Monthly Archives: June 2013

Thoughts on the Mary Rose Museum

The Cowdray engraving of the battle of the Sol...

The Cowdray engraving of the battle of the Solent, 1545. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the risk of sounding a discordant note amongst the paeans of praise heaped upon the new Mary Rose Museum I want to raise one concern over the way it presents itself. I’ve seen the Mary Rose twice before; once very soon after the raising and once in the late 1990’s and there’s no doubt its one of the UK’s most impressive collections of maritime heritage.

The new museum is a terrific piece of work in many ways and the many (very many) artefacts are well displayed and shown in context of the lives of their owners on board. Its logically laid out, mostly well labelled and, within the necessary constraints of keeping lighting low to preserve objects, easy to enjoy and learn from.

Where I wasn’t so happy was that the hull of the ship seems almost like a side show – tucked away behind a wall with small viewing windows that aren’t always convenient if you are short (or I could imagine, in a wheel chair). All the focus is on the stuff found on the ship and then mainly on things that could be related to crew members rather than the ship itself. There isn’t much presented on the structure of the ship, how it was built or its history up to the sinking. There is precious little on the finding of the ship – Alexander McKee’s work and Margaret Rule – or on the techniques of excavation or conservation, all of which deserve a bigger part of the presentation.

There are some stunning things here (the reconstruction of the archer alongside his skeleton, the interactive display of the painting of the sinking (the Cowdray engraving, above) and the parallel “hull” with objects in place were to me three high points), it’s just a shame that the museum doesn’t seem to think (on the strength of the displays) that the ship itself is very significant.

A few words about the overall Dockyard site itself – the place is a shambles, with things widely spread out and no real coherence between the exhibits. This is partly because of the way that they ticket individual attractions but partly how they have managed the use of the buildings available, and I suppose the restrictions of sharing the site with the Navy. The museum could take a leaf out of Ironbridge Gorge’s book in organising a spread out venue with multiple attractions. They need a core section that gives a heart to the whole thing, lose the new, nailed-on visitor centre (and use one of the sheds) and create a more integrated experience for the site as well as the individual ships / exhibits. They need to rethink the concessions too – the jumble of an antique shop, the run down feel of Boathouse No. 7 and the less than wonderful catering. Nice branding – shame about the product.

P.S. They also need to get the car park “free spaces” display fixed on the approach – it was showing 120 spaces as we drove onto a queue to find at the head “car park full” signs. Stuck in a narrow street (Admiralty Road) with no real opportunity to turn around, it took us 30 minutes to get into the car park. As we walked to the dockyard gate we passed another car park (in Wickham Street, I think) : half the price and no queue.

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Peer Review on an MOOC

English: Brown University John Carter Brown Li...

English: Brown University John Carter Brown Library 2009 Rhode Island Providence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s been quite a bit of debate on the forums for the Brown University MOOC I’m doing regarding the approach to scoring student assignments. The course uses a peer review system whereby your assignments are rated and reviewed by other students and you receive a score derived from the overall scores given by 5 of your peers.

Some folk have felt this is a case of the blind leading the blind but my own view is that this is working well. The reviews I got for my first assignment had obviously been well considered and from discussion in the forums its clear that students take the process seriously and see the chance to review other students work as helpful to developing their own understanding.

My only quibble is that student assignments can’t be flagged up for the staff to review except for fairly extreme things (such as plagiarism or concern over a student’s well-being) but I guess that’s a consequence of having so many students enrolled.

Third week of Brown

I’m now on the third week of “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets” – it’s proving fun so far; very well structured and with good video presentations. The exercises could be a bit more taxing (at least, that’s my opinion right now before I get the first assignment’s evaluation back!) but they are a great mixture of activities that encourage you to discover more for yourself.

Brown Begins

brownMy Brown University course started yesterday and, so far, I’m impressed with the content and the way the course is being managed on the Coursera platform. It’s quite a demanding schedule; the first week involves an hour or so of video presentations to view, a quiz on the content and a weekly exercise. The criteria for achieving a certificate at the end are pretty stringent compared with some real-world course I’ve taken.

First week includes some material on Abydos, Petra Monsterrat and El Zotz (all sites where Brown U. is working). This has been mostly introductory stuff but there are still some interesting ideas coming out already.

Who needs Geophys?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA local picture, taken this morning, of some of the “ridge and furrow” fields near my home.

As you can see the buttercups have been thriving on the deeper (ridge) soil leaving the shallower (furrow) soil to grass. Suddenly the extent of these field systems (dating back to before the 17th Century) seems very apparent.

The Past Is A Different Country

Or is it…

I love this photo. It humanises the past. My wife spotted this inscription430210_10201028948435590_2101786923_n when we were on holiday on Rhodes. It’s a carving at the entrance to the Lindos acropolis. It just proves that the Greeks may have built some of the ancient world’s greatest buildings but they could still make mistakes. You can just imagine the conversation…

“About that carving…”

“Yeah, I just finished it.”

“Are you sure about that? I think LINDO has an N in it.”

“Oh, ****!”