Search

kim biddulph

Archaeology Biology Families Museums Schools Writing Consultancy

Category

Museums

How did I get into freelancing?

I don’t want to use the J word, but I have been deleting old emails recently and it reminded me about the way my freelancing career has developed over the years.

At first it all started as an extra to full time work. I left English Heritage to work at the London Borough of Camden on a Heritage Lottery Funded project, but I was keen to continue to do something in association with the Charles Darwin Trust and, as it turned out, they wanted that too so I started to do some writing and teaching work with them. During the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year since the publication of Origin, 2009, I was very busy with work for them as well as work for Camden. It quietened down a little in 2010, and then got quieter still after that, and I had a new baby which also reduced the amount I could do.

IMG_1019
Pitt Rivers Museum at night

I eventually moved from the London Borough of Camden to another employed role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and freelancing went by the wayside. After the maternity cover contract ended I decided to go it on my own. The costs of childcare while working full-time were too onerous and I wanted to spend more time with my little one. At first I trained to be a childminder and managed three months of this. Childminding is not an easy job, let me tell you. I was more tired doing that than any other job I have had, and I have worked as a field archaeologist, in the catering industry and now visit schools to do days of teaching, all of which are tiring but not like childminding. So I looked for other things.

All of a sudden, I found things. I had experience of writing for teachers through English Heritage and the National Museums Online Learning Project so a friend introduced me to a friend who had set up a business called Plan Bee. She needed a history specialist to write lesson plans and resources for the new curriculum so I took that on, writing lesson plans on the Prehistory of Britain, the Shang Dynasty of China, and the Kingdom of Benin, for instance. With this experience under my belt I approached the Hamilton Trust, on the advice of another friend, and said I could write their Prehistory of Britain topic. I found the Hamilton Trust work much more in depth and I still write for them, just recently having finished a recap of all British history for a post-SATS topic for Year 6s.

IMG_1909
Roman cooking day at Wycombe Museum

At the same time I had applied for two local jobs. One was as a secretary for my village’s Neighbourhood Plan at £10 an hour and this lasted for over a year with me working mainly in the evenings. I also applied to be a workshop leader at the Chiltern Open Air Museum and I work there still on a zero-hours contract mainly teaching schools but also families and home ed groups. I also volunteered for Kids in Museums and an opportunity came along to take over organising their workshops on working with families and young people.

I set up Schools Prehistory in order to get information out to teachers for the new topic in primary history, as it is my specialist subject, and I think on the back of that was approached by a contact from the British Museum (which was part of the National Museums Online Learning Project that I had written for) to apply for a job as a writer on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website that the DoE had funded to support the new history curriculum across Key Stages. I wrote about lots of objects for them from Late Bronze Age logboats from Must Farm to a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence from 1957.

cropped_DSCF0511
Stone Age Woman, hear me roar

I also started marketing myself as a time travelling visitor with Schools Prehistory to schools and still visit schools across the south-east and midlands as a Stone Age, Roman, Saxon of Viking woman or as an archaeologist, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes on my own. I had difficulty in selling lesson plans through my own website so now they can be downloaded if teachers sign up to my newsletter.

As a time traveller, and for the purpose of developing a Mesolithic workshop at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, I developed some bushcraft skills and so my latest venture has been to set up 500 BC. I asked the Forestry Commission, who look after Wendover Woods near me, whether I could work on their site and duly applied for a licence to do so and now run toddler groups, home ed courses, family and adult bushcraft days, holiday clubs, school visits and team-building workshops. I am expanding to other sites and to sub-contracting.

I have also tendered for shorter freelance contracts conducting market research with families, or devising and piloting schools workshops but have not had much luck with those. Where I have been successful it’s usually through recommendations and word of mouth.

This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory post. I wanted to show how I built my freelancing portfolio, which is a little unusual, but has all the elements of how to be successful at freelancing whatever field you’re in.

  1. Network. Having a good network that you stay in contact with via social media and attending sector events is essential.
  2. Don’t be afraid to approach people cold. Before you do this you have to do your research and be sure that they want something only you can offer.
  3. Create your own opportunities if you can – apply for funding, see a need in the market you can fulfill.
  4. Collaborate. Find like-minded people you can sub-contract to (you’ll need employer’s insurance) or pass work to, and they will hopefully pass some back.
  5. Try to have a couple of relationships that bring in a regular income and supplement them with shorter contracts. Then when you need to find the next job, you still have a little work and money to tide you over (I can’t say I’m very good at saving!)
  6. Be flexible. Not everything you will end up doing is going to totally rock your world. As you get more confident and busier, you will be able to say ‘No thanks’ to those contracts that don’t totally float your boat.
  7. I hate saying this, because it’s not something I love doing, but you will need a brand. Either that’s your name or a trading name that will represent you. As you can see, I have a couple of different ones for different strands of my work.
  8. If something doesn’t work, learn from it and move on.
  9. Keep at it!
Advertisements

The gender pay gap in heritage – is it a thing?

