UK GIS layers and Roman map data

The first map I ever made! Bedrock Geology, with Roman roads and mines.

The first map I ever made! Bedrock Geology (DiGMapGB data), with Roman roads and mines (DARMC data). Yes, it does have the wrong projection, but you have to start somewhere…

For the last week or so I have been experimenting with something old and something new: GIS.

In particular, since I have finally given in and bought a laptop capable of handling complex tasks without freezing, I’ve installed ArcMap. This is a piece of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software produced by ESRI, which is hideously expensive but, along with its main competitor MapInfo, is the industry standard software for producing anything from simple maps to statistical analyses of complex 3D geographical models. My copy is licensed through UCL, but if you don’t have a institution to pay for such things, I’ve been told that QuantumGIS is both free and  a pretty good alternative.

I’ve used GIS software before, at both of my HER/SMR jobs, but that was limited to popping new points on the map and adjusting the position and shape of things other people had mapped. This last week I have been creating maps from scratch for the first time.

I have to admit, I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. Maps are amazing, and being able to create maps specifically for your research is a powerful tool. It’s hard to express how exciting it is to have all your data pop up on the screen, and to be able to overlay that data on underlying patterns such as previously discovered sites, army sites, topography, bedrock geology, roads… it’s just fantastic.

So fantastic, I haven’t managed to produce my ideal maps yet. The major problem has been finding suitable data to import into my map; after all, there’s no point duplicating the great work done by lots of other people to create, for instance, Roman road maps. GIS works with ‘layers’, in the same way that Photoshop etc do, only these layers are geographically referenced. So I’ve been scouring the web for layers to use, and of course I’ve faced lots of challenges with importing different file types (looking at you, Ordnance Survey!), and setting the map up using the right projection (basically the coordinate system – turns out things look a lot nicer if you pretend the world is flat but that needs conversions…).

I could spend a lot of time talking about all the challenges and the things I’ve learnt, but as I’m still in the process I thought I’d just share a number of good sources for map data. The list is entirely biased towards Roman map layers and the UK, but that’s what I’m focussed on right now. Doubtless I’ll have to tackle Austrian maps soon, but in the meantime…

UK maps:

  • DiGMapGB: the Digital Geological Map of Great Britain, this set of data is available from the British Geological Survey, and includes both bedrock and superficial deposits. It is free to download for commercial, research and public use, though you have to acknowledge use.
  • Mineral data: the British Geological Survey also has a lot of mineral data, as well as a patchy map of pits, mines and quarries in the UK. Unfortunately none of this data is free, as far as I can ascertain.
  • Edina Digimap: only good for students/staff at academic institutions, this site will give you (sometimes limited) access to a massive amount of data. Historic maps (i.e., the early UK maps), Geology maps (from the British Geological Survey, but in an easy-to-access way), and Modern maps including boundaries (often in irritating formats that need conversion or cause headaches). They also make you register individually, which is a bit of a pain, but this is the definitely the place to go.

Roman maps:

  • Pleiades: If you are feelingextremely brave and technical, Pleiades produce a CSV file (text) every day with the raw dump of their data. This contains a lot of mapped sites, so you could try importing that. I haven’t! They also produce a KML file every day, but as this seems to requirescript (erk!) to convert this to a file I can use in ArcMap I haven’t tried this (yet). However, I suspect this is the best quality and density of information for Roman sites.
  • Ancient World Mapping Centre: The data here is great, and easily accessible in .shp format (for us ArcMap users!).
  • Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilisations: this rather retro looking site is in fact the place holder for some good quality data. You need to open ArcMap and connect to their map servers to download the data, but the DARMC website walks you through it easily enough.

All the Roman data is free, using a CC licence of one form or another. You do have to hand it to the digital classicists, they do work hard and produce some great data!

Edit: And if you’re interested in other historical map data, including for the US, check out this handy list of map data at Historical GIS and Clearinghouse Forum.

Roman parade helmet

Chance to see the Crosby Garrett Helmet

The Roman period Crosby Garrett helmet, which I was lucky enough to do some superficial analysis on in 2010, will be part of the Royal Academy’s Bronze exhibition which runs until the 9th of December 2012.

The RA have used the title of the exhibition – Bronze – to refer to any object made of a copper alloy. Metallurgically the word tends to refer to a specific alloy of copper and tin, but is traditionally used in museums and galleries to describe any copper alloy object. It can be difficult to tell if an historical object is actually made from bronze or another copper alloy, such as brass (copper and zinc) or gunmetal (copper, tin and zinc) anyway, so it makes a convenient short-hand.

