Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Flipping First Drafts

So, I have (finally, tonight, at 10:12pm) finished the first draft of Book the Second.

It's a snip at 57,000 words, excluding footnotes and references and acknowledgements and all the grown up caboodle. It's not huge, not by any means. But it's still over what the commissioning editor asked for- so a good chunk is going to have to go.

I cannot wait to attack it, pull it to bits, and rebuild it. I can already feel things wrong with it that are burning and itching in my brain, like little fleas determined to irritate me and suck out my writing flow. The last chapter was a struggle and a half as the editing fleas grew and swelled, becoming louder and more insistent.

The last time I finished something like this it was the first draft of my PhD, and there were no such issues. I was smug, happy and confident. My lovely supervisor would tell me where I had gone wrong and where to fix it, but it was done. To be fair, that was at least 20,000 words longer, so maybe I'd gone further into the dark place where your own work is the only thing you see. I'm hoping that the fact I can tell it needs editing, and major editing at that, is a sign that maybe I've grown up a bit since then. That I can even tell what those edits should be, that I can see where I want to shift and change and delete and grow, is giving me a sliver of hope for the future of the volume.

This must be what being a grown up feels like.

BUT wait, stop. Space. The essential ingredient, not the final frontier. I will not open any of the individual chapter word documents until December. I will not. I will let them lie fallow, turn my face to other ideas (of which more soon). Edit too fast, and edit too floppily.

Then, what? My usual plan of attack is print the whole thing out and attack it- see where it flows and where it sticks. Make a list of the instinctive problems, make a list of repetitive bits. Highlight words in paragraphs that you use too much (past culprits include "beautiful" "materials" and "striking." Moi?). Check your facts, then check them again. Same goes for references.

Then, to the victims. If you want to be a reader, let me know. You might get off lightly, with a chapter. You might be the poor schmuck who asks for the whole thing and receives it in the dark of a January night.

But, before your impending doom, any magical tips to turn a first draft into a second draft?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Sunday Supplement Etruscans

Image (c) The Sunday Times.

Yeah, I know. It's Wednesday, not Sunday.

But very unusually, I got my grubby mitts on a Sunday paper. We don't normally bother- pre-baby we felt like they were expensive and luxurious, so would get them very occasionally. Post-baby, we don't have time. My parents were here, and they looove their big Sunday broadsheet, so palming Silvia off on her father, I leafed through the different bits of the Sunday Times. And there, in the telly guide, was a reference to the Etruscans! Unfortunately, it was in relation to a really poor piece of archaeo-tv, a programme on the Celts that has been so comprehensively reviewed by the excellent Rachel Pope that I won't go into its faults (and there were many) here.

The TV critic, A.A. Gill, broadly shared Rachel's opinion of the Celts programme. He divined that the Celts were really a made-up people (a somewhat fair point, considering the machinations of 19th century cultural historians) and that the whole show was trying to overcompensate for that fact, cobbling together a tight historical narrative based on Roman texts, instead of exploring the complex interrelationships of these different communities across Iron Age Europe*.

But he had to go and drag the Etruscans into it, didn't he? I've recycled the damn magazine now (foolishly), but the gist was that the Celts were a made up people "like the Etruscans." Well. Well now. Who'd have thought I'd wasted so many years of my life studying a figment of the 19th century imagination, stirred up from Roman texts?

Well, big sigh of relief all round, I definitely haven't. The idea of an Etruscan people is right there in their own words. The term "Rasna" or "Rasenna" is used to refer to a collective group of central Italian communities who chose to define themselves with this word. It's thought to mean "people of the city," so the Etruscans are stating the centrality of urban living to their self-identification. It's central to who these people thought they were. It's (perhaps) what made them different from their neighbours, across the Appennines and to the south. So, Mr Gill, even if you are unhappy with stylistic attributions that stick art styles to archaeology and then to supposed ethnic groups, here is a group of ancient people who were quite happy to define themselves as different from their neighbours. Leave the Etruscans out of it, please. We have quite enough problems of our own to deal with in promoting Etruscan archaeology without everyone thinking the whole thing was made up.

In fact, help a sister out. ***Brazen publicity request/plug alert*** Can we please have a feature on the Etruscans in the Sunday Times Culture section, perhaps when my new book comes out? Let's talk. 

