- Open Exeter
Biography and Research Project
I studied my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter during which I developed an interest in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval landscape archaeology. Study at Exeter provided a wide range of academic research and fieldwork, including an earthwork survey of the deserted medieval settlement of Blackaton, Dartmoor, on behalf of English Heritage. I subsequently completed a Masters in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York, culminating in excavation at the early medieval monastery at Tarbat, Ross-shire and a dissertation studying the historic landscape of North Yorkshire. Following my masters research, I spent a brief spell with EASE archaeology excavating sites in Westray, Orkney, after which I joined Wessex Archaeology as a heritage consultant. The time at Wessex Archaeology was extremely valuable and allowed me to expand his skills, particularly in earthwork and building survey and GIS modelling (which forms a key element of my current research). Highlights with my time at Wessex included landscape assessments and conservation management plans for various clients including The National Trust and English Heritage. I began my doctoral thesis funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council after leaving Wessex Archaeology in the autumn of 2009.
In addition to research for my thesis, I also invest time in my role as Student Representative for the Society for Medieval Archaeology (outgoing Dec 2011), as Book Reviews Editor for the Society for Church Archaeology, and as one of the Trustees for the local charity The Exeter Food Bank.
Although I’m interested in a wide range of aspects of the early medieval landscape of England, my PhD research looks specifically at the development of settlement and landscape between the seventh and ninth centuries. A crucial period of English history which saw the foundation of kingdoms and the church, I am investigating how such an increasingly complex society expressed itself through the places in which they lived. Of particular interest is the impact that development-led excavation, especially those within currently-occupied rural villages, can have in developing our understanding of the changing settlement landscape of Anglo-Saxon and medieval England. Contrary to prevailing scholarly models which views the formation of England’s rural settlement as a product of the ninth centuries and later, my research demonstrates far more antiquated origins, perhaps as early as the sixth century. These fundamental changes in the infrastructure and economy of early medieval rural England were, I believe, intrinsically related to the emergence of monasteries: institutions which were the first to place unique pressures on resources due to their permanently settled and non-producing populations.
In order to make an original contribution to scholarship in my area of research, the primary data that I use is derived from Historic Environment Records (HERs). HERs are public records held by county councils detailing all aspects of the historic environment, ranging in scale from isolated finds to landscape features and built environment remains, covering all time periods (usually up to World War II defences). Although these records are publically accessible, most of the information generated over the last two decades has come from commercial archaeology units working on development-led projects. The data generated by this work is generally neglected by the academic community, and this is one of the imbalances that my thesis attempts to redress.
In addition to the information from excavations reports and other surveys, a key piece of my research involves the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). In basic terms, GIS is a mapping tool able to manage various forms of data both spatially and chronologically: I use it in my research for anything between mapping national data right down to single site information. Many HERs provide GIS information which can be imported straight into the software, although others do not have this facility and require development from myself.
Main Concerns about Research Data Management
My primary concern with my research/data is that it won’t be disseminated as widely as possible therefore its impact/ research potential would be undermined. There is a significant disparity between writing a thesis and producing a good quality publication that is going to be widely read: a significant quantity of good quality research (certainly in archaeology) falls into this gap. I hope that the project will demonstrate the potential not only of effective data management but also of more widespread accessibility of data, both in hard format and digitally. My project was undertaken on the back of two years work in the non-academic heritage sector, and it is hoped that my work will be of use in these environments (as was the original intention of my research). I hope that the Open Exeter Project goes some way to realising this for myself and others, whilst protecting the intellectual property of academic research.