Following interesting discussions on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues from the archaeology sector about the perceived leaky pipeline for women (i.e. lots of women studying archaeology at university – not so many in management positions in the profession) I decided to look at the publicly available data covering the gender pay gap. Organisations that employ 250 people and more are obliged to publish data on pay for men and women employees under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 which came into force on 6th April 2017.

This obliges these larger organisations to publish the difference between the mean and the median hourly rate of “male full-pay relevant employees and that of female full-pay relevant employees”. It also requires them to publish the proportions of male and female full-pay employees in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and top quartile pay bands. What the intention is to see whether men and women are paid the same rate for the same work, and whether women are represented in the upper pay bands at the same proportion as men. A “full-pay employee” does not mean a full-time employee but “a relevant employee who is not, during the relevant pay period, being paid at a reduced rate or nil as a result of the employee being on leave”. Overtime is not included. Bonuses are reportable, but are not included here as they are not routinely used in this sector.

There are three commercial archaeology companies who would qualify (according to the Institute for Archaeologist’s Yearbook detailing numbers of employees in 2017), Oxford Archaeology (OA), Wessex Archaeology and Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA). I could only find the gender pay reports for the first two. MoLA may have reported as part of an umbrella organisation, I guess.

I also decided, as I work in museums and heritage myself, to see if I could find other organisations who had reported. I found the British Museum (BM), National Maritime Museum (NMM), the National Gallery (NG), the National Trust (NT), the National Archives, and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

The first table below shows a comparison between all of these organisations in where women’s pay sits above or below the mean and median hourly rate in 2017.

OA Wessex BM NMM NT Archives NG NPG
Mean -5.20% -6.90% 0.00% -2.30% -12.80% -1.10% -14.40% -8.30%
Median 0.00% -2.10% 4.00% 0.50% -14.40% 2.00% -15.20% -13.10%

The national average gender pay gap in median hourly rate was 9.1% in 2017. The National Trust and National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery therefore have a greater gender pay gap than the national average, whereas all the other organisations do not.

Now let’s look at the percentage of women in each quartile of pay bands in each of these organisations.

OA Wessex BM NMM NT Archives NG NPG
Top 37.00% 41.00% 57.00% 60.70% 55.00% 46.70% 62.00% 61.40%
Upper middle 36.00% 46.00% 61.00% 54.80% 63.00% 53.30% 64.00% 65.50%
Lower middle 38.00% 44.00% 58.00% 51.90% 72.00% 56.00% 79.00% 65.50%
Lowest 49.00% 50.00% 49.00% 61.50% 72.00% 42.00% 79.00% 79.80%

This is really revealing, as in the museums (BM, NMM) and galleries (NG, NPG) and the National Trust, women outnumber men at all pay levels. You will not that in many of these organisations there is a tail-off so that the percentage of women at upper levels is lower than those in the least well paid quartiles. The British Museum is slightly different, in that it is only in the lowest quartile that women and men are virtually even, and then the percentage of women is higher in each of the higher pay quartiles. The National Archives is also an interesting case where women outnumber men in the middling pay quartiles but not at the bottom or top.

And then we get to the archaeology companies (OA and Wessex). From virtually even numbers of men and women at the lowest pay quartile the numbers of women drop off alarmingly in the upper pay quartiles, arguably the ones that don’t entail working in the field as much. Oxford Archaeology, in it’s report on its own website, has committed to determining what the barriers to progression for women are. Interestingly, of course, OA’s CEO is a woman, Gill Hey. Chris Brayne of Wessex Archaeology has also published some objectives for his company to combat the lack of women in upper pay grades.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experiences to share in either archaeology, museums, galleries or heritage? Are things moving forward?

 

Excavating the site of a replica Iron Age roundhouse

IMG_2463In July 2017 I ran a small excavation for families at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. We debated where it would be safe and interesting to open a trench and decided on the site of the first replica Iron Age roundhouse that was built at the museum at the end of the 1970s. The current version is a 21st century construction, and the house platform for the first is clearly visible next to it.

