Dissertation Fieldwork, here I come!

Well, it will have been just under five years since I began my CCT internship in 2012 when I head out to start my dissertation fieldwork in March 2017. A lot has changed. A lot has stayed the same.

I’ll be posting a more detailed update soon, but for now just this:

In March 2017 I’ll be heading back to England and will be a Visiting Research Student at the University of Exeter while I complete my dissertation fieldwork and I’ll be documenting the progress of that fieldwork experience here.

Rest in Peace: Mick Aston

Nearly a year ago to date, I was packing my suitcase to leave for England. I had every intention of doing an “It’s Been a Year”  follow-up entry regardless, but I have learned some very sad news over the course of the last week that warrants attention first: the beloved Mick Aston has passed away at the age of 66.

To be completely honest, I only spent a total of three days around Mick, but he made an irreversibly important impression on me as a human being. My first encounter with Mick was actually at his home in Somerset. Neil and I arrived at his house in the morning, with a three-church itinerary planned for the rest of the day. He welcomed us in and offered us coffee. He and Neil had been friends for a while, both being archaeologists. Mick treated me like he’d been friends with me for a while too. His home was a beautiful mess – piles of books and papers, maps and site diagrams. It was all as colorful as the stripy jumpers (sweaters for you Americans) he was known for wearing. The kitchen table was covered in old newspapers on top of which newly washed potsherds were drying. We moved a few aside, set down our coffee cups and chatted for the better part of an hour. He really took the time to get to know me, who I was and how on Earth I’d ended up working for the Churches Conservation Trust in England. He never once scoffed at my lack of Medieval archaeological knowledge, but instead was happy that someone new was interested in the same thing he was interested in. And that’s what was so special about Mick. He was so passionate about British archaeology – and he just wanted everyone else to be passionate about it too. You didn’t have to know the difference between a clay pipe and potsherd, you just had to be willing to learn. And I was. So he showed me some of the potsherds he’d recently dug up somewhere in Somerset, and he let me look at a 13th-century clay pipe. He took me upstairs to his office, where there were more bags of archaeological finds that I wouldn’t know how to catalog. But if I had a question about any one of the thousands of objects, he would answer – no matter how seemingly dull the question or obvious the answer.

When we left his house, he followed us in his van, which was always readied with tools for the unexpected need to dig something up. We started our day at the CCT church in Puxton, known for its leaning tower. There we met up with another Mick, Michael Worthington, the dendrochronologist. Mick and Michael also had known each other for some time, and we all had quite the adventure speeding through the English countryside from Puxton to Holcombe and from Holcombe to Clapton-in-Gordano, assessing old wooden church pews for potential dendrochronological testing. In Holcombe we stopped at a pub for lunch, and Mick again, took the time to chat with me about my work, my interests and my goals. At the end of that marathon church-visiting day I was exhausted, and not nearly as aware of how lucky I was as I should have been.

I saw Mick again a week or so later, during the Festival of British Archaeology for which the CCT had various events planned at St Andrew’s Church in Holcombe. When he saw me again, he greeted me like any other friend and made me feel really welcomed. That’s one thing that I really miss about England and the people I met there – they welcomed me without question and they never once questioned my credentials or reasons for being there. They were just happy to have me there and to teach me things. And they believed I had something to offer as well – even if it wasn’t the same that they had to offer. So many times I had encountered professors at UF who only had the goal of imparting information to students, rather than having an actual conversation. They weren’t interested in getting to know me, or what I wanted to do. In fact, very few professors made a great impression on me. Dr. Willumson, Dr. Moseley, Dr. Villalon and Dr. Kane are the only ones I can think of that were ever really interested in helping me – not just passing me.  I believe that any student who studied under professor Mick Aston learned a great deal and not just about archaeology, but about being a great teacher.

There were many days during my internship when I would be busy doing something on the computer for Neil and I would have the TV in the background with Time Team on, and Mick Aston on the screen. I remembering feeling really lucky that I met him – because on TV he was a pretty badass archaeologist. 🙂

And perhaps I am guilty of Romanticizing a man I only knew for a few days – I certainly didn’t get to know every side of him, but I am a strong believer in the energies and auras people give off and his was nothing but positive and welcoming. I wish I had been given another chance to talk to him and really thank him for his kindness. My last interaction with him was at the end of a day at Holcombe and he insisted I join him and Neil at a meeting for the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, of which they were both members. I unfortunately couldn’t go because of prior commitments for my internship, so I said goodbye and thanked him for all his time. But I could have done better. And I should have written a letter or something. But isn’t that the way we always feel after people pass away?

