6. Conclusions

A project of this type would not have been possible not so very long ago; however, our increasingly technological age continues to present new opportunities. Technology is increasingly opening up new possibilities in both the degree of reader participation and in the control over text—unachievable in hardcopy—by creating new ways of linking and manipulating words, images and other media, effectively creating previously impossible spaces between them. There remains significant potential to utilise these spaces to facilitate greater levels of sensory engagement and audience participation. Online articles are already making significant headway in manipulating such spaces, stimulating not only the visual but auditory senses with the inclusion of audioclips (cf. Galaty et al. 2010) as well as addressing the issues arising from this type of study in detail (cf. Dicks et al. 2005; Dicks and Mason 2008; Dicks and Hurdley 2009).

The primary objective of the 'Ye Devill among Ym' Project was to begin to explore the utility of the spaces between creative art and science, technology and the human senses, in bridging the gap between the subjects of archaeological enquiry, its practitioners, and their audiences. Using participation-based techniques to interpret the past, and presenting that past in novel forms to a group of participants, it was hoped that this goal could be achieved. As the responses collected from participants show, the methodology proposed here presents a promising foundation for building bridges between the audiences of archaeology and its subjects. Furthermore, it forges connections between archaeologists and their audiences, and even between archaeologists and their own subjects.

The most significant impediment to the successful completion of the project was attempting to overcome the inherent difference between material culture and texts. The performance of discipline cannot simply be 'read' for meanings, as the performance in the past was experienced. Olsen calls this subconscious interpretation through the body 'inconspicuous familiarity' (Olsen 2006, 97), and it is a learned, embodied response. While an archaeologist might come to experience this inconspicuous familiarity as a result of handling objects and interacting with landscapes, it is seldom possible to transfer this to readers. It was in an attempt to solve this issue that the translation-focused, collage-making approach took shape, with its many elements and inbuilt repetition of a fictional narrative.

Results so far indicate that the concept of translating experience appears to be a fruitful one. As a work in progress, the presentation was tested on 25 readers, with feedback from the initial volunteers shaping the presentation for later ones. This process enabled negotiations central to the success of the project, particularly in establishing the balance between directing the reader and allowing room for self-direction. Sufficient direction was considered essential to the successful translation of the background culture that shaped Scots' understandings of the world around them in the early Reformation period. Sufficient interpretative room and participation was considered equally essential to translate the potential for variable experiences in the past and also the archaeological process. In discussions with all participants, despite their varying degrees of background knowledge and understanding of archaeology, feedback indicated that they experienced new engagements with the narrative upon the second reading. At this stage they reported engaged, bodily, imaginative and/or emotional understandings, as opposed to purely cognitive ones. Each described a unique interpretation of the second reading, indicating success in translating the broad spectrum of relationships between material, body, and performance in the past. Furthermore, the responses of participants generated new research questions and interpretative perspectives not previously anticipated.

It is this latter aspect that most clearly demonstrates the utility of this approach. When attempting to interpret the past alone, any archaeologist is limited in the number of potential past experiences that can be imagined. This research reinforces what community archaeologies regularly demonstrate: that collaborating with a spectrum of participants today is of benefit to archaeologists and their audiences (cf. Hodder 1999; Habu et al. 2008). However, the results extend beyond this, suggesting new benefits from such collaboration and new approaches to it. It is anticipated that a wider group of readers would, by offering a wider perspective, suggest further ways of improving upon the methodology; further contributions emerging from their capacity to make unanticipated observations.

Perhaps the most unexpected participant responses to this study suggest that in attempting to translate culture, and thus to bridge gaps of experience and understanding, a translation-focused approach can create valuable and, most importantly, easily exploitable intersections between archaeology and other disciplines. By facilitating non-specialist participation and allowing others from outside our projects and our fields to become agents in the interpretative process, the possibility of closing disciplinary gaps becomes ever more possible.

As a preliminary study, there are many aspects of the Scottish Reformation, such as a detailed political backdrop, which were not included in the text created for the 'Ye Devill Among Ym' project. There are also many more media that might have been included, such as audio and audio-visual elements. However, even despite these limitations, the feedback collected throughout the project demonstrates that it is possible, with sufficient rigorousness of research and depth of interpretation, to translate and communicate experiences from the past and, simultaneously, the archaeological engagement with the past. An experiment in the primary interpretation of archaeological data espoused in recent years, the potential exists to incorporate even further media such as performance itself (Little 2000).

Incorporating other media may allow for improvement of the methodology and concept of 'translating the past', its utilisation for other projects, or communication with wider audiences. However, it is also necessary to look to the media of the future. As technologies continue to develop rapidly, new possibilities unfold ahead for audience participation and redefinition of the rigid (and as several participants astutely pointed out, intentionally maintained) boundaries between disciplines, subjects, researchers and audiences. While this article does not represent an experiment in interdisciplinary studies per se, it does present a methodology for undertaking research that is situated firmly within one discipline to be made readily accessible to all — an increasingly necessary skill. The emerging challenge is to continue to explore and capitalise on new opportunities presented to bridge gaps of all kinds, to find creative ways of advancing knowledge, and of ensuring the continued relevance of archaeological discourse, both within the discipline and beyond, in a rapidly changing world.


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