Sarah Dhanjal, Institute of Archaeology
Illustration Lucinda Rogers. Source photograph UCL Creative Media Services
Working with the Young Archaeologists’ Club sometimes involves silly clothes – recently we walked the London Walls in medieval costume
I’m at the dreaded stage of my PhD where I’ve pretty much finished talking to people and I’ve got to write up the results. I’ve been looking at the impact of archaeology in Southall, West London, where I was born, brought up and still live.
Southall is often researched in terms of the migrant story but that’s not its only aspect; I’ve been exploring what people find important and interesting about the place, from its oldest building, the Manor House, which is next door to my old school, to the Grade II-listed, Chinese-style cinema building. The locals’ relationship with their own space fascinates me. It’s love/hate: people either embrace Southall or they pretend they really come from Ealing. Me? I love it.
Of course lots of people don’t think this type of research is really archaeology, but I do get to do some of the more traditional stuff as well, though the only tent I have been in recently was one at Glastonbury. I’ve been working on map regression with a local park ranger on the site of a mill built by Thomas Gresham, financier to King Edward VI, in a tiny wood right next to the M4. It’s not the sort of thing people associate with Southall.
I have loved my undergraduate teaching this year and was thrilled to get a Provost’s Teaching award. When I step back from the PhD grind and think about what I want to do when it’s all over, I’m probably swaying more towards teaching than research. I get huge personal satisfaction from teaching, because it’s never a one-way exercise. The dialogue and communication in talking to others about their studies has really helped me with my own.
I’ve always enjoyed engaging with the public and now a lot of my time is spent with schoolchildren. My interest in what’s known as community archaeology started with schools excavating playing fields. Whatever the pupils’ background, they all became interested in what we found, quite often even the most mundane things. Because it was their area, they could take ownership of it.
The teachers can be sceptical at first, but when they find out that archaeology helps us get children into maths and science in a stealthy way they become massively supportive. It’s the same with site developers. We archaeologists can be a massive pain in the backside, but as they are going to have to work with us anyway there might as well be some good to come out of it.
Outside of the learning environment I spend some of my time fundraising for the Young Archaeologists’ Club that sometimes involves getting into silly clothes – last year we dressed up as Roman soldiers and recently we walked the London Walls in medieval costume. Next year I’m planning to walk the Capital Ring, 125km round London, in a week – suggestions as to what to wear welcome. No doubt the children will have plenty.
This week I’m at a play scheme with children aged four to 11 from Camden and Islington working on the Romans, which will help them achieve their Discover Arts award. We’ll be sifting through a load of pottery from a partially excavated site by a river, which unearthed a lot of the material dumped by boats coming into London. And we plan next year to combine theatre and archaeology. There’s a leather boot from the Rose Theatre in the Museum of London Archaeological Archive whose story we want to explore, as leather boots imply a long journey. It’ll be another excuse for me to dress up.
Sarah Dhanjal is an archaeologist and PhD candidate.
- Contents 2015/16
- A UCL beginner’s guide to…
- Free Radical
- Alumni Network launch
- Jeremy Bentham Speaks
- The Strong Room
- Extra Curricular
- Life, the Universe and Everything
- This Radical Life
- Paper Chase
- Beautiful Bacteria
- Hello London!
- Lessons for life
- In Bentham’s footsteps
- This idea must die
- London vs World