Monday, 30 June 2014

How I fixed the Library bridge

The Camera Guy
Detail from Google Street View. Copyright 2014 Google.
Max Spicer sets the Google Maps world to rights.

You may have seen that Google recently added Street View photos for both of the University's campuses. As you can't just drive around in a car, they sent someone with a camera on their back to walk around the many paths that weave around our beautiful grounds. You can now explore the campuses without having to get off the sofa and you can even find the guy with the camera if you look hard enough!

This is great for seeing what stuff looks like and, let's be honest, spending hours trying to find if anyone you know got caught on camera. However, Google Maps can do much more. You've probably already used Google to get directions - maybe to work out how to drive to the University - but did you know you can also use it to work out your walking route around campus once you get there? Google's got our roads and paths mapped out, so it can tell you the best way to walk between Central Hall and The Ron Cooke Hub as well as showing you what it will look like when you get there.

This is really useful, especially if you're new to the University, but when I tried out walking directions on Google Maps a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that Google didn't know about the Library bridge. You could clearly see the bridge on Street View and in the satellite photos, but on the map itself it simply wasn't there. This meant Google's directions were hopeless. You can get between the Library and Market Square in about a minute on foot, but Google sent you off along paths and roads in completely the wrong direction.

Report a problem
Detail from Google Street View. Copyright 2014 Google.
That's not a problem any more, and I'm the one that fixed it. Google Maps now has the Library bridge, and I made sure that it got there. So, how did I do this? Simple - I clicked a link. At the bottom right of Google Maps there's a Report a problem link. I clicked this, then followed a couple of easy steps to say what was missing. Less than a week later, I got an email from Google saying "you were right!" and the maps were fixed.

There are actually quite a few bits of the campus paths that aren't right on Google Maps, or buildings with the wrong name, but it really is easy and quick to get them fixed and doing so will make Google Maps a great tool to help people find their way around the University. Have a look at the maps of campus and if you see anything wrong or missing, click that Report a problem link!
The Library Bridge - now on Google Maps
Edited detail from Google Street View. Copyright 2014 Google

PS: Behind the scenes, there's a great tool called Google Map Maker that lets you make changes to maps by hand. When you click Report a problem, the problems mostly get submitted to this tool and are reviewed and fixed by members of the community. Anyone can get involved, but that's probably the subject of another blog post.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bettys (no apostrophe, please) - the taste of Yorkshire

We're pleased to publish our second guest blog post from Alison Barrow, a former student of the University of York and now Director of Media Relations at Transworld Publishers.



A writer once gave me an exercise. "Close your eyes," she said. "If you concentrate really hard, the noises around you will sing out and you will pick up the most resonating sounds. Commit them to memory, and you will be able to transport yourself back anywhere, anytime."

The sounds emerging from Bettys wouldn't be the first to leap to mind when conjuring up the place. Smells, yes. Tastes, most certainly. But listen... close your eyes and you can hear it. The clink of silver on china, the swish of a crisp ironed pinny, the languorous pouring of tearoom blend, the scrape of butter on a Fat Rascal. And the sighs - the murmur of cafe chat and contented munching. The sipping of coffee. The "oh, go on then," reception of the cake trolley.

Little Bettys by Tania Ho
Used under a Creative Commons license.
Bettys was a rare treat in my student days. Somewhere to take a visiting relative (in the hope that they would cover the bill), a weekend indulgence with a friend - sharing a pot of tea for one and a fondant fancy. We would persuade ourselves we deserved it after a full week of lectures/exams/seminars/partying. Reassuringly comforting, Bettys on the corner of St Helens Square always had a queue. It was (and is) part of the ritual. Baby sister Little Bettys on Stonegate offered the shelter of a spiraling waiting line up the stairs - under cover from the rain. Sloping floors and well-trodden carpets emanated a sense of history. We would sit there for hours - or until the gentle hovering of a waitress would hurry us along.

I first went to Bettys as a young child in Harrogate, where I was born. The cafe then was on Cambridge Crescent, not the current domineering location on Montpelier Square, and my grandmother would slavishly order the same each visit. A pot of tearoom blend and a vanilla slice (for her) and a glass of chilled milk (full fat - for me). I have never understood the appeal of the vanilla slice, nor the curious method of tackling the mountain of it with a tiny dessert fork. When she had nearly finished - and this happened every time - she would offer a forkful over the table to me. It would have been rude to refuse.

When my family moved south, my parents would drive back to Harrogate, stopping in to see the relatives and dropping in to Bettys for curd tart (for my mother), Fat Rascals (for my father and brother) and pineapple fondant tarts - which made a fleeting appearance on the menu in the later years of the 20th century, but sadly are but a sticky memory - (for me). Does everyone have a favourite? A beloved colleague of mine introduced me to cinnamon toast many years ago. I associate it with him every time, that subtle blend of spice, buttery liquid and sugar, delicious. Thank you, Martin.