34I was lucky that there were extensive photographs (those old square slightly brown-tinged 1970s style – see right) of the original build which helped to prepare the families for what we might find including the remains of a turf wall and some big post-holes. What is also really useful is having some of the original builders of the house still working at the museum, though they couldn’t remember whether we would find a cobble or rammed chalk floor, as have been used in the new roundhouse.

 

IMG_2481A small trench was opened over the area where I thought the turf wall might have been, and I hope to hit at least one post-hole, and over a lump that would be inside the house. We found a wooden post under the surface, not big enough to be an abandoned post from the house, and the lump was a small dump of flint cobbles – which also housed an ant’s nest to was abandoned immediately. John Hyde-Trutch, the buildings manager at the museum, remembered leaving a heap of flint cobbles behind after the dismantling of the old house, and that a fence was built along the line of the old turf wall – the source of the wooden post.

IMG_2433Dating evidence for the house was found in the interior, in the form of a twenty pence piece from 1994 and a Stella Artois bottle cap! A broken pencil and pencil lead that refitted, and a stray plastic gemstone also gave us an idea that the house might have been used for educational and family activities.

Parents often asked if the ground had been seeded with objects, which it hadn’t. Children and adults alike loved being able to do ‘proper’ archaeology, and everyone thought the finds were very funny. The Aylesbury Young Archaeologist’s Club helped out on one weekend day as well (very useful as my co-leader Vicky Guy is a field archaeologist). The best bit for a lot of children was reinstating the site, which was done in record time with their help!

It was such a success that I’m running it again year in the first week of the summer holidays from 23rd to 27th July, despite the lack of the Festival of Archaeology this year. It will run for more days (five instead of three), with higher numbers of participants and a larger trench. There’ll be a small charge this year to cover costs and hopefully make it sustainable. It will be on the site of the old house again, and, this year, I want to see if we can find some post-holes and maybe the site of the hearth.

Roman cooking day at Wycombe Museum

Early in July I headed back to Wycombe Museum after doing an Iron Age food day to do a Roman cooking day! I worked with families to create dishes from Roman cookbooks by Apicius and Columella.

DDulk5qXgAAfK56We started with a salad from Columella, which involved crushing salad leaves with chopped leek and soft white cheese (feta is good). Mixing in some vinegar with peppercorns crushed in a mortarium added a bit of a bite.

We then made Apicius’ roast tuna with a vinaigrette including the famous garum, a fish sauce. You can still get a Thai fish source that’s quite similar. It smells awful but makes food taste amazing.

 

IMG_1909We finished with another from Apicius which was boiled ostrich! The sauce involved making a roux from red wine and flour, and then adding vinegar and garum as well as crushed coriander seeds and dates. This was, perhaps, the most popular dish.

Throughout the day we talked about where all the ingredients came from, with some of the most exotic like peppercorns and coriander being traded from India to the Roman Empire, and on to Britain, while some are very local like the flour, celery seeds and leeks. We also talked about how these recipes would be for the very richest people, perhaps some in Londinium would have had access to such exotic ingredients as ostrich!

IMG_1901The table and storage wares were used for their original purposes, from grinding food on mortaria, to storing dates in a carrot amphora, and drinking mulsum (a spiced wine but we used grape juice) from little Samian cups poured from an authentic flagon.

All the kit I use is made by an amazing group of craftspeople, e.g. Graham Taylor of Potted History, Trinity Court Potteries, Gilbert Bourroughes, and the metalwork by Steve Norris of Red Dog Forge. My outfit was based on a 2nd century tunic found in a grave in northern France and drawings of Roman people by Jane Huggett.

Iron Age Masterchef at Wycombe Museum

IMG_1075
Me set up at Wycombe Museum with my portable roundhouse!

As part of a suite of pilot activities for the Chiltern Hillforts project planned by the Chiltern Conservation Board to go to a Stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application, I ran some family activities around Iron Age food at Wycombe Museum during the Easter holidays.

Families were invited to book on to one of two workshops, either making bread and butter from scratch or boiling water with hot stones. It was, of course, meant to be fun and educational, but also to gauge what interest there might be locally for more events like this in the Stage 2 lottery bid and what level of knowledge already existed about the Chiltern hillforts with this audience.

 

iphone pics 002
The bank and ditch of a Chiltern hillfort, Pulpit Hill.