*In a massive and simplified aside, why are we still so scared to admit that on occasion the Romans were wrong? The ever-brilliant Mary Beard (who Gill has been deeply, misogynistically unpleasant to in the past) was opining in the same Culture section of the same paper that the Romans are really terrifically overrated. And that's from a classicist! Come on people (especially commissioners of archaeological TV), let's break free of two millennia of Roman intellectual oppression. Digression over. 

** In the magazine of the Sunday Times, Mr Gill was back with a review of what sounded like an atrocious and very expensive restaurant in London. He made a reference to "if Lidl did an own brand French fish soup." Mr Gill, they do- I tried it last night, and it's not half bad- tasted ok, no nasty after effects and cheap as chips. I suggest you give it a go, it was far nicer than the bouillabaisse you described forcing down in the review.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Telly Special: Questions and Queens

Secret History is back on Channel 4, and it's been a while since I blogged about archaeology on the telly, so I thought I'd share some thoughts on the first two episodes.

I want to start with last night, probably the more tricksy of the two shows so far. The hook was Cleopatra, and the film focused on the single minded quest of an amateur archaeologist to find her lost tomb. It was clear that the lady in question, Kathleen Martinez Berry, was living out her Indiana Jones fantasies, and fair play to her- through her stubborn refusal to give in, her bright optimism in the face of snubbing and snobbery (implied) and her incisive desk-based investigation, a rather exciting site is emerging from the desert sands. When you think of the hostility this woman has endured (and probably is still enduring, if social media is any guide) it is remarkable that she has kept going. Kathleen, an ex criminal lawyer, perhaps has exactly the type of thick skin you need to succeed in archaeological adversity these days. With enough money behind her, she has become a new kind of independent scholar*, steadily demonstrating that Taposiris Magna was a major Ptolemaic temple site with associated necropolis.

Of course, not everything was perfect, especially when it came to methodology. I would definitely have wanted a full Ground Penetrating Radar survey first off- rather than as a late doors attempt to find tombs. Collecting strategies also seemed unusual- there were shots of human remains being removed without being photographed in situ with scales in place (ALTHOUGH this could just have been the film's editing). If this was accurately represented, it would presumably not have happened if an experienced Egyptologist with strong documentation skills had been part of the dig from the start. What a shame.

More positively, there were so many fabulous women scholars featured. Dorothy Thompson from Cambridge presenting a papyrus fragment with Cleopatra's possible signature. Salima Ikram examining the amazing necropolis.

The first episode of the new series also featured an incredible female team- the women of the Rising Star expedition. As a claustrophobic wuss, I was in awe of their skill, strength and dedication. The entire excavation project was a lesson in public archaeology- live tweeted by director Lee Berger from above ground, (I think) webcams so you could follow the discovery as it happened. And all this from a cave deep below the South African bush. I don't know enough about human origins to assess their findings, but from a scicomm perspective this was the business.

These two programmes have raised serious key questions for me, regarding how we communicate archaeological research. Firstly, Cleopatra. The hook is the same as the worrying trend of "finding" (in)famous people in the past- Richard III anyone? Do we need personalities to pin projects on? Why is the discovery of Taposiris Magna not enough? Another key question- in an age of restricted research posts and cuts to funding, are independently wealthy amateur archaeologists going to be a permanent part of the scene? If so, how can they be welcomed and integrated, encouraged to partake in best practice without being patronised?

Secondly, and more simply, Homo Naledi and Rising Star. How the hell can a project in the middle of nowhere (relatively), metres below the surface, have better communications than excavations in the middle of European holiday hotspots (Tuscany, Greece etc)? What can we do to share our research more widely, and more accessibly? If Berger and Co can do it, then why can't we?

Field seasons for 2016 are in the planning phases now. Let's start planning how to share, as well as how to discover.

*or a reincarnation of a very old type of scholar- let's party like it's 1899.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Shakespeare, Street Harassment and the Etruscans

Yes, really.

I'm working on the first draft of my second book at the moment. It's great fun, almost a formalised extension of this blog. The big idea is to explore the relevance of Etruscan culture to the modern world, incorporating analyses of historical texts and archaeological materials. But, as I've blogged about before, it's written for a popular audience.

