So that was 2014

2014 – a new start

So, what did 2014 bring? I began a new chapter in my life – going back to university to do a PhD (again: and before you ask, I did one in 1983-88 but never submitted it as I got a job and changed career direction).

The upside of going back to university was a comforting retreat into the academic bubble. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it. The luxury of being able to focus on one thing in depth, to read, to think and to write. Being surrounded by other archaeologists is like a return to the nest; warm, comforting and safe. Being a lowly postgrad means not having management responsibilities and only a minimum of bureaucracy to deal with. Being part of a team of people – the Star Carr folk – is lovely. And they’re such a nice bunch of folk. Having a student railcard means I can now pass for 25 again!! Actually, all of the above have made me feel younger again with more energy and enthusiasm. If only I could get the grey out of my hair at the same time!

The downsides are less income, but I’m not a big spender anyway so that’s OK. Also, entering a new place with new people. For an introvert like me that can be quite scary. Allowing myself to get absorbed in research can make very obsessive and isolated. I was also very aware of being so much older than the rest – nothing to do with age, but everything to do with life experience and a long career in the so-called ‘real world’. I did not want to be the aged bore in the corner endlessly telling stories and warning the youngsters about what their future might look like. On the other hand, I do want to help and share what little experience I have with the rest if it would benefit them. Interesting social dynamics for a shy retiring type like me (I know others think I’m outgoing and gregarious, but that’s really a skilfully created front).

My impressions of the department and of postgrad life. In many ways not so different to my time in Sheffield in the 1980s. Archaeologists of any era are much the same. Hard working postgrads, approachable staff, a feeling of shared culture and fellowship, the interesting seminars and thought provoking presentations and occasional deep discussions. On the other hand, universities now are so much bigger than in the 1980s. There are far more staff and students. Where Sheffield was cosy, friendly and intimate, this is no longer possible and York is larger, less intimate and dispersed into groups of people who seldom meet or interact. This is simply an inevitable feature of modern higher education as the big business it has become. I wonder if it has also then lost something of its soul? Anyway, the department is a good place, with good people, and a lot of interesting research. It is humbling to be part of it.

The other postgrads are lovely people. Hard working. The major difference between now and the 1980s seems to be the social side. My 1980s was spent in an alcoholic haze of endless sessions in the pub and parties at people’s houses. There seems to be less of this these days. Postgrads seem to be more serious, alcohol is of course far more expensive now relative to incomes, and many postgrads have lives or families outside the university and archaeology.

My research has been so far highly interesting and great fun. I’ve done a lot of reading on new topics and written a lot of words – whether they mean anything is hard to say at the moment. It’s good to know I can still put in that amount of concentration and effort. I also know I need to guard against obsessively working and shutting out the rest of the world. Highlights so far – spending a fortnight digging at Star Carr (iconic site, hard work, great team of people and fun), giving presentations at some primary schools to enthusiastic 7-8 year-olds, teaching a module to a small group of MA students, having new thoughts about how archaeology is communicated and delving deeply into the academic literature on the Mesolithic since 1866.

What else did I do in 2014? Oh yes, I helped in a small way as a consultant on a project to produce online resources for teaching using Japanese archaeology. This was a fun project, and the end result is impressive (and mostly the work of a very hard working Japanese archaeologist Oki Nakamura, and a talented web-design team). I also wrote a book on the archaeology of Britain for AltaMira Press in the USA which took a lot of time and effort (and will appear on the bookshelves at Easter this year). I gave three fun lectures at Leicester University, judged two sites for the Sandford heritage education awards, gave advice to a historic property in Aldborough as a Historic Houses Association learning advisor, attended meetings of the Archaeology and Engagement Panels of the National Trust, did some judging for the British Archaeological Awards and handed over the reigns of the CASPAR at UCL to the brilliant Chiara Bonnachi. I aso continued as a Governor of Millthorpe School in York where we had a highly successful Ofsted visit earlier in the year. In all of these, I continue to be amazed and delighted at the dedication, enthusiasm and skill of everyone involved in heritage education and interpretation, and in the hard work of amazingly skilled teachers. In comparison, I always feel somewhat inadequate myself but do what I can to help. (Note to self – I must actually try and do less this year and give more time for the PhD).

This is already way too long and I doubt anyone in their right mind will read this, but I needed to give myself an overview of the year and get it all off my chest.

Onwards into 2015 – looking forward to it.

About donhenson

I am freelance consultant archaeologist specialising in public archaeology, interpretation, education and the media.
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