Assessing the impact of community archaeology projects is something that archaeologists have been grappling with for years, and a central feature of Dig Greater Manchester which completes its second year next month. The jargon in the profession often focuses around top-down and bottom-up projects (guided and empowered might be friendlier terms), whilst press coverage captures the more ephemeral euphoria of local involvement. What, though, might constitute a more academic approach? One answer can be found in the series of PhD’s, community attitude surveys and community archaeology studies published in the last few years,1 that have culminated in the establishment in 2011 of the Institute for Archaeologists Voluntary and Community Archaeology Group.
These reflections were promoted by several events: the imminent start of this year’s last Dig Greater Manchester excavation (at Buile Hill Park in Salford from 30 Sept to 12 Oct); the final editing of the Archaeology for All monograph (based upon community archaeology work in the 2000s and inspired by a conference for Dig Manchester in 2006); and the extensive community archaeology activities that the Centre has undertaking during 2012 and 2013. Over the last 18 months the Centre has been involved in seven community engagement projects: from Newton Hall in Tameside and Worsley New Hall in Salford, to Besthorpe Quarry in Nottinghamshire. Much of this work is being done through Dig Greater Manchester (DGM) – a five year community archaeology project – with four sites being excavated this year (Buile Hill Park will be our eighth site). With places for than 6000 school children and more than 1000 adult volunteers over five years it is one of the largest community archaeology projects currently running in Britain.
Although professionally led the overall aim of DGM is to involve the highest number of people from local communities in the investigation of their own heritage under the theme of ‘Accessing, Exploring and Celebrating Your Heritage’. DGM builds upon the methodologies and strategies established during the Dig Moston and Dig Manchester community projects, which ran from 2003 to 2008,2 and the community projects developed by the Centre for Applied Archaeology since 2009. It also draws upon the experience of museum professionals as captured in the guidance documents of the now defunct Museums and Libraries Association (MLA). What has emerged is a methodology that combines both guided archaeological work and the empowerment of local communities through:
- · Encouraging participation by local communities and individuals that have never taken part in archaeological activities before.
- · Accessing as wide a range of local groups and individuals as possible.
- · Work on local authority land so as to minimise health and safety risks.
- · The investigation of urban archaeological sites not threatened by redevelopment and thus not normally studied.
- · Providing the local community with the skills to continue independent research into their own archaeology and heritage.
- · A structured research framework.
The project is also looking at three broad research themes: the significance of community archaeology; the practice of community archaeology; and the archaeology of industrialisation in the Manchester City Region. The results of the project will then be fed back into regional, national and international policy and academic research frameworks through conferences papers, training seminars, academic articles and books, as well as popular publications and an open access on-line archive. Just as importantly, the results (and we now have 24 months of project data accumulated), will also inform the Centre’s broader community work. Which is of course why we are about to publish the Archaeology for All monograph which contains examples of community archaeology practice from around Britain and elsewhere on the globe. Such work helps us to capture the various attitudes to heritage of the people of the city region, allowing us to improve the way we enable a genuinely engaged local archaeology.
1) Community Archaeology: Themes, Methods and Practices edited by Sarah Dhanjl and Gabriel Moshenska, Oxbow Books, Oxford 2011; Archaeology the Public and the Recent Past, edited by Chris Dalglish, Society for Post medieval Archaeology Monograph Series, London, 2013.
2) Nevell M, 2013, ‘Archaeology for All: Managing Expectations and Learning from the Past for the Future – the Dig Manchester Community Archaeology Experience’, in Dalglesh C, (ed.), Archaeology, the Public and the Recent Past. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, London.