 

A hillfort is a woolly name given to a wide range of defended sites of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, many, but not all, of which are on hills. These generally do seem to have been lived in to some extent when excavated and there is some evidence that some of them were attacked. There are around twenty of them in the Chiltern hills and while some have been excavated, such as Ivinghoe Beacon and Ravensburgh Castle, others have been sadly neglected. Others, still have either been ploughed flat, like Cheddington hillfort, or occupied by later buildings, such as at West Wycombe and Cholesbury, both of which have churches inside them. The Chiltern Hillforts project aims to do more investigation and public events in and around the hillforts. They are currently raising some matchfunding via Just Giving if you feel you’d like to donate: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/chilternshillforts.

888A3376
Children grinding grain on a flat rotary quern. Photograph courtesy of and copyright Colin Drake.

So the Iron Age Masterchef event proved that there was a demand for events like this. Many of the parents were looking specifically for heritage events to support their child’s interest in archaeology and history, or their schoolwork. Many of the children had studied the new Stone Age to Iron Age topic in school and so had more background knowledge than the parents (one of whom guessed the Iron Age was in the 17th century – to be fair, technologically, it was still the Iron Age in the 17th century even though archaeologists tend to define the end of it as the Roman invasion for their own purposes).

The children were very committed to keep going with all the activities, especially grinding grain on querns. We also found out that making butter in a bag is quicker than using a pot and spoon, and that even young children can do it very effectively. They tried out some bread cooked directly on the fire and several children stayed for a very long time trying to make the water boil, and we did get bubbles in the end! Here’s a video of a boiling pot from an earlier test I did.

Teaching outside the classroom

spider-021I just had a random thought this morning that all this talk from archaeologists like me but also ecologists, scientists, artists, business people, teachers themselves and many, many others about the importance of learning outside the classroom may belie an underlying, perhaps subconscious, assumption that school is not the best place to teach kids.

I say perhaps subconscious because most of us are aware of how much work teachers put in to creating engaging experiences for their kids, and I always try to write engaging materials for teachers to use in their constrained environment. But on the other hand we are also aware of just how much more engaging, stimulating, exciting and challenging learning outside the classroom in the school field, the library, a park, a museum, a gallery, a theatre (the list is endless), can be.

rsz_scrapbook-030Kids used to learn outside the classroom all the time, before universal schooling. Did they learn more, or better, then? I guess not, learning to read, write and, to a certain extent, do maths is difficult outside a classroom. I seem to be arguing for a focus on the three Rs in schools and jettisoning the arts, humanities and sciences from the curricula. But that’s not the essence of my argument. I’m arguing for embracing more creative ways to teach the non-core subjects that will also support and apply the core skills.

photoEverything that can be taught outside the classroom, should be taught outside the classroom. Schools could become arbiters of real life experiences rather than child corrals. I guess that’s where many home-edders are coming from. The logistics would be horrendous and state funding would have to be massively increased, but it’s a thought.

Teaching History in 100 Objects

teachinghist100objectsThe British Museum was commissioned by the Department for Education to create resources for the new history curriculum at Key Stage 2 and 3, Teaching History in 100 Objects. The format was similar to the radio series by the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects. In reality these 100 objects were just jumping off points for finding an infinite array of objects to use in the classroom.

I wrote all the object files for the new area of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Some of these objects are really iconic to archaeologists so it was very excited to be able to write about them.

It was very interesting to work out what the big messages embodied in the objects were, rather than explain it from an archaeological perspective. The red deer frontlet headdress from Star Carr, for instance, stood for the rich and complex culture and belief systems of the early Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. A saddle quern from Wales reflected the change to farming and the important role of women (presumably the ones who used the querns to grind grain, though I’m happy to be challenged on that interpretation) in the Neolithic.

Doing this work also introduced me for the first time to the Must Farm excavations, which are ongoing. The earlier excavations uncovered eight scuttled logboats dating from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, preserved in the waterlogged mud of an ancient riverbed. I was very lucky to go and visit the more recent excavations of a roundhouse that had been preserved by conflagration and then submergence in the same water, a little downstream.

I also wrote about Anglo-Saxon, Pictish and Scottish objects for the Key Stage 2 curriculum and a selection of later objects for the Key Stage 3 curriculum, including a demi-culverin cannon from the Mary Rose, a banner of the Jewish Baker’s Union, a burned Second World War ID badge belonging to Thelma Barlow of the Parnall’s Aircraft Factory (she survived, thankfully) and a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence.