My analysis, although unfortunately only qualitative, suggests that the majority of the helmet isn’t made of bronze in the technical sense, but of a gunmetal which may have had some lead added to it. This is a common enough alloy for an object of this period, when it seems the Romans were very flexible about the metals the used even for time-consuming and beautiful objects like the helmet.

I haven’t heard much about the helmet since it was sold at auction for more than two million pounds, however since it’s in private hands now it’s hard to say when there’ll be another chance for the public to see it. Well worth a look if you’re in London, that’s for sure.

Fisbourne Roman Palace – quick review

As PrimTech finished by lunch time on the Sunday, I thought I would spend the afternoon at Fishbourne Roman Palace. The weather was beautiful, which was an advantage as part of the Palace attraction is listed as the formal gardens.

Fisbourne's most famous mosaic. Photograph copyright Fred Dawson.

The site is situated just around the corner from a big main road, near to Chichester, and I realised pretty quickly that the palace on show at the actually museum is about a quarter of what was actually once present on the site. At least part of that palace and its surrounding gardens and buildings lies under the main road, with another chunk under the 1960s housing that backs onto the palace garden.

The site itself was discovered when a utilities pipe was being put across a field prior to plots of land going on sale. Despite uncovering some stunning stuff, the lack of proper protection laws in place means that the owner of the land was able to keep selling off large chunks of land. This means that one whole wing of the palace is underneath houses and gardens that were only built recently, and could have been saved. This is exactly the kind of situation I foresee returning if the government gets to go ahead with its current bonfire of planning protection.

Luckily enough a local man who was interested in archaeology and happened to be the inheritor of a large fortune managed to secure the remains of the land, saving the north wing of the palace from destruction. Excavations uncovered a sequence of rooms with some really stunning mosaics, both in terms of number and skill. It is these mosaics that form the body of the museum, preserved in situ under a long low building which also houses a small gallery describing the history of the site and some of the finds. Recent additions include a very nice cafe and a large storage building for all of the objects recovered from this, and nearby, sites.

Model of Fisbourne Palace - today only the remains of the left-hand-side are preserved at the museum. Photograph copyright David Highbury.

The museum itself is run by the Sussex Archaeological Society, who have guardianship of a small number of properties in this area. Considering that they lack access to everything English Heritage or the National Trust have, they do a really good job here. The buildings are a little dated in appearance, and the gallery is in need of a modernisation, but that’s nothing that a Heritage Lottery Grant couldn’t fix. The people who work there are clearly very dedicated and very knowledgable.

If you visit, make sure you take advantage of one of the talks run by a volunteer, as these people seem to be fonts of knowledge and really make the context of the building come alive. In addition you will need to buy the guidebook to get much benefit from the site, but it is very reasonably priced. The extended information on each of the mosaics and interpretation boards is great, but the guidebook’s more intensive discussions of the site are rather hard to make sense of, and I found it very difficult to relate the previous buildings it discusses to the current palace.

Much is made of the fact that this palace is very early, and very luxurious, and that can’t be denied. However if you visit the audio-visual display as well as speaking to a guide and reading the book (as I did) this point is a little laboured. At least half the site is covered with an imitation of the formal gardens that they say there is archaeological evidence for, which are okay but not exactly exciting. A small side garden designed to contain Roman period plants and interpretation boards was a little lack-lustre when I visited and is symptomatic of the general lack of updating at this museum.

Formal gardens at Fisbourne, with museum in top left corner. Photograph by David Spender.

If you don’t make the most of the site, the admission price of £7.90 for an adult (a rather measly 90p reduction for students) will seem like mediocre value as you’ll be round the gallery and mosaics in an hour or less. Add in the guide’s talk, the audio-visual, the gardens and buying and reading the guidebook brings up the price to almost £10, but will extend your visit to two or three hours. Go a little bit further and enjoy the very reasonably priced cream tea in the lovely cafe next door, and you’re there for a long Sunday afternoon.

All in all, the museum and site is well worth a visit, but only if you’re interested in the Romans or mosaics. For a general visitor it lacks something, particularly when compared to the big sites run by English Heritage. In particular you can’t help but get the impression that the hey-day of the site was the 1970s-1980s, and that the gallery and museum buildings have changed little since. I don’t believe that’s any fault of the Trust necessarily, and particularly not of the staff and volunteers. If this was a site run by a national charity or government I would be much more critical, but with the limited resources available to small archaeological societies, and the massive importance and fragile nature of this site no doubt limiting what they can do, I can’t be too harsh.

pXRF of the Crosby Garrett Roman parade helmet

I posted previously that I would update after I had seen what is now being called the Crosby Garrett helmet.