Mick should have had twenty more years to impact students like me – but his time was cut short. Life is short. And we have to take advantage of every day we have. Lately I haven’t been living that way. I lived that way when I was in England. I seized every opportunity that came my way and wished only that I’d had more time in England to do more. But lately I’ve been moping around being depressed about not having a job yet. It’s been over six months since I graduated and I’m feeling like a bit of a failure. But I shouldn’t. I may not be where I thought I should be, but I have been many places and accomplished many things of which I am extremely proud – and the time I spent in England, with Neil and the few days with Mick, are high on my list of things I’m proud of.

So I want to say thank you to Mick for the time and conversation he gave me. And I want to thank anyone else I worked with during my internship, because not a day goes by that I don’t think about something I did in England -and it helps me get through the rougher days of post-graduation unemployment.

RIP Mick Aston. You will be missed.

Neil and Mick at Holcombe

Nicole, Neil and Mick, looking at renderings from the RTI images we’d taken of the Anglo-Saxon stone.

The dinner conversation that turned into my masters thesis

It’s been just over four months since I returned to the States from my internship in England. In that time, I wrote and defended my Masters thesis, and graduated on December 15th, 2012.

Before I went to England, I had an entirely different Masters thesis topic in mind, than the one that I ended up using. I was originally going to discuss the Visitor Experience at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and  make suggestions on how to improve the experience in the lobby/front desk area. This would have been the easy way out, since I’d been working with the front desk staff for several months and already had ideas in my head for improvements and really just needed to figure out how to couch them in theoretical museological principles. But…I don’t like taking the easy way out.

Some time toward the end of my stay in England, I went out for dinner at the Hundred Monkeys in Glastonbury with Neil and Sarah, and we discussed what the Churches Conservation Trust was planning on doing in the way of interpretation of its sites. The CCT’s main goal was always to conserve the buildings and hopefully, reintegrate them into their communities. However, as is the case with most nonprofits, government funding is decreasing and organizations need to prove their relevance…so the CCT has been heading in a more traditional heritage site direction.

Over dinner and a bottle of wine, we talked about what forms interpretation could take on CCT sites, and what the pros and cons would be to dedicate funds to those types of projects. Being a Museum Studies person, I obviously am biased and believe all sites should have some form of interpretation. Sarah agreed, and has been heading up the group of senior staff members who are working on an interpretation policy and plan for the CCT. In the back of my mind, I thought perhaps I could contribute in some way. If I was able to write up an interpretation plan for one of the churches I’d worked on, it would help with the development of a foundational interpretation plan for the CCT as a whole. I took the idea away from dinner and slept on it. And for my last days in England, I let it simmer. When I got back to the States, I contacted Dr Willumson, the director of my MA program at the University of Florida (UF), and asked if I could change my thesis topic.

Now, it’s not usually common practice to change your MA thesis topic the same semester you hope to graduate. In fact, unless you aren’t taking any other classes or working, it’s probably a bit of a suicidal idea. But I knew I wasn’t taking any more graduate seminars, and only working part time at the natural history museum…and he thought I could do it. So I did.

I adjusted my thesis committee, by adding Dr Moseley, an archaeologist in the Anthropology Department at UF, and adding Dr Rushton, who I worked for at the CCT, as a guest member. I started from scratch, with just under two months before I needed to defend. Looking back, it was actually pretty ballsy of my to do…but I’m so very glad that I did.

