I have never been very good at juggling. When I was in Junior School (age 7 to 11) we would juggle 2 tennis balls against a wall, I could do that, but the dexterous girls (my sister for example) could do 3 or 4. If I tried it all went horribly wrong and got quite painful with balls ricocheting in all directions.
As a student juggling was very fashionable, mainly with those little sand filled balls, but the adventurous ones used trowels. I tried it but given I have very little hand-to-eye coordination you can imagine what happened. Thankfully no-one else got hurt!
So, juggling, it’s not my forte. Unfortunately, this week has been all about keeping various balls in the air.
Ball 1: We’re trying to sort out a venue for the HARN workshop, we have several possibilities but deciding which one to go with is difficult. Do we go for the expensive classy venue, or the cheaper option, less classy, still nice – obviously, we wouldn’t book a fleapit – but without the wow factor of some of the venues? How many people will we have as an audience? Are you coming?
Ball 2: The EAA. I’m organising a session and I need to sort various things out for this – you’d think I’d have realised that being an organiser might mean I had things to organise, but I’m a slow learner.
Ball 3: HARN matters. It’s Friday already, how the hell did that happen? I haven’t thought at all about this week’s post – it shows doesn’t it? I haven’t begun on the list of members’ locations and interests, how long ago was it that I announced that? Nor have I been in touch with any other members about doing an expanded profile for the blog ‘member of the month’ is turning into ‘occasional member, when I remember and am near a computer’.
Ball 4: Research. I really should be doing some, especially in view of the fact I’m speaking at the EAA session I’m organising.
Ball 5: Technically, for this year at least, I’m a stay-at-home-mum. That means I should be doing some mothering, I put the emphasis on the word ‘some’, unfortunately my children don’t agree – they see it more as my vocation, to be pursued around the clock every single day. The toddler in particular has decided that I should devote every minute to her and if I don’t she screams, kicks, turns purple and generally behaves how she did in the reference library*. This week she was to have her first full day at pre-school – she was home within 2 hours. In fact, I don’t think this one counts as a ball, it’s more like someone chucking a chainsaw into the mix.
There’s other stuff too, mainly domestic related and dull. I think what I’m trying to say is – I’m a bit distracted at the moment. Hopefully I’ll have a bit more time, inspiration and energy next week. In the meantime a question, it’s my sister’s birthday and this is her cake – do we think blue or brown eyes?
I think brown, the eight year old thinks blue, what do you think?
Have a great weekend
* We saw the librarian again this week, he’d obviously forgotten me but then he saw the toddler, he flinched, we left.
You are invited to a talk by Pamela Jane Smith
A Photographic Early History of Cambridge ARCH & ANTH Tripos in Honour of its Centennial Year
Wednesday 25th February 2015, 4.00pm (drop-in, tea and cake from 4.00pm, talk 4.30-5.15pm) South Lecture Room, Division of Archaeology, Cambridge
This book was published in 2014 by Little Toller books to almost uniformly rave reviews praising its treatment of archaeology, memory and sense of place. It’s been longlisted for the Wainwright Prize and was Radio 4’s Book of the Week. I made a mental note to read it, especially as it seemed to cover my interest in how outsiders see archaeology and the work of archaeologists and, as mentioned previously, the Avebury area is one I know and love. As ever real life got in the way, but eventually I got round to reading On Silbury Hill and I have to say I’m somewhat perplexed. As many of the reviewers remark it is a beautiful volume. The wonderful cover illustration by David Inshaw
is matched inside by work from Paul Nash, Henry Moore and Joe Tilson, and the inclusion of Thorpe’s family snapshots – which could have undermined these artists – adds to the attractiveness. As Rachel Cooke noted in her review, everything about the presentation of this book is delightful, it’s smaller than most hardbacks and would easily slip into a pocket, it looks lovely, but the contents? Not so much.
While I’m somewhat in awe of anyone who manages to write any book, but this ‘rich and evocative book of place‘ seems to be more of a confused jumble of memoir, meditations on religion, historical re-imaginings, nature writing and archaeology.
Some of the memoir sections of the book are fascinating – he writes well about his childhood split awkwardly between his school life at Marlborough College and his family home in Cameroon. His unhappiness at school led him to explore the downs and discover Silbury Hill, since then the monument has been his anchor and lodestone. He talks about the hill in connection with building memories, belonging, identity and family: likening his own life with its sediment of memories and shaped by events to the building of Silbury Hill over several generations. When Silbury Hill became unstable in 2001 Thorpe says ‘I thought: if Silbury collapses, so will I. Psychologically anyway’ anyway’ (Thorpe 2014: 15). At which point I thought I was in for another Fever Pitch style memoir, but no, Thorpe reveals far less of himself than Nick Hornby did. There are hints of upheaval and grief, but these remain hints – and that’s fine, it’s up to an author what and how much they reveal, but it does mean his insistence on the importance of Silbury to his life and mental well-being is largely unconvincing. I would have preferred more memoir, more of his ideas about memories, cyclical time and the way events form us and then give rise to new patterns and purposes: ‘There is no such thing as the past. The hill lives and the generations live within it’ (Thorpe 2014: 119).