In the end, I was asked not to by the Portable Antiquities Scheme with whom I was working, because of all of the uproar surrounding the helmet. On the day I travelled to see the helmet, I spent some time in the office of one of the PAS staff as they fielded calls regarding the helmet, and it was clearly politically sensitive, so I was happy not to make things any more difficult. However, it’s been over a year so I think I can now blog about the subject without any difficulty.

The analysis itself went well, although I only had thirty minutes with the object. The technique I used, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, is non-invasive, so no samples were taken and the object was not damaged in any way. The downside of this is that the technique only examines the surface of the object, to a depth that (depending on material) may be as little as the width of a red blood cell.

As the surface of the helmet is covered in a grey-green-blue patina, probably a compact layer of copper oxides/sulphides etc., it is likely that the analyses I did would have been affected by this. That is to say, the numbers that the analytical machine generated are unlikely to accurately reflect the composition of the metal used to make the helmet. I’ve worked on similar objects with patinas/corrosion products before, and unfortunately its very difficult to judge how inaccurate the analyses are, as the conditions vary between objects.

I was able to confirm that the helmet is a copper alloy, as is the griffin finial, though this is probably no surprise to anyone. Despite the limitations of this analysis, I do believe that I can demonstrate that the griffin finial is of a slightly different alloy composition than the helmet. It’s not a large difference, but I suspect it relates to the different techniques used to manufacture the finial. The finial looks like it was cast and then worked by hand, which would call for an alloy tailored to casting, whereas the helmet would have required more complex manufacturing techniques that are outside my experience.

I hope at some point to publish the analyses, complete with a proper discussion of why the data is difficult to interpret and particularly why the numbers cannot be taken at face value. However my data were used by a number of publications during and after the sale of the helmet, so it remains to be seen whether I will be able to publish it myself in a more scientific format.

TA’s thoughts: teaching ‘gender’ in Roman culture


Being a Teaching Assistant has led to a few realisations in the last few months. One particularly noteworthy point occurred last week. A colleague and I were covering a two hour lecture in the Introduction to Roman archaeology course for first year undergraduates. The course itself is core for the Classical Archaeology students, and optional for everyone else. This year we have a variety of students including more than a handful of psychology students.

As a result, the teaching is actually quite challenging. You can’t make quite the assumptions you would normally make. You can’t assume that the students are doing the core modules in archaeological theory, and you can’t assume that they know anything about the Roman period.

The lecture topic was Diversity of Identity. I took the first hour in what I have to admit was a pretty dry run-through of ‘legal identities’ – citizen, slave, freedman, decurion, senator, equestrian etc., and the legal rights of women and children. The material was not massively inspiring, but I think very necessary to actually understanding the lives and experiences of Roman people. I will definitely focus on making it more engaging if I teach it again, but that’s for another time.

The second half of the lecture was taken by my erstwhile TA’ing colleague. She gave a far more engaging lecture on gender in the Roman period, discussing not just ‘men’ and ‘women’ and ideas of masculinity and femininity, but going on to discuss ‘non-procreating’ genders and ‘being and doing’ gender. It was a really good lecture and got the class thinking and talking – she was even thanked for it afterwards by one of the students who has decided to do ‘gender’ as her essay topic.


However one thing occurred during the lecture that I was completely unprepared for. When we showed a quote discussing the emperor Elagabalus, which happened to mention his desire for a sex change, one or perhaps two of the students giggled.

Perhaps I was niave, but I didn’t expect adults to giggle at this concept. Perhaps I’m just so blinkered by my own cultural norms that I don’t see anything weird about wanting a sex change. Or perhaps it just never occurred that anyone would actually laugh out loud at the idea.

Needless to say, I applied a stern look and the giggle died out. But I knew immediately that this behaviour had the real potential to be hurtful to members of the class. I realise now we should probably have laid down ground rules before discussion gender, and in fact trying to discuss gender without sexuality is just trying to avoid the tricky bits.

Perhaps I should have tackled it straight-on, and simply confronted him in front of the class about the laughter. I know some people who might have done so. But that seems a little confrontational, and what if the student were laughing out of nervousness simply to cover his own uncomfortable emotional reaction to the topic?