I'm chugging on through- nearly done with Chapter 7. This is my favourite part of the book so far, because it deals with some pet interests of mine- the lives of Etruscan women and the state of modern feminism.

In the course of writing it, though, I've gone down the rabbit hole of chasing a stereotype. Etruscan women were independent and lascivious- everyone knows that. It's a scholarly trope. But where does it come from?

Well, the obvious answer is Livy. But how does Livy wiggle his way into England? Of course, the educated elite might have been reading Ab Urbe Condita for themselves, but Etruscan women also feature in a rowdier format.

In Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece, dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, we have a prologue designed to clarify the poem. Here are the Etruscan women:

“The other ladies were all found dancing and revelling, or in several disports.”

It's only a sentence, but an interesting one. In the original text, Livy describes the same women as:

"passing their time in feasting and in luxury with their acquaintances."

Shakespeare, has chosen to go further. He deliberately implies that the Etruscan wives are misbehaving- and their misbehaviour has a sexual undertone. The word disport, while meaning unrestrained enjoyment, has a sinful implication here. In several disports? In Elizabethan bawdy talk, disport has a definite link with copulation and sexual play.

The sexual infidelity of Etruscan women is useful to Shakespeare- it sets up a direct contrast with the purity of his Lucrece. It is her chastity, and not her beauty, which first inflames the villainous Sextus Tarquinius, who will go on to rape her and bring down disaster on his family.

In Livy's account, I would argue that there remains an implication that the Etruscan women are responsible for the demise of the Tarquinii as a ruling dynasty. For Shakespeare, however, they are more sinister. It is their sexual availability, not their dedication to luxury, that causes Lucrece's death with its spiralling consequences. One of the poem's messages is that the availability of loose women damages all good women, and not just by repute.

It's a fascinating scenario- one of the first appearances of Etruscan women in the English language. To what extent it is responsible for the survival of the stereotype of Etruscan women, I don't know. But there are plenty of issues in here that impact our lives as women in the 21st century. Women's enjoyment of pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, is still considered problematic by our society. Look at the victim shaming of revenge porn, or the hooting tabloids and the sidebar of shame.

There is another aspect to this shaming behaviour too. A particular politician's recent statements on women-only carriages after the exposure of figures of the rate of sexual harassment on public transport emphasise our daily encounters with the Sextii Tarquinii of the Tube. The rationale of these abusers remains that some women (denigrated with terms like "slut" or "whore")  like their behaviour.

In Shakespeare and in the street, the equivalents of the Etruscan women- women taking pleasure - are still being blamed for attacks on other women.

When will they be absolved of responsibility for the acts of men?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

(BAD) News from Syria

I haven't been there. Too wussy by far.

I posted over a year ago about the problems of mourning archaeology at the expense of people.

Very sadly, today, that issue has resurfaced in the most tragic way.

An archaeologist has died at the hands of so-called Islamic State, brutally murdered. It seems that he was killed for refusing to reveal the location of antiquities at Palmyra. He gave his life to protect the artefacts he loved falling into the hands of this utterly repugnant organisation.

What courage. What honour. What bravery.

I also want to remember the individuals who are dying to save the living, as well as protect the leavings of the dead. The BBC carried a harrowing account of traders who pay money to secure the release of Yazidi slaves- women and girls, who have been exposed to hideous sexual and physical abuse, as reported by the New York Times.

The murder of old men, the rape of young women, the destruction of beauty in every way. When will it stop? When will it be enough to act?

Rest In Peace, Khaled Al-Assad. Your courage, and that of the Yazidi families, will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Do me a favour- tell me a story

Hello readers.

Who are you? What are you? Archaeologist or human being? Both? Neither? Internet cat?

Why do you read this blog? Are you bored? Are you a friend who feels sorry for me? Are you genuinely interested in some of this weird rubbish?

How did you find me? Googling Etruscans in a moment of internet madness? Twitter? Facebook?

I've never really thought that hard about who reads this blog. The fabulous Lorna Richardson has observed that archaeological blogs are usually done by archaeologists for archaeologists, no matter how much we try to pretend they are for the civilian public. I have a funny feeling she's totally right.

