A Funny Thing at UCL

Readers may be wondering what a write up of a workshop on Humour in Museum and Site Archives (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/calendar/articles/20120206b) is doing in a blog about Information Management? Well looked at another way a lot of the content concerned information, let me explain. The first two presentations we entirely concerned with information management firstly by Ben Croxford the Historic Environment Records (HER) Officer for Kent. Ben made the distinction between evidence of humour in the past and humour by and about archaeology, both of which can be found in formal record. 

The second presentation was mine which considered whether there had been a loss of the personal in the transition to computerised records and greater professionalism (I don’t), illustrated by some of the funny things that had crept into records over the years. I classed the ‘funnies’ as: unintentional (typos, unfortunate choices of words etc), Intentional attempts at humour normally through exaggeration and embellishment and the things from our past that are just plain funny no matter how deadpan and professional their recording might be. The first two classes are being ‘cleaned’ which does improve clarity and ensures authority in the records are not challenged. The third however still has plenty of scope for the individual including what is often dark humour in the case of memorials and historic graffiti. Cleaning and information improvement programmes are an important part of information management. 

Three of the other papers included elements of information management, firstly a presentation on archives by Duncan H Brown. One issue he raised was the selection of what was important within day books on archaeological sites with entries being crossed out later as decisions were made about what would end up being mentioned in the report. Duncan looked at what was being rejected rather than included. This often included the personal and humorous observations but also information about how the site was dug and information retrieved which could influence the interpretation. The introduction of context sheets were also mentioned as a way that information was standardising onsite recording which helped with interpretation but limited individual expression. 

Raksha Dave (known to many from Time Team) talked about her experience of tweeting from excavations and how this is becoming more important for communicating archaeological information direct from the site. She also discussed how it could put the personal back contrasting with other areas where it had now disappeared, including the day book, the demise of which was clearly something the audience lamented.

So to final paper of the day. The information element of Hillary Oranges work on a Cornish tin mine was in the memory of the last of the miners she had interviewed. 

There were also two papers which showed alternative information delivery Surbhadra Das had recorded a PowerPoint animation as she was in mid air and Caradoc Peters who joined the workshop via Skype.

So in summary you can often find information management issues at events where you might not expect to find them. So even personal interest events can end up featuring on the Personal Development Plan for your CILIP chartership, this one will feature on mine. I’d like to thank Joe Flatman for inviting me to speak and Joe and Hilary for their hard work organising an excellent event.

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About martininfoman

Information Manager specialising in the heritage sector and Archaeologist. This blog is about all things concerned with the curation of information about the historic environment and wider issues around IT, data, information and knowledge management. Full Member of the Institute for Archaeologists and the BCS, and a CILIP chartership candidate. All views are personal. Twitter: @MartinInfoMan
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