Saturday, 22 June 2013

A bit more about my archaeological interests (archaeological information should be free for all!)

So the other day I gave a tour to some good friends of mine around Durham Castle. As students they all live in the college (some even live in the castle!). Usually tourists pay to go around the castle but students of the university get on these tours for free. However, I decided to give a private tour anyway since I had nothing better to do. By the end of the tour they were very surprised by just how much information they had learned!

That got me thinking about what they had learned, and what I had got out of it. It wasn't just because I had impressed my friends with my (admittedly impressive) knowledge of the Castle, but they had enjoyed it so much, that they kept asking questions, which were informative and challenging, something that normal tours don't usually do. Admittedly throughout the year I have adapted my tours based on new research and information that I have picked up from various sources (I completed a module which included surveying part of the outer wall of the North hall of Durham Castle), and even now I am aware that my knowledge is not fully complete; one guy completed his phd on the history of the Castle! So I am not the authority on the castle, but I do enjoy talking about the Castle (my friends will certainly testify to this).

While I feel that the college doesn't do enough to teach students about the history of the castle and why it is so important, my friends can now go around and tell everyone else around them about the Castle and why it is so important, not just on a local level, but also on a national level! I won't go into detail about the history of the castle here (if you would like to know then please contact me!), but as archaeologists and one of the many stewards of heritage, I believe that it is our duty to disseminate (or distribute) information about our heritage as much as possible. So by giving this tour for free, it accomplishes two things: my friends have ticked something off their "bucket-list" before they graduate, and I can do the tour, knowing that more people now know more information about the castle. For free.

Of course, you can argue that I am doing this to the detriment of the castle. Because it is a free tour, it means that the castle is getting no benefit out of this in the short term- walking around the castle causes damage to the property, regardless of intention. My friends are not paying a single penny into its conservation; this comes from charity donations, often for big projects rather than general upkeep. However, if you want to be cynical, then I reply that I can now rely on my friends to tell their friends and families about the Castle, and inspire them to come to Durham and pay to go on the Castle tours. Even if they don't, a few more people now appreciate one of Durham's best loved icons, if they didn't before.

What I am trying to say is that information should be distributed more freely, but generally there is a culture of selfishness, even in academia; I saw a graduate friend of mine refuse to give her lecture notes to the lecturer (despite the fact that it was brillant and I am sure that the work would be referenced in future), simply because it was her property. Likewise, another friend would lend her notes to her college daugther, only on the basis that because she owned them that she would give them back, as it was her intellectual property. Yes, these scenarios are very different from distributing information about a national monument, but  if we hoard information and take it to our graves, particularly in the case of my former example, where it was pioneering work in North Yorkshire that would have shown evidence for pre-Roman activity, then it defeats the point of being a steward of heritage. Basically, we need to stop being hypocrites.

So that is it for now; this time next week I will out of Durham, and I will miss it. Don't worry, I will put my focus on my "homeland" of west Northamptonshire (a village just outside of Chaventry Daventry) and the midlands (as defined by the government). As always, comments appreciated!

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