5.5.3 Identifying and discussing imaginative engagement in responses

Imaginative engagement was evaluated by considering examples where participants had used images with no obvious relation to chapters, novel combinations of images, attributed experiences/sensations and examples of elaboration of imaginative collocations in their discussion of images selected.

In the following examples, individuals demonstrate all of the above, employing language such as 'horrifyingly lonesome, cold'. This demonstrates genuine participant engagement with the material and suggests an emotionally-engaged interpretation that goes beyond the content of the article.

'Living Word in Jerusalem: [found] Routes to salvation pic along with the stained glass windows from Glasgow University and medieval art helpful. Visually sets a scene whereby the old certainties are challenged and a new, stark simple truth is made apparent. A stark truth that is (in the writing and images) both beautifully simple and horrifyingly lonesome, cold.'

'Sackcloth: The image of the researcher in the sackcloth is disturbing. They must have hated the sackcloth [pause] it's so foreboding [pause] like everyone's sins permeate it somehow, from Old Testament sins right through to your next door neighbour's. It's the most distressing of all the artefacts, even more than the branks, because it has that weight to it, a sense of's like a reminder that if you don't behave correctly, you will wear those sins forever...'

Examples of this response type, from participants' self-recording sheets, questionnaires and interviews, suggested that the project also had an unanticipated potential, and that it could function as more than a research tool into modern audiences of archaeology. As one participant put it: 'It raises the question of whether using this format will allow productive suggestions/criticisms to follow simply by allowing more scope for interpretation'. This question gave rise to objective 5, to investigate the potential of user-led interpretation as a tool for investigating the past.

As archaeologists we regularly employ phenomenological methodologies and we are all too familiar with Hodder's assertion that interpretation begins 'at the trowel's edge' (Hodder 1999, 92). We must accept, therefore, that every time we put on our phenomenologically-bent archaeologist's goggles we are always limited in our interpretations: we are always ourselves. Inviting participant responses to the material provided was intended to monitor and affect how other people engage with the past. However, it also provided a unique opportunity to consider how we limit ourselves to certain spectra of interpretation because we simply cannot 'imagine' every possible past experience.

Certainly, early modern Scots shared many elements of their experiences with one another, but they were also unique individuals. Adding the perspectives, such as those discussed, contributed by a multitude of individuals participating today, allowed for a much wider and more colourful past. Many potential new facets to interpretations were identified. Taking the sackcloth as an example, it was transformed in the eyes of participants into a novel object unimaginable by the researcher: ominous in its own right; compared to a burial shroud, perhaps one for the 'living dead' (i.e. excluded from eternal life); a physical experience of hell on earth; a garment weighted by an eternity of leaden sins. By introducing this diversity to the study, the audience represented, in a sense, elements of the subject audience. Inadvertently, in the attempt to bridge the gaps between archaeologist, audience and subject for the benefit of the audience, this happened naturally for the archaeologist too. The participant audience became colleagues, contributing meaningfully to the research questions and interpretations of the archaeologist. The subject audience were simultaneously drawn closer by the relationships to them expressed by the participant audience.


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