Week one – imagining the Claudian port

Rose surveying on site; an experienced archaeologist who uses art as another means to explore archaeological process and data

Rose surveying on site; an experienced archaeologist who uses art as another means to explore archaeological process and data. Photo: Hembo Pagi

It has been a fantastic first week for us all involved in the course. Above all, we have been so grateful for the depth and breadth of comments, and for your enthusiasm for the course. If you are reading this and haven’t yet signed up then please do – there is still time to join in the conversations from week one and move on to week two. You can register on the FutureLearn site.

If I was going to pick out one conversation in particular it would be the discussion around the First Century (requires login). Here we invited you all to share your thoughts about arriving at Portus. The result was a vivid mixture of facts drawn from the course and elsewhere, and imagined connections between these, and between them and your own experiences in the modern world and of other archaeological sites. These discussions reflect some of our work at Portus, which bridges what one might separate as art and archaeological, or artistic and creative and scientific divides. Later in the course you will see the work of Rose Ferraby who combines archaeological field and academic work with fine art, and we have developed a variety of other collaborations bridging these increasingly permeable boundaries. And in this coming week you will learn more from Dragana about archaeology as an interdisciplinary endeavour – something that draws on the vocabulary, methods, data and history of different disciplines, and creates something new from them.

It is the informed mixture of creative practice and analysis shown in your comments on the First Century discussion that first drew me to archaeology from my previous loves of history, english language and architecture. For my own research over the years I have often tried to gain an insight into others’ imagined pasts, and externalising through graphical or other means creates only one facet of these. Already through this course it has become clear that we have very different ways of conceiving of the past, and very different emphases.

At Southampton via my involvement with the Web Science Institute I see fascinating research around natural language processing – in essence allowing computers to identify the content of textual data – and the semantic web – the ability to define and trace the flow of meaning within texts. My colleague Leif Isaksen’s work (read his blog post here about Pelagios) has provided a fascinating bridge between this and archaeology. I hope that in future weeks this will enable us to provide you all with additional ways in to the many thousands of comments on the course, via summaries and highlighted topics.

But for now if you have time I recommend that if you are registered on the course you look at the First Century discussion again and build on the discussion there. Do you agree with the imagined places others have built? Is there an aspect of the first century port that is not well represented? How diverse are the imagined harbours of Portus? We have explored all the senses but is vision explored more than others? If so what are the sounds, smells, tastes and haptic experiences of the port? I happen to be typing this sat beside the sea with waves crashing in,  with stormy skies – what were the hopes and fears of those recently arrived or recently departing from Portus?

Also a reminder that we have a flickr group pool. If you want to create your own video or image representations of the port then please share them with us, or use other tools to share audio. I don’t believe in time travel but I do believe that by exploring the past through creative practice and meticulous analysis we get a better sense of the information available to us and also, crucially, of our own place in the modern world. We’ll come back to this in week six.

Next step on the course is the second century and the Emperor Trajan. A whole new basin, massive structures, and around and within them lots and lots of people, just like ourselves and at the same time very different indeed.

See you soon.