Anyway, whoever you are (and please do say hi! Nobody ever comments here...) a talented researcher needs your help! Not yours truly (ahem- will beg for favours later), but Fleur Schinning, who is working on archaeological blogging and audiences.

So please, please- whiz over to her online survey and plop your thoughts down.



Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Writing for normal people

Normally, I write for weirdos. Other archaeologists, to be precise. We're an odd bunch, and I say that with utter respect and love. I adore reading academic archaeology, the more theoretical, the better. I love to attack an article, pull it to bits, figure it out and build it back together. I enjoy writing this way, too.

But currently I'm writing for the real world. For those who aren't totally obsessed with the dead, and who wouldn't dream of applying some bizarre social theory to a set of graves and coming up with an out-there-but-it-kinda-works interpretation.

I'm halfway through writing my second book (the first was my PhD, now available wherever good archaeological works are sold- so mostly on the internet then), which has an informal subtitle of "why you should give a damn about the Etruscans." Approaching the midpoint of the first draft, I've come to several conclusions about writing for a non-academic crowd, and I'd like to hear other thoughts.

1) Keep it snappy, sunshine. Endless clauses just annoy people. If you can't say it clear and concise, why are you saying it at all?

2) Don't get preachy. Nobody likes to read moralising tomes of self-improving blah. If you have an ethical point to make, do it straight.

3) Admit your own fallibility. Just because you're writing this book, doesn't mean you know everything. General readers can sniff out a self important phony as well as the academic crowd.


4) Don't be afraid to have fun. It should be an enjoyable read, and so should be enjoyable to write. You can always edit out the bad jokes later, but I feel that a non fiction book for a general audience should be rollicking good fun while also making you think.

Any tips and pointers anyone? Thinking it through, I feel that these four points probably apply to good academic writing too. Especially the last one.

I'll stop skiving and get back to the grindstone now, before the baby wakes up.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Field Schools- the good, the bad and the ugly

I had a discussion on Twitter this morning with some of my favourite tweeps, prompted by this article about archaeological (and other earth science disciplines') field schools. It's a pretty straightforward critique of the dominant American model, in which students pay (often a big whack of $$$) for the opportunity to excavate. The problem is that this is often a compulsory component of a degree course, and the author argues that as such, it should be included within the overall fees that a student pays (and God knows they are already prohibitive when your graduate job has a minimum wage attached).

The questions of what field school is for, what it should be, and who pays for it is are important. Field schools are often the first taste of excavation for students, and colour their impression of the commercial and research routes of the discipline. I'd argue that for those students who don't stay in archaeology this is especially significant- archaeology needs support from those on the outside if it is to survive. Field schools are also generating archaeological data, often on important sites- the quality of excavation needs to match up to the quality of raw archaeology, so teaching excellence and strong leadership and interpretation (at the trowel's edge, shoutout to my Ian Hodder groupies) is essential. Ideally, they should also be reasonably priced or (better) free, so that students from non-privileged backgrounds can share in archaeological discovery without being clobbered with even more debt, or even more pressure.

There's the rub. I love the tradition of local university digs, the clambering onto a minibus in the grey of a city dawn, the squashed sandwiches and muddy boots. But UK archaeology, while interesting, isn't quite up there with my Etruscan loves. I wanted, needed, to encounter Etruscan archaeology with my own hands, with my own trowel. So I had to pay. The project receives next to no funding from the University that hosts it- the fees covered living costs for me and contributed to those of staff members. There are scholarships that contribute to fees for those who would struggle, but the fact remains- if you don't have the cash, you can't really dig here. That interest is off limits to you. That's a problem.

There's a worse problem, which happily doesn't apply to the field school I have worked at. It's when someone pays the money, working long hours, borrowing from relatives to follow their passion- and it turns out to be a disaster. At every field school, first time excavators often discover that fieldwork is not their bag- but hopefully they can still find something to enjoy- travel, new friends, time out from the real world enveloped in the physicalities of excavation. But when conditions are atrocious, teaching poor and hierarchies oppressive, the thought of the money paid for an utterly miserable experience is sickening.

