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Dangoor Infinity Expedition to Iceland

November 21, 2019

This post comes to us from Alicia Colson, a HARN administrator and
freelance archaeologist and ethnohistorian with a PhD from McGill and an undergraduate degree from UCL

 

Teaching, as we all know, comes in all forms and occurs in a wide variety of places.

I taught this past August as “knowledge leader” on the British Exploring Society’s Dangoor Infinity Expedition (http://www.britishexploring.org/) which was jointly run with the Jubilee Sailing Trust (https://jst.org.uk/). British Exploring Society takes young people to “extraordinary destinations, both in terms of the places they visit and in their own lives.” The charity designs some of their expeditions for those with particular abilities or challenges while others are open to all young people aged 16-25. (The pilot of Dagnoor Infinity occurred last Autumn). Both charities worked jointly to launch and run it this summer as they are determined to empower people, particularly young people. British Exploring Society’s mandate is to “provide inspirational and challenging expeditions to remote, wild environments so as to promote the development, confidence, team work, leadership and the part of adventure and exploration”. The Jubilee Sailing Trust provides “people of mixed abilities and circumstances the freedom to explore their ability, potential and place in the world through inclusive adventures at sea”. It owns and manages the two tall ships, SV Tenacious and the Lord Nelson, which are only tall ships in the world to be wheelchair accessible. The Tenacious is the largest wooden tall ship built in the UK in the last 100 years. It is 65 metres (213.25 feet) long including the bowsprit. It is rigged as a (three-masted) barque with two mizzen gaffs. It is a formidable sight with a deck measuring 49.85 metres in length, hull of 54.02 metres, and beam of 10.6 metres at its widest point.

For this expedition I was cast as a “knowledge leader” rather than the conventional title of field teacher/teacher/field scientist. This was a new role for me; I’d previously been on expeditions in the Canadian Boreal Forest, more recently Chief Scientist (for six weeks on a British Exploring Society expedition, based in the foothills of the Brandberg Mountain, in northern Namibia.) and conducted fieldwork in the US and Antigua.

The role of a knowledge leader is a new role for the British Exploring Society.

“It is an evolution of our science and media roles. It has been created to reflect our method of adventure, personal development and knowledge. Our aspiration is this role will allow greater flexibility for Leaders to play to their strengths and expertise to design and deliver engaging, relevant and meaningful projects for our Explorers. The role of a Knowledge Leader is to Lead a group (“Fire”) of approximately 12 explorers (participants) in partnership with a second, and possibly third Leader and to give direction and inspire curiosity in science, media and the environment they are in.”

This expedition had four teams called a “Fire”. The “Fire” contained approximately 10 to 12 young people per team lead (managed) by four Leaders of different types. There was always an Expedition Medic, qualified in expedition medicine, but Knowledge Leaders were either specialised in Media or Science. I worked as a Knowledge Leader with Susannah and Zoe. Zoe, as an Adventure Leader, is also a trained Mountain Leader, while Susannah, is a biologist with a PhD. All of us had acquired the skills to live, study, and move safely through the rugged landscape as we’d been on expeditions before elsewhere in the globe.

Base camp for the half of the expedition that took place on the land was in northeastern Iceland while the other part was at sea on the Tenacious. So on the Land there were two “Fires” and on the ship there were also two “Fires”. As we walked, through the various landscapes of northeastern Iceland, a distance of more than 100km, Susannah and I discussed the physical landscape, and the experience of walking through it. We “wild camped” every evening, selecting a site, setting up tents so that the students learned how to deal with the physical environment for themselves while meeting the learning objectives each of us had set for them.

My task was to deal with the geology and the geomorphology of this cold region, so I read up on the landscape so I was prepared to cover topics ranging from climate change, weather, igneous landforms, soil development, to land settlement patterns. For her part Susannah considered the plants, animals and other wildlife. For some two weeks we used features of our stark surroundings to encourage the students to connect what they could see with climate change, heritage and the future of the planet.

In mid-August we travelled by bus to Reykjavik to join the sailing ship, SV Tenacious, as part of its crew. Once on board the ship, the two “Fires” became part of the working crew responsible for sailing the ship from Reykjavik, Iceland to Greenock, Scotland. The Leaders who’d taught on land also had to learn how to continue teaching while part of the 57 strong crew of “Tenacious”. This meant that the Young People learn project management and team work and became voluntary crew as they worked alongside the permeant crew.

We had to learn to work and manage our time differently. Firstly, each “Fire” of Young Explorers was subdivided into four groups of five called a “Watch”. Each of the Leaders accompanied each “Watch”. Each “watch” was assigned a Watch Leader, drawn from the ship’s experienced crew. As a Leader, I was taught how to sail the ship, to navigate, to be a watch on the helm, the names and functions of the ropes (lines), masts and the sails, be on watch on Port or the Starboard and “do a Night watch”. Time was organized in four hour blocks called “watches” spanned over the 24-hour day. Teaching was tougher as it was undertaken on top of the daily activities connected to life onboard ship where each person had a defined role. So we all had talks and classes on sailing, the sails, climbing the ropes (going up the mast), the buoy system, weather (clouds), marine life, the threat of micro- plastics, the elements of water management in which we were immersed. Tenacious provided an environment that enabled that the Young Explorers continued to learn how to work as a team and to do project management both for themselves and with their “Watch”.

Now it might be asked why would I, as an archaeologist, undertake such an expedition? It is not an excavation, nor directly about obtaining information, even learning about the past, trying to understand the relationship between the evidence and the contrasted past, and definitely not the land! It was about the necessity of empowerment of other people.

Some good reasons:

  • People don’t learn in the same way: different teaching styles exist.
  • It’s imperative that people learn how to understand the world holistically.
  • On a personal note I was continuing a tradition of teaching developed by the late C. S. “Paddy” Reid, Regional Archaeologist, for Northwestern Ontario (an area the size of France and Germany). I met him as an undergraduate and undertook some of my field work training as an archaeologist under his auspices. “Paddy” believed that an education went hand in glove with empowerment, was holistic and could be undertaken anywhere. He took kids who were potential dropouts at secondary school on so they could become empowered by realizing that learning didn’t just happen in a classroom.

As a bonus I managed to give a talk at Sea on archaeology and I also climbed the mast! – Amazing views!

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