I have to admit that I never thought that any teaching I did would bring up subjects awkward enough to make students uncomfortable, or even to offend. But I think gender and sexuality have the real potential to put students in vulnerable positions. The last thing I want, particularly when trying to teach gender archaeology in an enlightened way, is to reinforce sexual or gender norms.

Thinking back, I’m probably lucky that none of the students spoke up from religious standpoints. Normally you wouldn’t expect an archaeology, whatever their personal religious beliefs, to apply those to past cultures. But the class were students, not archaeologists.

The discussion could have become extremely challenging if any of [ed. the students] had voiced judgemental or homophobic view points.I have to admit I really wouldn’t have been ready for it. I wouldn’t have tolerated unacceptable language, but the act of repressing a student’s views is detrimental to the learning environment.


How to deal with these problems? If I took this class again I think I would make it very clear that I have absolutely no tolerance for thoughtless behavior when talking about gender and sexuality. This is difficult, because usually I like to make the class laugh – and had done so in the previous hour when mentioning Augustus’ rather failed attempts to control the sexual behaviour of the Roman elite. How do you make it okay to laugh, but not okay to laugh at people just because they’re different?

Perhaps the emphasis has to be on making it clear that I expect the students to put aside their own cultural frameworks and to attempt an objective analysis of the topic, and that personal opinions on gender and sexuality should not impinge on the discussion.

Although I didn’t teach the subject badly, looking back on it I didn’t ensure the kind of safe and unthreatening environment necessary for the students to feel able to discuss gender without limitations or fear. Creating that kind of environment is difficult, and I’m not sure how to do it, but if I teach this topic again I’m definitely going to try.

Three months?! Or 2 TA positions and a whole lot of stress…

I have to admit, that I have been a bad blogger. I haven’t updated in months, and I haven’t updated serious research content in longer. Which is one of those terrible no-nos of social media.

I am the first to admit that I have probably taken on too much work in the last month or two. When the first Teaching Assistant position came up (12 hrs, £11.60 an hour) I thought – “I can do that – it’ll look great on my CV!”

So from January I was helping out in the 2nd year undergraduate core-course Research and Presentation Skills. This has been a fantastic experience for me, as I have had the chance to help guide groups in the seminars, do a little teaching and do some marking in a secure learning environment. The lecturer running the course has been fantastically supportive, really interested in helping me and the other TA get the most from the experience. The students have been really bright, engaged, and sometimes challenging.

When I saw another advert for a TA position, this one for the 1st year optional undergraduate course Roman archaeology I jumped at it. Again flat-contract, this time of 8hrs, but it looks like that will be extended as due to lecturer illness I and the other TA took the last week’s lecture.

In additon, last week I also gave the archaeometallurgy lecture of this year’s new MA -level course on Experimental Archaeology, which was a real honour and a fantastic work-out for the brain-cells. Again some great students, and some great debate at the end of the class.

It should also be remembered that my upgrade – where you have to demonstrate you can move from an MPhil to a PhD – is scheduled for May. That means a 15,000 word document, 30 min presentation and mini-viva-style grilling that I need to pass.

I’ve learnt a lot over the last couple of months of teaching, which probably deserves a post of its own, but I think last week demonstrated very clearly that it’s very easy to take on too much work!

To be fair, six hours teaching in one week probably doesn’t seem like too much. I’m sure many lecturers undertake much more. But I also know a lot of lecturers who just wing-it when it comes to lesson preparation, and I’m not one of those. I really care about what I teach, and I just don’t have the raw experience to be able to pull a two-hour MA level lecture out of the bag. So I have to put in days of work for just a couple of hours of lecture. Which has meant that everything else – including the dreaded upgrade – has fallen behind.

I also have only myself to blame, having worked to get these TA positions and the chance to teach. It’s not even like I should have said “no” to anything!

The poor old blog has suffered the most – at least the upgrade has seen some work – but hopefully now that the teaching has largely finished I will have a little bit of time to write here. But for now, I should get back to the grind. Tonight I have a pile of marking to look forwards to!

Crosby Garrett helmet goes for £2,000,000

Crosby Garrett helmet awaiting display at Christies

I just watched the Christie’s auction online. I thought things were going well when lots of the items failed to sell, or went for the lowest estimate.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen to the Crosby Garrett Roman cavalry helmet that I analysed a couple of weeks ago. In the end it went for a round £2,000,000.

Well, ultimately £2,281,250 after all the premiums etc are added.