The bits about religion are interesting, here’s a man who obviously knows his world religions. Whether they have any relevance to the construction of Silbury (and indeed the whole of the Avebury landscape) is a moot point, but an interesting one nonetheless. However, archaeologists and anthropologists have been exploring similar themes for years, in far more detail and with a much better grasp of the details of past societies and a more critical approach. The same accusation can be levelled at his historical re-imaginings; his shamanistic description of the building of Silbury Hill and his imagining what it would be like to be a young prehistoric man are fine as far as they go but think of the narratives of Jacquetta Hawkes, Ruth Tringham and Mark Edmonds and quickly you realise Thorpe doesn’t go far enough. Likewise his description of the destruction of the Avebury sites relies solely on Stukeley’s description rather than recent archaeological work on the stone destruction which reveals a far more complex scenario. I should say, however, that Thorpe includes an interesting section on gender discussing ancient attitudes to women and reflecting on childbirth and infant mortality. But, again it’s too short, a single page, and elsewhere – with the exception of his imagining a wise woman overseeing the final phases of Silbury’s construction – the past is seen as unrelentingly male. Thorpe also speculates about how and why Silbury was built, whose vision was being followed? Was it a communal endeavour or the result of a particular person and how did that person persuade everyone else? It is when Thorpe is writing about the group/clan/tribe sharing a sense of purpose that you begin to see the craft of the novelist in bringing the past to life, but just as you get interested in his ideas he veers off onto something else and it all becomes a jumble with nothing explored in real depth.
That said, I could have done with more brevity when it comes to the nature writing. Mostly Thorpe writes beautifully of the flora and fauna of the Chilterns and the Wiltshire Downs and I began to see why he’s an acclaimed poet and novelist. It’s his insistence on envisaging Silbury Hill as female and referring to the monument as ‘she’ or ‘her’ throughout that makes me wince, anthropomorphisising/gendering monuments is just plain wrong! Having visited Silbury and having seen many expectant mothers I don’t think the monument looks anything like a pregnancy (Thorpe 2014: 13) and I’m just relieved Thorpe has abandoned the rest of Michael Dames arguments so we don’t get a re-hash of his landscape as gynaecology business. As it is, sentences such as: ‘She is equally unattainable, but my internal prow can still probe her solitude, edging into the verdant gloom of her, of that great and derelict bulge’ (Thorpe 2014: 31) make me say ‘Eww!’ and go away and read something that doesn’t get all sweaty and inappropriately sexual about a great heap of chalk and soil.
I may have got hyper-sensitive and be seeing sexual analogies where there are none, but I also found it a bit worrying the way he writes about investigations by antiquarians and archaeologists, there are lots of references to ‘pokings’ ‘boring’ ‘probing’ and ‘exploitation’. Atkinson’s excavations seem to particularly excise him, every time he mentions Atkinson he seems compelled to add that the dig was filmed (Thorpe 2014: 15, 19, 28 and 46). It’s as if the filming was some sort of additional outrage, a voyeuristic intrusion compromising his beloved hill. And, frankly, I don’t want to think about this!
The archaeology itself? It’s ok, a bit dated in his understandings of the past, particularly the Neanderthals, occasionally wrong – Silbury Hill is not a ‘classic causewayed enclosure, in archaeologist lingo’ (Thorpe 2014: 78) – but these are inevitable mistakes. Didn’t we, in part, invent these terms and understandings for the very purpose of marking out our territory and tripping the unwary? He does go through the different interpretations of Silbury Hill over time and how they have all been affected by contemporary thinking from the Romans onwards and there’s a fairly detailed discussion of left-field thinkers such as Alexander Thom, H.J. Massingham as well as Michael Dames. Additionally there’s a good précis of the work done by the Stonehenge Riverside Project which includes the excellent remark ‘I have tended to see Stonehenge as the Tesco to Avebury’s Waitrose’ (Thorpe 2014: 139-40). A fault many Avebury fans have shared!
I realise this is a rather negative review and I wish it could have been more positive. I had high hopes of this book, and it is a beautiful volume, but it doesn’t go anywhere that I can follow. I found it frustratingly brief where I wanted more information and too long-winded where I wanted brevity.
If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you think, or if you’ve read anything else by Thorpe – how does this compare?
I can’t imagine I’ll have time to write another post between now and the weekend so I’ll be back next week, for now I’m just going to concentrate on us all surviving half-term!
I’m hoping to post a review of this in the next few days, but it’s the Spring Break, or Half Term as it’s known in the UK, and as I’ve mentioned before this means cold, wet weather and very bored children. I now have two of the little
perishers* cherubs so I’m even more distracted this time round. I don’t drive so my options to entertain children are limited, we’ve done baking – heart shaped biscuits for Valentine’s Day – I’m now at a bit of a loss. Painting? Knitting? Teaching them how to make cocktails? Hiding from them in a wardrobe appeals but I suspect that would get very Lord of the Flies very quickly.