It was a fabulous project to work on, with such a range of interesting objects to write about. Since then the British Museum has partnered with the TES to run Huge History where schools work on their own museum objects. More objects being studied in the classroom is great by my book.

Milton Keynes Late Roman coin hoard in schools

I tell the story of the coin hoard being buried in AD 353 and rediscovered in 2006 elsewhere on my blog. The nature of the coin hoard, with coins of the usurper Magnentius, makes a fantastic story as well as the opportunity to introduce how knowledge of the past is constructed and look in detail at the imagery and inscriptions on Roman coins.

The hoard is now in the Buckinghamshire County Museum who applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund to make the hoard more accessible, which included putting up temporary displays in Milton Keynes schools, writing lesson plans for teachers to use and having a costumed Roman visit schools to cement interest in the topic.

I was keen to support maths teaching, which now includes learning Roman numerals, and provided some optional maths activities about timelines, coin values and work on percentages and averages based on the information on the 1456 coins. The museum wanted to use the coins to explore the movement of people and ideas so I also created activities about the various mints across the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity for instance.

The school visit entails acting out the story of Magnentius’ attempted coup and then getting to handle some of the coins from the hoard. I’m not sure which part of the day the kids enjoyed best, fighting in a pretend Roman army or actually holding real Roman coins.

IMG_7898

Pitt Rivers Museum Archaeological Display

Pitt Rivers Museum at night
Pitt Rivers Museum at night

In 2016 I undertook some market research for the Pitt Rivers Museum’s Need, Make, Use project in advance of a new permanent display of some of the archaeological collection that is otherwise not very obvious in the museum; anthropological items are the majority of items on display. The objective was to gauge the interest and background knowledge of family visitors to the museum about archaeology to inform the design of the redisplay.

The desk-based section of the work involved researching what other museums had done with their archaeological collections. It was really interesting to read about and talk to curators about some of the decisions they had taken about the themes and stories they wished to bring out from the archaeology, and why specific items that had been chosen for display. Grace Todd at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff was very helpful, explaining the thinking behind their Adventures in Archaeology exhibition. It was centred around props from the latest Indiana Jones movie, using this as a basis to explore real archaeological adventurers. Themes they wanted to get across were that early archaeologists were not necessarily trained as such but had other backgrounds, that archaeology can be discovered by anyone today, but conversely that archaeology is a skilled profession. Each case was centred around one ‘wow’ object that caught the eye.

The Museum of London had tried out putting modern objects that performed a similar function to their Roman counterparts on display in the same cases to test whether it would help understanding about life in Roman London. The results were mixed. Some visitors were aggrieved to have modern objects in a Roman display, while many teachers felt it helped their children identify with Roman Londoners. At Manchester Museum the Egyptian gallery starts with a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ style display and has visible storage, both of which could be used to describe the Pitt Rivers display policy, but matched it with digital technologies, touchable objects and 3D projections to make it more accessible for families.

Deciding how to display objects on the family consultation day
Deciding how to display objects on the family consultation day

The second part of the project involved consultation with families and young people. Family visitors at half-term, parent volunteers at a focus group and the museum’s resident Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) were the targets. The feedback was very interesting. Despite the YAC group’s prior interest in archaeology, the jargon that could be used in archaeology displays was little understood. At the National Museums of Wales in Cardiff, this kind of result had been anticipated, but instead of taking out jargon words, they made sure they were explained.

Timelines were tricky without help, and a visual method of orienting the objects in time was requested by all participants. The Pitt Rivers policy of grouping objects by function rather than period or place was questioned on numerous occasions, though conceded by some that it brought up interesting contrasts as long as objects were clearly labelled. The plan for the archaeology displays was instead to group objects by material. When asked to create their own display of objects, families preferred to group by theme e.g. the domestic world, clothing than anything else.

Families were virtually unanimous that images could give context to the objects, either showing how they were made or used, and several suggested embedded video in the cases, something that’s never been done before in the permanent galleries at the Pitt Rivers Museum. A little information for adults to read to help interpret displays for their children was also requested, but just a little.

The Need, Make, Use blog shows the process of choosing pottery for display in the new archaeology cases, and I think they are going to be as packed as always. I look forward to seeing the final displays unveiled.

References

Hicks, D & Stevenson, A. 2013. World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, 2012. Breathing new life into Roman London: Summative evaluation of Our Londinium at the Museum of London. Manchester.

Weeks, J 2013. Ancient Worlds, Manchester Museum. Museums Journal Issue 113/02, p42-45.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