To mark the start of the year, UNE scholars Richard Turfin and Martin Gibbs had an interesting piece in the Conversation, Why archaeology is so much more than just digging,. With their team, they are currently over a year into a research project, Landscapes of Production and Punishment, that uses evidence of the built and natural landscape to understand the experience of convict labour on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania between 1830 and 1877.
At its peak, nearly 4,000 convicts and free people lived on the penal peninsula. Their day-to-day activities left traces in today’s landscape that the teams looks to locate and analyse using historical research, remote sensing and archaeological field survey.
Joseph Backler (1813-1895). Port Macquarie c1840. The penal settlement was established in 1821 and finally closed in 1830.Several things struck me reading the piece. One was simply the advances in technology over the years.
I became involved with Isabel McBryde's work in Australian archaeology as a first year student at the University of New England in (gulp) 1963. In 1967, I was a member of her first archaeology honours class, the first such class in Australia.
Isabel sought to use the latest science and technology, but it was just so limited. Radio carbon dating was in its infancy, while none of the passive ground sensing technology that we know today existing although simple metal detectors were already being used by some prospectors and treasure hunters. Aerial photography was the most advanced technology available to Isabel and that was quite expensive.
UNE archaeological survey c 1963-64. Mick Moore left, Jim Belshaw right. Photo Isabel McBryde.Today, of course, we know so much more and have so much more more depth available to us. That's good, of course, but there was a certain enjoyment in our then innocence, the rush of the new.
At UNE I was involved in what we now call multidisciplinary studies. In fact, for most of my working life I have been involved in working with other fields, other disciplines, aided by broad based studies. In doing so, I became very aware of the way in which professional silos blind us, limit the questions we ask, limit our ability to develop new ideas.
This may be a prejudice, but I think that this problem has become worse as education has become more narrowly vocation, specialisation deeper. But if this is a prejudice, I know with a much higher degree of certainty just how much of a challenge the spread of knowledge has become.
I am a general historian. Yes, I have a strong focus on a particular area, but within that area I try to understand and write on as many aspects of human life over 30,000 years as I can.. I am constantly reminded how little I know, aware of the possible things I don't know that I don't know!
It's not all bad, of course. The work I do is is a constant broad education. Mind you, I sometimes wonder just how I might have gone if I had put as much time and thought into my university studies?!
Which brings me to my final point. Over this year I hope to continue to bring you new things, new ideas, new slants on New England history that may interest or at least inform broader thought.