It's also bad for the archaeology. My first excavation experience age 18 involved being given a 1x1 and a trowel and bucket and left to get on with it. Cue horror- I had thoroughly absorbed the message about archaeology as destructive science. I had no clue about recording, about artefact types, about anything. A supervisor would wander past about every hour and laugh at my terrified face. It put me off fieldwork for years, as I couldn't face the responsibility again. Better to write about other people's excavations (and there's totally no problem with archaeologists who don't dig- it's not the be all and end all) and not risk screwing up a context forever.

That's a bad field school. But it can be worse. I've blogged before about Kate Clancy's research on abuse in fieldwork disciplines. You pay your money, or you give your time, and you are abused by a supervisor. Disgusting in every situation, free dig or costly fieldschool.

So, what makes a good field school for you? Any solutions to the funding problem? How do you access archaeology that you find interesting without stumping up the cash? And a year on from Clancy's research, what's changed to make fieldwork safer?

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Boobs and bad advice

If you have Twitter, you'll have spotted the latest firestorm over some questionable career advice. A post-doc's advisor can't keep his eyes from her boobs. She should put up and shut up, apparently. Cue rage.

Science, the journal that hosted the agony aunt column, has whisked it down from the internet and popped up a statement condemning such behaviour. I would rather have the original response back. When we condemn behaviour that is inappropriate and troubling in this manner, it is hidden away. We prefer that you never experience this, so when you do we won't give you practical support and guidance to deal with it. It's a different kind of putting up and shutting up, from an even weaker position- one of denial.

Anyway, this ugly little incident got me thinking about mentors. I have been very lucky to have several good ones. My intended PhD supervisor, who head hunted me into specialising in things Etruscan and fostered my frustration with the discipline. My actual PhD supervisor, who taught me how to think, how to write, how to turn failure to success, how to live beyond academe yet enjoy what it offers. My advisor, his practicality and fine tuned bullshit sensors keeping the project together. Field school director, supporting decisions on, or rather in, the ground, backed up by a senior staff who care for each other and good archaeology, not politics and positions. Colleague and project leader, vivacious, courageous, engendering respect wherever she goes. Internal and external examiners, tough but fair, demanding the best. My boss, the best man manager around.

And not one of them looked at my tits. I am one lucky pup. Thank you all.

That brings me to my advice for the Bothered who wrote to Science. You probably have a larger support network than you think. Use it, and get recording the inappropriate behaviour. Find a mentor who will support you in taking action once you've compiled the evidence. Then move against the ogler, not alone but as a team. And know that the online scientific community is totally with you.

***it's 4:45am and I have baby sick in my hair, so apologies if this makes no sense***

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


A slightly better excuse than last time I had a big break from this blog.

Silvia Marianne made her entrance just after midnight on the 18th March, and since then I've been pretty much glued to her- when she's not feeding I want to cuddle her and gaze at her perfect little face. She's unimpressed by archaeology though...

This is great, for now. She'll be a month old, and although it's not been easy (dural puncture, mastitis, all the fun of the forceps fair) it's been bliss getting to know each other and not thinking tough thoughts about things that matter- like dead people and how we think about them.

It's the practicalities of how we think about them that are now starting to worry me. If I take Silvie to the shops, we can dash to the car for a feed. Or a cafe, or even (in some blissfully manipulative shops that sell baby things) a parent and child room. These are options that are not going to be possible in libraries, as I research my new book. I half jokingly floated the idea of bringing a baby to the Sackler Library in Oxford- their lovely Twitter account confirmed it's a no. I'm not surprised- but I'm still slightly disappointed. How are mothers going to access knowledge when baby isn't welcome? I totally get that a squalling infant, projectile milk puke and nappies aren't a good match for ancient books. It just sucks (no pun intended) that the only way I can get my increasingly grubby mitts on the books I need will be by pumping a ton of milk and leaving baby with Daddy on a Saturday- when the library closes early.

I guess that's the reality of having a small person who is totally reliant on you for sustenance. Were Daddy an academic, he could swan off to the library any time he liked. I can't fight the biology, but it does seem a shame that there isn't some space, some flexibility, some understanding. A little room, somewhere in the bowels of a library, where you could plonk your potentially noisy little nuisance and read while they slept, making your crucial notes while they suckle. Just an idea.

