About 20 years ago or so I heard a researcher give a paper on the display and interpretation of medieval Icelandic manuscripts in a particular institution in Iceland; the name of the speaker and which specific institution it was I can no longer remember, I am afraid. In the paper he made a brilliant analogy which has stuck in my mind ever since. He described how these priceless treasures of Icelandic cultural and literary heritage were displayed in glass cases with tiny labels giving the manuscript number (for example 'AM 145 fol. 1v'), a date and little else. The manuscript might have been a page from an Icelandic saga and, as such, the physical link between the viewer and the world within the saga - a magical remote world full of violence, heroic deeds, intrigue, conflict, bloodshed and suspense, all the key ingredients of first class entertainment. To anyone interested in engaging with such an incredible piece of material culture and history being offered nothing but the manuscript number and a date would be like going to the cinema to watch a James Bond film, and instead of getting to watch the film, all you got was a picture of Sean Connery and a label saying: JB Goldfinger, 105 mins, 1964. That would be really rather disappointing...The point the speaker was making was that without interpretation or visualisation to make an object, in this case a folio page, come alive, all the things that make it fascinating and valuable remain locked inside. The utterly gripping tales of Iceland's medieval past would remain inacessible to everyone bar a handful of specialist scholars.
I think I should add a comment about the title of this blog, 'answers on a postcard'. Nothing to do with actual postcards. It represents the idea that understanding and interpreting the past - our past - which belongs to all of us, should be an inclusive experience. Contributing to it can be as informal as writing your answers on a postcard. Your guess is as good as mine. Everyone is entitled to take part in the process.
I don't necessarily have very many pressing issues on my mind which must be shared with the entire planet, but it is good practice for me to regularly write down my thoughts and ideas, hence the existence of this blog. I am hoping it will help cure a spot of writer's block which is preventing me from making progress with a certain other project. On the assumption that writing becomes easier the more I do it, a blog seems a good place to start, so I am going to give it bash.
I imagine I will be blogging mostly about archaeology, as that is what I do. I am an archaeologist and museum curator, and as such, one part of my job is to engage our visitors with the museum's archaeology collection. Over the past two days I have been listening to international conference papers on the very subject of communicating archaeology to the public. It is striking how colleagues across the world grapple with the same things as I and everyone else do. How do we make archaeology speak to people? How do we grab people's attention long enough for them to understand why archaeology is fascinating and relevant? And why do we have to sensationalise everything we do in order to sustain public interest and prove that archaeology is not inherently boring? Of course, these questions have vexed the professional community for decades and if we continue to struggle to answer them we are in big trouble.
On the subject of communicating archaeology for a wider audience, while I was sat in that roasting hot lecture room the conference organisers' appointed social media peeps - the twitterati - were live tweeting the key points of each paper and any questions from the audience. As a result, words popped up on my Twitter feed split seconds after the chap next to me had uttered them. Remarkable. I'm not used to archaeology at this speed! Granted, the tweeted content was soundbitey and highly selective, but the social media peeps clearly had no problem communicating with their public. Maybe I just need to get with the programme.
Katinka Dalglish, museum curator, Strathard Community Trust member, Scandi immigrant, beginner blogger.
Me at Blipfoto