So I guess we can wave goodbye to it, and watch it leave the country to a private collection. I guess it’s possible it was sold to a museum, but that’s a lot of money. I imagine it was a rich private collector. Either way, it was a telephone bid, so I don’t think anyone who was actually present in the room would have found much out about the bidder.

Watching the auction was extremely nerve-wracking. For a while the bid was with someone in the room, and I had hoped that maybe it would be a museum in the UK. But it was not to be.

I’m happy for the finder – doubtless Christies will take a good percentage, as well as a fee for the restoration, but he has to have made some good money. I’m pretty sad about the sale though. As only one of three such helmets to be found in the UK, it was really valuable to us. And the brief surface analysis suggested that it was metallurgically interesting as well.

I hope this will startle legislators into doing something about our Treasure laws. Because the helmet was not gold or silver, it wasn’t considered ‘Treasure Trove’ and protected by the Treasure laws, so there was limited legal protection for it.

I wonder what will happen to the helmet now? I wonder where it will go? Will we ever see it on display in the UK?

Success in Huttenberg

Well, I say Huttenberg, but to be honest I think I visited the village once!

The trip to Austria went really well. Not only did I have an absolutely fantastic time in a beautiful country eating fantastic food and drinking suprisingly nice beer (I am not a beer drinker normally!) but the site… the material takes your breath away!

Six excavated furnaces. Literally tonnes of finds including not just tap slags, but beautiful furnace walls, roasted and unroasted ores, charcoal samples, unfired clay samples, untempered clay samples, and rarest of all – bloom fragments. Hell, not just bloom fragments but a number of what appeared to be rather uninspiring lumps and in fact turned out to be failed blooms. Whole, massive, failed blooms.

Cut failed bloom from the Huttenberg site of Briggite Cech, Austria

The bright lines you can see are metallic iron. It’s formed around what was probably charcoal, and in beautiful swathes. You can see how unimpressive the lump itself was prior to cutting. The fact that it contains such rare and exciting material is hardly visible from the outside, and just shows you that often you can’t judge metal production debris on outside appearance alone.

Tom Birch slicing slag on the saw

In this case, we (okay, Tom did the hard work!) cut the piece because we found it responded in places to a magnet. I know not everyone bothers to check their material with a magnet, but I can really reccommend it. This piece does actually look rather a lot like a bloom, now that I’ve seen experimental examples.

I can only say how lucky we were to have a saw, and a large water-cooled one at that. Without it we’d have probably passed over this piece due to its size and weight. After we found this one, we found another group of these which the excavators had decided to keep because they weren’t sure what they were. I really couldn’t ask for more exiciting material!

All I can say is keep your eyes open for these in the future, they’re fascinating for people like me. They look a lot like blooms, are much more dense than slag cakes (I could only just lift this one), and respond to magnets. I’d rather see these things routinely chopped in half than just discarded as undiagnostic rubbish.

Anyway, after two solid days taking samples from the extensive site archive, I have eight boxes weighing a total of about 80kgs on their way to me by Austria postal service, estimated time of arrival: three weeks. Frankly, I can hardly wait to see them and get them sorted out. The material is really exciting, the site archive was really easy to get to grips with and better than anything, the site director is really enthusiastic about my work which makes the whole process very enjoyable. Fingers-crossed everything gets to me safely!

pXRF of a Roman parade helmet

Just a quick preliminary post on work I hope to undertake next week – taking the Institute’s portable XRF machine out to take a peek at this beautiful Roman period military parade helmet.

I don’t have any pictures yet, because the ones I’ve seen are all copyright of Christie’s who are the auctioneer, but it’s the one on the front cover of the catalogue.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about the object. It was metal-detected in England, but obviously it’s not gold or silver so isn’t ‘Treasure’ so there was no way to ensure the museums got a chance to gather the funds to buy it. It’s gone from field to auction house in just a couple of months, which seems to have flat-footed everyone and made it pretty difficult for any of local or national museums to get together the funds necessary to buy it.

Of course, there’s also a good chance it will be too expensive for any of them to buy anyway. I guess the best case scenario is probably that a foreign museum buys it – there would at least be the chance of getting it on tour at the local museum. Worst case scenario it’s bought by a foreign collector, leaves the country and is never seen again.

Which is of course why we are trying to ellicit as much information as possible out of it in the time we have. Unfortunately the object has been ‘restored’ rather than conserved, so what you see in the catalogue is in fact a composite reconstruction of all the little pieces it used to be in. This makes it look great, but makes it much less useful for research. It’s bound to have been coated with something (similar to a varnish), which might make the pXRF less successful, and I’m going to have to be careful not to analyse bits of adhesive, or wax inserts.