In other news, just as I was feeling really rotten (mastitis is NOT fun), an article I wrote has been published in the journal Antiquity. Have a look- I am a scholar, and not just a milk parlour. Or maybe both. That's why I'd quite like a boob room in the Bodleian. Please?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Some day my "prince" will come

If I say a prince to you, what do you think of?

This guy? (Image: Telegraph)

This guy? (Image: Disney)

This guy?

Male of royal blood, right? Prince Charming, Prince Edward, Prince Harry. The Oxford dictionary defines a prince by his relationships to other royals- the son or grandson of a monarch.

None of these chaps look much like the individual who was buried in a tomb in Lavau, France during the 5th century BC, whose grave goods have been all over my social media for the last week or so. It's an amazing burial, with some incredible artefacts. My eye was caught by a gorgeous vessel imported from Greece, which looks like it shows a scene featuring Dionysian revelry- aka the formalised and semi-ritual consumption of alcohol. The metalwork, including a bronze cauldron, is pretty fabulous too- and some of it looks very Etruscan. In short, it's right up my street.

But we've been here before. A tomb was discovered, the excavators got excited, got the press involved, described the burial as that of a prince. That was in Tarquinia, Italy, in September 2013. But guess what? The burial turned out to be that of a woman. Cue lots of equivocating and burying of the story. Plus, it would just be darn rude to mention Vix.

As far as I'm aware, there haven't been osteoarchaeological analyses done of the individual buried in the Lavau tomb as yet. The detailed discussion provided by the rescue archaeologists who have been working on the burial since October last year doesn't mention this, at least. So, first off, we don't know that this burial is male. Second, going back to the point I wanted old Charming and Harry to make, we definitely don't know that this individual, even if it is male, was part of a system of inherited power that we might correlate to a monarchy.

Yes, it's a very impressive set of goodies to be buried with. Somebody wanted to make a big impression when this person left the world. It's conspicuous consumption-tastic. But that doesn't make this burial that of a prince- it makes it the burial of a wealthy individual with serious long distance trading connections. But that doesn't make for a sexy sound bite.

So, once again, we're back in the same old frustrating place with the same assumptions underlying every news story reporting this amazing discovery, relentlessly snipping away the joy in the find with inappropriate language and the promotion of a very particular set of stereotypes being squashed onto the archaeology itself.

But at least you got to check out one of the world's most eligible bachelors, right?

Monday, 2 March 2015

Just a love machine

Not like that. Oooooh no. Nuh uh.

A great review in the New Statesman today of a new book, All That Matters, that is a critique of the way in which pregnant women are conceptualised, socialised and treated by society.

At 36 weeks pregnant this week, I'm thinking more and more (and, being on maternity leave, I have the luxury of time to think) about what it is to be pregnant, what this bodily state is like, and what the lasting memories of this time will be. I've also been thinking about the myriad things I've read, the advice I've been given (both from healthcare professionals and others) and the fears/opinions of other pregnant women on forums that I've browsed, lurked in and occasionally posted on.

And I have to agree with much of what Rebecca Schiller describes in her book, which I must confess I haven't yet finished. But there is a pernicious and dangerous undercurrent of fear and guilt that I have felt exerted upon myself, and witnessed being pushed onto other women, throughout my pregnancy. It makes me furious that even something so simple as feeling your baby move is now a source of anxiety, stress, worry and fear. Haven't felt it move? Go get checked out, or you could have a stillbirth because YOU didn't take action.

It's not just from medical professionals either (as might be implied). Other women policing each others behaviour, peer pressure dressed up as peer support, particularly in an anonymised online context. The continual theme is that if anything happens to your baby it will be your fault- you ate that cheese, you went for that run, you had that glass of wine, you didn't take enough account of your baby's movements. I think that this blaming is the dark side of our desire for control- wanting to ensure that all goes well, and distancing ourselves from the terrifying losses of other women by ineffably linking miscarriage and stillbirth to behaviour.