The process was anything but smooth sailing. There were many sleepless nights, and hundreds of tears shed while reading Dr W’s comments on my chapter drafts. But in the end, I was really happy with what I produced. And when I walked into my thesis defense, I felt like I had done everything I could possibly do to make it a good one, and wasn’t even really nervous. My project-in-lieu of thesis was titled:

Reading Between the Layers: Exploring Wallpaintings in Our Medieval Parish Churches – An Interpretation Plan for the Churches Conservation Trust

The plan was based in basic museological visitor theory, mainly from John Falk, and Beverly Serrell. But I also put to use Visit England standards through the use of their Visitor Attraction Quality Assessment Scheme and their Place of Interest Quality Assessment Scheme. The plan was created specifically for the Church of St John the Baptist in Inglesham, Wiltshire, but was also developed in such a way that it could easily be adapted to other medieval CCT churches with wallpaintings.

For my defense, Dr Rushton Skyped in from England, and drilled me with question over speaker phone following my presentation. Dr Moseley seemed to like it and didn’t have many comments, and Dr Willumson asked his usual convoluted questions that I had to think twice about. But I passed.

And then it was over. Suddenly I was done…just before Thanksgiving, with three weeks to go before graduation. The end of to graduate school career was fairly anticlimactic. And maybe that’s why I still feel like I’m waiting to go back to school. Even graduation felt like it was part of the process, but not the last and final one. But it is over. And I moved out of my apartment and back home to my mom’s in Kentucky. The job search has commenced. I have had such wonderful experiences with co-workers both at the CCT and at the Florida Museum of Natural History, that I hope my first real job isn’t a disappointment…

In the meantime, I have a few weeks to be nostalgic and write blog entries like this.

Here are some photos from graduation:

Just after the graduation ceremony, outside the O'Connell Center on UF's campus.

Just after the graduation ceremony, outside the O’Connell Center on UF’s campus. From left to right, my fellow museum studies folks: Hannah, Amanda, Austin, Natalia and me.

For more pictures, just click the link below…

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My last days in England

This past Friday was our Open Conservation Day at our church in Inglesham. I have to say, it was a real success. We had 28 people turn up, and no one had a negative thing to say. We started out with a short introduction to the church and it’s general history and architectural fabric from Dr Rushton (Neil), followed up by lunch outside in the beautiful sunny weather. (Thank you Weather Gods!) I had for weeks decided to take care of prepping the lunch myself instead of paying someone to cater it, especially because we had no real idea of how many people would turn up. So I made enough food for 30. In addition to fruit and veggie platters that I put together, I made about 50 mini quiches, half meat-friendly and half veggie-friendly. They were a hit at the lunch and all the older folks told me it was a clever idea to make finger food. Hah. I also had a dessert platter with a few pre-made cakes and biscuits (cookies for y’all Americans lol). And we served only water to drink to avoid any potential sticky spills.

After lunch we split the visitors into two groups. One group was on the ground floor learning about mixing mortars and grouts with Claudia and Christine, who also took them over to the practice wall to show them the fillings they had practiced. The second group went up the scaffolding with Jane and was able to get a close-up view of the paintings in the chancel/sanctuary area and could drill her with all their questions. I think Jane secretly loved it…even though she would never admit that to me.

After twenty minutes the two groups switched, and when the second twenty minutes was up, we had a few closing words from Jane before everyone headed out. We had all the visitors sign the visitor book, and got a really decent amount of donations from everyone who came. Half of the donations were put in the box in envelopes, so there is no way to estimate the real amount until the keyholder comes to empty the box, but if we got less than 200 pounds, I would be really surprised. We didn’t charge admission, and we only spent 60 pounds on the food…so that’s a 140 profit in addition to 28 people having a much better understanding of wallpaintings conservation, as well as the other work the CCT does. So I’d say it was a good day. Here are a few pictures:

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Behind on Updates

I know I haven’t updated in a long while…things have been pretty hectic. My internship culminated today in our Open Conservation Day event that I coordinated, and I can honestly say it was a great success. We had 28 people come out to a rural heritage site and they truly enjoyed themselves and learned a great deal from everything we had to offer. Lots of people were saying they appreciated the event, and thought it was really fabulous that they were allowed to go up on the scaffolding with the conservators and look at the wallpaintings up close.

I will write about this and the last few days more at a later time. Tonight I’m exhausted, and mentally preparing myself for the long journey home. Tomorrow I take a morning train to London, and then I have the rest of the day to myself in the city. I’m planning on going to  the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum…you know…museum graduate student stuff. 🙂

And then I will crash early and get ready for the atrociously long day that will follow starting Sunday morning.