Of course, there’s also the chance that I won’t find anything interesting at all! Fingers-crossed though, and I’ll update on Monday after I return.

EDIT – For some information on the actual helmet, rather than my distracted ponderings on the morality of such things, have a look at this page on of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (thanks Dan!). There’s even pictures of it in its pre-restoration form.

Post-graduate papers at RAC/TRAC 2010

I just wanted to say I’m sorry about the appearance of the blog at the moment – WordPress appears not to be displaying colours correctly. I’d sort it out, or swap themes around, but I’ve just got back from RAC/TRAC and I’m exhausted.

In other news, RAC/TRAC was okay. As I guess is the norm for conferences, I found the papers either very useful and interesting or essentially uninteresting.  The two post graduate student papers I saw were clearly from researchers just starting out and reflected some of the problems I imagine many early career researchers come across.

The first one was Benjamin Luley from the University of Chicago, talking about economic transformation under the Roman Empire and the rise of elites in Southern Gaul. It was rather destroyed by the audience, which wasn’t very pleasant to watch. To be honest I didn’t think what the audience said was fair on Benjamin. They were extremely critical over issues that I think may have arisen out of either a lack of understanding of the archaeology or a miscommunication. I also felt he suffered a little from a culture clash, with the British Romanist approach being quite different from the North American or indeed the Continental, and I did wonder whether someone might have warned him that the British are a grumpy lot!

I am not entirely familiar with the crowd at RAC/TRAC, but I got the distinct impression that there was an accepted way of doing things, or an accepted knowledge surrounding certain things, and they were pretty unhappy that Benjamin was challenging that. I am not a scholar in this area, but I got the impression Benjamin had some interesting and paradigm-shifting evidence and it would have been better to see the audience critically engage with that, rather than exhibit what seemed to be a defensive over-reaction. But I would judge that this is the sort of problem any graduate is going to come up against if they do challenge the established orthodoxy.

The second one was Melissa Ratliff talking about iron and ‘bronze’ consumption in Pompeii. She appeared to be a first-year student who hadn’t done a lot of work and who had some rather massive and apparently uncritiqued assumptions underpinning her work. I was really surprised that whilst Benjamin’s essentially solid work got an undue level of criticism, Melissa’s methodology passed without comment.

I was unimpressed with her work, possibly because it’s my area so I’m better equipped to critique this paper than the others I listened to. I couldn’t believe she was just counting objects in rooms, with no differentiation between the objects value – so that a copper bowl counted as much as an iron nail. Surely a basic calculation of ‘work hours’ for each object is necessary or what use will the data be to discuss social differentiation or stratification?

In addition she stated that “mass production lead to many objects being made of these metals [bronze and iron]” as if mass production was the driver to mass consumption – as if we could even use the world ‘mass‘ without some kind of discussion on whether it’s applicable to the Roman world! Just one example of a number of problems I had with her terminology that I though showed a lack of engagement with current understanding of metal and object production.


Thinking reflexively, the negative response to the papers was interesting for a number of reasons not related to individual content. I think it is worth considering whether all post-graduates will come across the same problems that I noted at RAC/TRAC and other conferences, and whether these are standard for post-graduates:

  1. Presenting at too early a stage and having nothing really to say
  2. Ugly, misleading and essentially useless graphics (3D pie-charts, oh the horror!)
  3. Lack of in-depth understanding of the background of the issue/object type/period
  4. Unexamined suppositions/assumptions in basis of work
  5. Not having any theoretical structure to the work
  6. Shoe-horning in of only tentatively related theoretical structures at the interpretation stage
  7. Essential conclusions ‘going against the grain’ of current understanding (that doesn’t mean it was wrong, just that no one present agreed with it).

I hope not to fall into any of these traps in the future, but I don’t think they are completely escapable. But then that is presumably the learning process of presenting in the early career stage. At least, I hope it gets better as you progress!

Having seen the papers given at RAC/TRAC I’m wondering if I could try to get a paper accepted to 2011’s sessions. Hopefully by then I’ll have a case study, and something exciting to say. But I’m only going to do it if I’ve actually worked out my paradigm and firmed up the more theoretical aspects of my work. I don’t want to present too early, that’s for certain, and thinking about the negative or uninterested response of the small section of TRAC/RAC I witnessed, I’m not sure I want to present at all!