Archaeological outreach as a political act: the plan

In December I presented at TAG Southampton about a subject just as close to my heart as my PhD research: archaeological outreach in schools. The session I presented in, Archaeology is a Political Matter, was a timely and vital collection of papers on the political implications of archaeology today, from Brexit to Cornish nationalism to British exceptionalism and why leaving your job can be a political act. The session can be viewed online here (with my paper being from 2:55:25 onwards).

I’m an ex-teacher, a mother, an academic, but above all I’m a rational human being that realises that the way we educate young people effects how they grow as people. With that in mind, I spoke about how archaeology – taken into schools as a regular and well-developed subject – can instil in children skills of critical thinking, researching, awareness of bias and influence, not to mention a plethora of scientific, analytical, and communication skills. Getting people engaged in high-quality, researched, outreach from a young age gives them the tools to not only appreciate archaeology as they get older but also to spread to their families and communities just how important, relevant, and exciting archaeology can be. It’s an antidote to the anti-expert rhetoric that’s doing the rounds at the moment. It’s a way of ensuring public support for archaeology in times when we fill face great challenges. It’s a way of helping people to critically analyse what they are told about the past, about cultures, about society.

With that in mind, I thought of this year’s resolutions. Last year I made a list that, I am ashamed to say, I did not stick to. I didn’t get my trowel dirty, I read barely anything that wasn’t study related. This year, I want to make a resolution that’s not really about me, but about others.

This year, my resolution is to take positive action to make better archaeological outreach a reality.

There is already some great work being done by archaeologists out there: the Schools Prehistory team provide schools with sessions from experts and fantastic handling collections, and independents like lovely archaeosoup do great school sessions (as well as some very informative video content). However, I’m looking to build a resource bank that any archaeologist can use to tailor to their own expertise, then get into schools as easily as possible, backed up by ready made planning, resources, and collaboration from others within the network.

With that in mind, I am currently developing three streams of outreach content, that will eventually form the very beginning of what I hope to be an online archive of good practice, available to all who wish to get into the classroom (or beyond) with their work and engage the public, especially children in schools. These three themes are:

  1. Sensing the past – a range of sensory activities using replica and real artefacts to help people with storytelling about the past using creative, informal sessions. This is aimed at all ages. The first session in this block, using Neolithic Carved Stone Balls as storytelling aides, will be the first and hopefully rolled out this spring.
  2. Murder Mystery BC – aimed mostly at secondary schools but versions could be tailored for upper primary, and post 18 education. Each participant has a role to play – with their own agenda, own information, and own motives. At the end you’ve got to vote for who committed the ancient crime. Follow up sessions examine why people came to certain conclusions? What swayed their opinions? Why do certain motives make people act in certain ways? What influenced people to act the way they did?
  3. The archaeologist’s day: A series of sessions delivered by archaeologists in different specialisms, where there work is presented and their tools, artefacts can be seen, held and felt, and relevant activities written to “help” the archaeologists with their research.

In each stream, the visits are backed up by a cross-curricular, fully developed lesson plan system with links to quality online content, recommendations for locations to visit, links to producers of high quality replicas or equipment, and contact details for people in the profession willing to answer questions or do future follow up visits.

This plan is currently very much in development stage, and I don’t foresee that it will be fully up and running until 2018 – 2017 is all about planning, planning, planning. If you would like to get involved in this project, I would be very happy for any help and collaboration; please contact me at






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