At the moment I’m having very mixed feelings. I got legitimately teary-eyed when I gave Neil and Sarah my thank you preset for housing me these last eight weeks. I gave them a gift certificate to their favorite Indian take-away place here in Glastonbury. I felt it was the least I could do. They’ve been so gracious and so welcoming…the experience wouldn’t have been the same without them.

I’ve gotten rather attached to this place, and were it not so far from my family, I could easily see myself being happy here on my own. But I am also very much looking forward to seeing my family…and my doggy…and then kicking some major butt in my last semester and graduating on-time in December.

For now I say goodnight…


A fairly quiet few days

The last day I updated with Tuesday, which means I have four days to cover. Not much happened in those four days though. Wednesday and Thursday were usual working days in Pewsey, and I got a lot of promotional work done for our event next Friday, along with continuing work on the policy documents. Friday morning I took an 8:10 train from Pewsey to Westbury, and from Westbury to Bristol. I spent the morning and early afternoon in the regional office there, printing things out and getting some things laminated for our Open Day next Friday. Emma, the office manager/administrator there was super nice and took me out to lunch at this indoor market in Bristol called St Nicholas Market, and then gave me a short walking tour of the old parts of Bristol.

Last time I was in Bristol I had just injured my foot that morning, so it was nice not to be limping around the city. However, that said, I definitely need to get the toe checked out when I’m back at UF. It’s still sticking up and if it broke, then it’s healed badly…sigh. After our walking tour and a bit of ice cream I headed out to the bus station and took the bus back to Glastonbury via Wells. Sarah and Neil has taken the kids out for the day, so I went out for dinner on my own at the Hundred Monkeys…and because my student loans have nicely cushioned my bank account, I treated myself to a nice steak. 🙂

Today I slept in, had breakfast with Neil, Sarah and the boys, and then headed out to Wells. I had the intention of staying there for a few hours, but after I made my rounds through the market and spent some time inside the Cathedral, I felt a migraine starting to come on. It’s completely based in all the tension I’m currently carrying in my shoulders…I’m in desperate need of a massage, and I know my mom will take care of that the night I get home. So I went back to Glastonbury, and took a short nap and then a hot shower. The weather today has been rain on and off, sunshine occasionally peeking through the clouds, and a good amount of gusty wind to remind you that summer is pretty much over here.

I have a week left. Tomorrow is a day off, and Monday is a bank holiday, but I’ll be working on computer things most of the day. Monday evening I head back to Pewsey to finish out my work at Inglesham. Tuesday I’ll be at the church, Wednesday is work at “home”, Thursday is prepping for our event and Friday is our Open Conservation Day that I’ve been coordinating. I’ve sent out several promotional emails, and a press release, as well as had it advertised on the CCT Facebook and Twitter pages…so hopefully the turn out will be decent. The event will run from 11:00-2:00pm and then I’ll head back to Glastonbury with Neil for one last night. Saturday morning it’s an early train to London, checking in to my hotel and then visiting the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum before crashing for an early night. My flight leaves at 10am on Sunday morning, so I’ll be leaving for the airport around 7am, latest. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to splurge and take a taxi from my hotel to the airport, because I have absolutely no desire to drag my suitcase, backpack and second bag on the Tube. I want my return journey to be as stress-free as possible. So if I need to spend £60 on a taxi ride…I will happily do so.

So, that’s pretty much it. Time is running out, and there is work piling up for me in Gainesville. Some of the first things I’ll be doing in Gainesville though, are getting a massage at southwest rec center, and then downing a few margaritas at Mexico Lindo for my birthday with some friends.

Cheerio for now!

My Day at Downton Abbey…I mean, Highclere Castle

Today I went to Highclere Castle, which is better known these days as the main set for Downton Abbey. Admittedly, I would never have known about the castle, if not for the show…and I would venture to say probably 80% of the visitors there today were in the same boat. I would say that overall I had a good experience, but I do have some criticisms of the site and the way it’s set up for visitors. Fair warning, this is a long entry…and there is a lot of venting involved from a slightly angered Museum Studies graduate student. 🙂

Plung below the cut if you dare!

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