The blame game is also played out in labour itself, of course. I wasted 8 hours of mine and my partner's lives on an active birth day, in which we were basically told that if baby wasn't in a good position then we wouldn't have a good labour. We were given exercises to get baby in that position, but guess what? If I end up having a traumatic birth with a little monster back-to-back, it's my own fault for driving, sitting wrongly, slouching, sleeping in the wrong position etc etc. Even in this circle, where the mantra is "trust your body," the agency of the person inside my body is left out. It's not "you know what you're doing," it's abstracted to "your body knows." So if your body knows, mechanically and instinctively, what to do, it's your fault, your conscious fault, that you let your thinking brain into the process and ruin everything. Trauma from serious tears, interventions, well- you didn't trust your body. It's your fault, again.

Medical staff can be equally manipulative in this situation- I've read scenarios and heard stories, seen documentaries etc (One Born Every Minute in particular...), in which women are frequently forced to make decisions on medical interventions in labour with massive consequences for themselves with little time and still less information. "We need to get baby out now." "Baby isn't happy." The implication being that if you don't go along, do as you are told, and something happens? Well, it's your fault. How dare you desire to be treated as a person with adult thoughts and the right to make a collaborative decision?

All of this, from the shaming over food consumption to the count-the-kicks to the "trust your body" mantras to the emergency forceps, seems to me to be focused on draining out the joy and optimism from pregnancy and motherhood, removing the individuality and agency from a woman and minimising her body to a machine- a production line with a tendency to go haywire if not carefully and continually policed by either external interference or internalised behaviours.In this situation, is it any wonder that perinatal mental health (the ghost in the machine or the elephant in the room, pick your turn of phrase) is so incredibly precarious?

My body is mine. It's doing a bloody good job creating another being. But so is my mind. So is my will. So is my purpose.  I am not going to be sucked down into fear and blame in these last few weeks. I am not going to dread my labour. I am not going to be guilt tripped into panic each time I wake in the night and baby is asleep too. I am not going to spoil these last precious weeks with fear. I'm not a love machine, I'm a person. 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Reopening old wounds

I read a fantastic article this morning- it was brave, it was bold, and it put forward solutions to problems rather than just moaning about them. You can read it here.

The author, Selina Todd, a historian from Oxford University, describes a conference from hell. Male scholars preen and groom each other, furiously stoking their egos while an alienated group of Other contributors are excluded, left to huddle by the remnants of the catering. I described a terrifyingly similar conference on this blog a year and a half ago, stoked by rage. I'm still angry, but mostly at myself. I did nothing. I snarked online, I wrote an article critiquing those views which will be coming out soon in a journal that none of the culprits will ever read. But I was too cowardly to risk my own prospects by calling out this appalling behaviour. Thinking about it now, there were a number of constructive things I could have done- I could have calmly and rationally emailed the organisers, pointing out the problems, and asking these to be rectified for future conferences (just one female chair- or oooh, big wow, two? some guidelines on appropriate language and behaviour during question sessions?). I could have been brave and asked difficult questions, and tried to puncture the self-satisfaction. All I did was give my paper and slink off to the refreshments.

So my favourite thing about the article is that Todd isn't just angry- she's productive. She puts forward a number of strategies that she, and the other members of the Oxford Women in the Humanities group are developing to try and encourage female scholars. One of these that particularly caught my eye was the idea of writing fellowships, a breathing space for early career scholars to give them a chance to get the publications that lead to a career. I was not in a position to get a research post when finishing my PhD- I simply didn't have the output, something I learnt the hard way through many wasted hours applying for positions overrun with much better applicants. That's not intended as a moan or a whine- that is the way things are, and I am the only person I have to blame for that situation.

 So, over the last year, I've worked my nuts off trying to both write and hold down a full time job. My first book is now out, and I've just about managed to co-author one article as part of a wonderful project, in addition to the critique mentioned above. It's still nowhere near enough- I'm working on a second book, a pair of articles, and trying to get ready for the arrival of our baby. The difference a writing fellowship would have made to someone like me is immeasurable in all sorts of ways. Just having the sense of belonging to an academic network, the access to online journals, let alone the time and space to write without feeling guilty about not doing something else, that would be enough. I will be fascinated to see what the holders of these new fellowships achieve- I am sure the result will be truly transformative research, and maybe, just maybe, a break from the circle of male love Todd describes and we've all witnessed. They might also be courageous enough to turn the tables at the next hell conference, into the bargain.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

50 Shades of Material Culture

No, not a Munsell chart.

