conservation volunteering around the world. You know, that really took off in the last few years. You know, what do you do before you go to university for example? You take a year out and you go volunteer in conservation, but nobody really kind of thought about archeology in the same sort of way. Nobody really sort of put that two and two together and thought that you could do that as well. And we’re kind of hoping that people will take up the challenge, basically and go and do these things. As I say, the descriptions of all these things you can be involved in, there’s just so much, and who knows where it can lead you in the end. You might go and volunteer for two weeks and suddenly think, “This is all I ever really wanted to do. You know, I really want to be an archeologist now.”
D: And why exactly do you feel that’s important?
M: Well, I think it’s important really because it can be a life changing experience, actually, for people or for other people as a break from normal life for a few weeks. You know if they volunteer in some of these projects, I think it also opens people’s eyes to new possibilities and it makes the world a more interesting place to live in for everybody. I think that that’s really what Past Horizons is about, is actually trying to improve people’s lives for them.
D: So, how exactly did you first get started in this project?
M: Well we realized that although there was already some resources online, there didn’t seem to be a comprehensive list available. So, we did a lot of research on the internet to gather all the projects together, country by country and built the website from there. We now have about 350 separate opportunities to choose from, each with a map location, photograph, short description, contact details, and web link.
D: Well, do you remember the first time you got involved in one of these projects?
M: Yes, it was actually in the Cairngorms in Scotland. It was very cold, we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was great fun. You get to drive 4-wheel drives across flooded rivers. You get to sort of be in the middle of nowhere and, you know, see really interesting things. But on the other hand, it was very cold. And then the, “Oh, this is terrible.” But, you know, once you get over that, it’s a great feeling. It’s actually a great feeling of freedom. It’s hard to describe the experience and actually, it doesn’t matter who you go with. The experience is different, but it’s the same, actually. You know, it’s just that sort of—I don’t know—you discover so many knew things about that place that you’re in and about yourself as well.
D: Well besides helping people learn about these projects and being involved in these projects yourselves, what else does Past Horizons do?
M: Well, we do quite a lot of things. We also have a blog, which we try to update daily with information including news items, travel grants, and study opportunities. There’s also the video section. It’s a bit like YouTube, where you can view over 300 heritage videos, but you can also upload your own to it. And we also have the online magazine, of course, which features page flip technology, it has embedded videos, and live links to other people’s sites. We also have the podcast, which is actually truly a international venture. Where Diego, from Stone Pages website gathers the news. He sends it to David Connolly, of British Archaeological Jobs and Resources website who edits and reads it, and then he sends it on to Dave Horix in Canada, who masters it. Oh yeah, and we also have an archeological tool shop.
D: You described a couple of people who are described in the process of creating Past Horizons, but who all composes Past Horizons?
M: It’s just me and David and we have a volunteer editor, called Felicity, and she has been an editor on newspapers and magazines in the past. When she heard we were starting this up, she came forward and volunteered her services. And I think without her—you know she really, really understands magazines and, you know, I think she’s very strict with us— and without her I think we couldn’t do it properly. It makes it professional, put it that way. I would like other people to come forward and write articles. You know, I’ve had a student come forward and she wants to write an article and I think that would be great to get people to contribute more on a regular basis. We also have, of course, Dig Cook who is a lady from Australia who—she actually is a dig cook—and she provides recipes for every edition. So that’s very good as well.
D: Well then, what is it that you see in the future of Past Horizons?
M: I suppose Past Horizons is constantly evolving. The plan is basically to build on the success of the website, and already has thousands of visitors, which is brilliant. Also we hope to lead some of our own projects in the future. As I mentioned before, in Scotland we’re involved in community projects, which we really enjoy, but we’re also leading an archeological survey in Croatia this May. I think in the future we’re going to be able to accept volunteers on this project. You know, it would be good to see one of our own projects actually listed on the website. You know, that’s really what we’re aiming for, I think, in the future.
D: Before we go I do want to ask you just one final question: Do you think that you’ve found your dream job?
M: Yes, actually, I think I have. I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing. What can I say? I think, definitely.
D: Alright, Maggie, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today and we hope to speak with you real soon.
Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the podcast. Now, our mission here is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Dylan Staley, and until next time, I’ll see you online.