Anyway, hopefully there will be a review, but it may be next week sometime.
In the meantime, have a great weekend and if you too have children on holiday then, I feel your pain! Remember – deep breaths, cups of tea and baking will get you through
*I’ve just discovered Perisher is the name of a Ski Resort in Australia. Isn’t that wonderful?
HARN is growing and has a new member! Please welcome:
My academic background is in Mediterranean Archaeology and Cultural Sciences. During my training at the university and after my graduation I have continuously aimed to study the nexus of my two main research interests; the archaeological (site-)museum as an institute and (the history of) Mediterranean collections. Currently, as a trainee ‘HeritageTalent’, I’m collaborating with the Allard Pierson Museum (Amsterdam) and the Dutch Institute at Athens in a project about the history of Dutch archaeological history in the Mediterranean, particularly Greece. As it is my task to set up the research, I am very much interested in topics as the history of archaeology and the theoretical embedding of studying the history of science.
Welcome, Laurien, and thank you for joining our community!
The following study day may be of interest to HARN members within reach of London:
Keeping Within the Lines: Approaches to copyright in art and design archives
London Metropolitan Archives, London
Friday 13 March, 10.15am – 5pm
Organised by ARLIS/UK & Ireland, Committee for Art & Design Archives (CADA) in partnership with The National Archives and the ‘Archiving the Arts’ initiative.
A study day comprising presentations, panel discussions and a practical workshop, focusing on copyright and other legal issues in relation to the use of art and design archives. Expert speakers will explore the principles of copyright presented by current legislation and thinking, and discuss the issues, challenges and opportunities of using copyright-protected archive material for outputs such as research, publication, exhibition and artistic intervention. The event will aim to provide the practical skills and understanding required to use and appropriate archive material in rich and diverse ways, while ensuring the interests of creators and rights holders are protected.
The National Archives has a role to support archive collections wherever they are held, by gathering and sharing knowledge of collections and providing advice on good practice. The ‘Archiving the Arts’ initiative aims to support arts archives held by organisations and individuals. It takes a practical approach, aiming to make these collections more discoverable and encouraging new partnerships to share skills and knowledge. Archiving the Arts and CADA work across and beyond the established archives sector, to seek out little-known and under resourced collections and to encourage development and collaboration to support good practice and wider access.
(Further details will be circulated in due course.)
11.00-11.40: Benjamin White (Head of Intellectual Property, The British Library)
‘Making the Most of Copyright Law for Archivists: An update on UK 2014 changes to the law’. 2014 was a momentous year in the world of archives given the significant changes seen to UK copyright law. Ben’s talk will cover many of the changes that occurred last year and anticipate the kinds of changes possible over the coming years.
11.40-12.00: Refreshment break
12.00-12.40: Victoria Stobo (Archivist and PhD student, School of Law at University of Glasgow)
The title of Victoria’s PhD is ‘Archives, Digitisation & Copyright’ and she will be giving a paper on creative approaches to copyright for archivists.
12.40-13.00: Panel discussion
Benjamin White and Victoria Stobo chaired by Carol Tullo (Director of Information Policy and Services, The National Archives)
Naomi Korn (Partner of Naomi Korn Copyright Consultancy and experienced IP Consultant)
Session for participants to explore potential scenarios they might face in the workplace, in which Naomi will discuss key copyright issues affecting art and design archives
15.30-15.45: Refreshment break
15.45-16.15: Claudy Op den Kamp (MA in Film Archiving, University of East Anglia)
‘The Go-Between: The Film Archive as a Mediator Between Copyright and Film Historiography’
16.15-16.45 David Mabb (Artist and Reader in Art at Goldsmiths, University of London)
‘Détournement, Appropriation and Copyright': An exploration of David’s exhibition at Camerawork Gallery, London, for which he was prevented from exhibiting works which contravened copyright.
16.45-17.00: Victoria Stobo will chair a panel discussion with Claudy Op den Kamp and David Mabb.
Who should attend: Artists, film-makers, archivists, curators, academics, researchers: and those with archive collections or seeking to use them.
When: Friday 13 March 2015, 10.15am-5pm
Where: London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Street, London, EC1R 0HB
ARLIS members – £100
ARLIS student/unwaged members – £50
Non-ARLIS members – £130
Non-ARLIS members students/unwaged – £65
Refreshments and lunch will be provided.
Booking: If you would like to attend the event please email Alice O’Hanlon, Publicity Officer at email@example.com and provide the following details:
Amount to pay: £
Upon receipt of your email you will receive confirmation of your booking and details about payment.
For further information on forthcoming ARLIS events please visit http://www.arlis.net/
For up to date information on forthcoming workshops and free visits
please see the online ARLIS/UK & Ireland Events Calendar 2013 at