Nor the hilarity that resulted in reading the said book during lunch break on site, with different diggers taking on the different voices.

A good few shades darker than that.

I was actually thinking about the material culture of verbal and emotional abuse. That's what the film is about, that's what the book is about. The lifestyle of the antihero is wrapped up in objects, and quite apart from the contents of the Red Room of Pain, it is through some unsuspecting things that the emotional abuse of the series plays out. The publicity surrounding the film's release on Friday, perhaps combined with the recent publication of a project focused on the prevalence of online abuse in archaeology led by Sara Perry, and being quizzed by the health visitor about my relationship ("do you feel safe?"), has had me thinking about about emotional abuse in the past.

Physical abuse can show up loud and clear in the archaeological record- fractured bones, violent death. Yet the pernicious removal of a person's agency and confidence is harder to spot, the grinding misery of manipulation, the panic and fear of being found wanting, the increasingly desperate attempts to please. These are experiences that can be mediated through the simplest of objects, including some that we find all the time.

Dropping a pot, it smashes on the floor. A sarcastic voice lashes out, ripping off yet another layer of self. You're clumsy, you're useless, you're a waste of space, why do they even put up with you?  Yet when we shove the fragments into a finds bag, there's no echo, no obvious sign of the context in which that vessel was broken- in which a person might have been broken too.

 It's not always the whips and handcuffs that have the most devastating effect. The pen used to sign the infamous 50 Shades contract by Anastasia Steele bears no trace of its use, signing away a woman's control over her body, her time and her self worth. I chose the image at the top of this post based on the shirts- their exact uniformity, their careful curation as a collection of costumes projecting a very particular and disturbing identity that thrives on the manipulation of other people, sexually and otherwise. The biographies of these objects, their life stories, can be tainted with deep and long-lasting pain just as surely as a fractured cheekbone speaks of a blackened eye and swollen face.

The problem, of course, is that these narratives are exactly that- stories. They are marooned in the use life of an artefact, trapped in the sticky mess of use and reuse, the long mist between the making of a thing and its disposal. How can we excavate the dark side of things, exposing hurt and humiliation?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sight for sore eyes... proof reading

Somebody fetch me some new retinas (retinae?)

I thought I was a pro at proof reading. Smug statement, but based on fact. I proof read at work a LOT, and try and snag and snip and be as pedantic and annoying as possible to spot every last little typo or weird caption or funky line break.

But this week, I have proof read so far:

- a chunk of things for work
- two articles
- the entire text of my first book

The first two were ok. The work bits and bobs are concise and printed out and easy- you can't miss a page break in the wrong place when a caption is smeared across two pages instead of one. Even I can't miss that, and merrily curse myself and fix it.

The articles were also fine- a little harder to spot things amiss, on a screen and all. They were still neat, contained, and I could go through methodically line by line and section by section- the journal editors of one had organised the article in that way, and the other... well, I printed it off, just to be safe.

The book. That was a different kettle of leaping, jumping, flapping fish- too big to print, tricky to compartmentalise, so familiar that I finish its sentences for myself and have to FORCE my attention on every word, every letter. It's done- and it's fine, and I did find things wrong (always reassuring- if I don't spot a mistake, I assume I've missed one- that way lies paranoid madness).

But is there anyone smarter than me at this? (I really hope so, as I am pretty damn dumb). How do you fight your own lax mind, when it's striving to ignore what you can see and insert what should be there?

Let me know if there's a genius tip- hypno-proofing (can you tell I've been reading about hypno-birthing?), proof yoga, a 1000-words an hour proofing rule? Initiate me, o proofing priests and priestesses!

By the way, humble brag alert. The book (the first book) will be out soon. I'll no doubt post some gushy mushy yuck on here when it is, emoting about how the cover makes me feel. And all of you will leap from your computer screens weeping tears of joy at the chance to read about Etruscan pottery from a phenomenological perspective**. Yeah, you will.

** In an aside, Melvyn Bragg and company on In Our Time talked about phenomenology today. I think anyone studying philosophy or archaeological theory should have a listen- NOT to learn, but to feel comforted that Melv can't pronounce phenomenonmenonololology either.