Bettys Tea Rooms by Steve Harris
Used under a Creative Commons license
From those sugar-encrusted memories to the present day - now we order Bettys tea, coffee and bakery online. I have a running account and have mailed many goods across the world, sharing a taste of Yorkshire. Now there is a coffee shop on many corners in York, in Harrogate, across the whole of Yorkshire, the country. Now there are a myriad of choices, of blends, of options. And yet. One constant remains. Thank you, Bettys, for standing firm and proud within the confines of Yorkshire, thank you for warming us with your enriching food and drink, polite service and company and for changing so very little over the years.

This week I will return to Bettys York once more. Along with a group of university friends from the 1980s, a day trip for a momentous birthday. Bettys for tea. What shall I have? I'm not really that sure yet (definitely not a vanilla slice). But one thing I know. For a moment, a fleeting moment so short nobody will ever notice it, I will close my eyes and hear the sound of Bettys. And once again, I'll be home.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Where do good ideas come from?

Tom Smith stumbles on a good idea...

Many people think ideas happen in a flash, a moment of inspiration, that eureka moment. They also believe that it's often "other people" that have ideas, either a boss or lone genius hunting down those elusive light bulbs.

The funny thing is, that the reality is, ideas can be slow things, taking time to come into being and most often they happen in discussion or collaboration. From what I've seen, the best ideas don't come from senior management, or from a sole genius but from people working together, people actually doing stuff in the real world. Many of these "good ideas" can be almost accidental.

My role at the university has been to both introduce people to the Google Apps suite, both evangelising them and working with people to help them realise their ideas.

Here's a story of an "accidental idea" that I think is good and is a great example of what I call "people actually doing stuff" and collaboration and discussion.

Someone in Facilities in the Library, let's call him Andrew (because that's his name), was talking to someone in the Communications Team, we can call her Jess because that's her name too. They came to me, Tom, and asked, "Can we have a spreadsheet to make the recording of seat availability in the Library easier?"

I didn't know that this information was collected. I showed them how to add drop downs and colours to a Google Spreadsheet. Job done.

I then discovered that someone actually regularly patrols the building and carries an Android tablet. I had the thought that instead of it being a spreadsheet, which was OK but not ideal, it could be an app, better designed for updating on the move. It took me about half an hour to make an app that did that for them, updating the same spreadsheet, using Apps Script. Apps Script is a coding language based on JavaScript built into Google Spreadsheets, Sites and Docs and it's a fantastic tool for people who want to quickly make their ideas happen.

The story doesn't end here. Previously, I'd shared an office with Aimee, who'd discovered that with a little HTML hacking, we could show some Google data on the York website. And so Jess added the seat availability page to our web site as a trial service. An accidental feature of the technology means that this chart is updated every 5 minutes, rather than every few hours like the web site.

And the story goes on. By now, only days after launching a trial service, the Communications Team were already receiving positive feedback from students.

Next, Jess and Steve, seeing that the data could be displayed on the web site, asked if it could also be displayed on the big screens around Harry Fairhust. We found that the original spreadsheet looked a "bit lost" on the big screens, so wrote some code to "push" the data from the main spreadsheet to another sheet formatted with bigger fonts etc (shown below).

function copy_sheet(){
  //Simply makes a copy of the main sheet
  
  var ss = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet()
  
  var sheet = ss.getSheetByName("Seating availability")
  var range = sheet.getDataRange()
  var a1 = range.getA1Notation()
  var values = range.getValues()
  
  var desination_spreadsheet = SpreadsheetApp.openById('nu7JgRtB5CdHJUVlNaRzUyd_pmUWc')
  var destination_sheet = desination_spreadsheet.getSheetByName("Big Screen")
  var destination_range = destination_sheet.getRange(a1)
  destination_range.setValues( values )
  
  }

The trial Seating Availability service came into being after chance questions and discussions. It took little to no time to put together. It uses Google Spreadsheets, an app, an android tablet, a widget embedded in a web page and our big screens. It involved at least four or five people. We will soon be adding extra areas and improving it based on feedback.

This is already hugely popular for all sorts of reasons - not just the ones you expect; I heard from someone I was working with in Disability Services that students with problems with anxiety love being able to avoid "nearly full" study spaces.

Still wondering where good ideas come from?


Tom Smith leads our Collaborative Tools Project. He also has his own Everythingability blog

If you're interested in finding out more about what you can do with Google Apps, follow the Google Apps European User Group on Twitter when they meet at York on 23 & 24 July at https://twitter.com/GEUG14 or search the hashtag #GEUG14.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sketching York Minster by torchlight

Matt Wigzell explores the York Art Gallery collection.

While flicking through a lovely book from the York Art Gallery gift collection a familiar scene caught the eye. From Dennis Flanders' Britannia comes a stunning image of York Minster illuminated against the night sky.

p. 67 from Dennis Flanders' Britannia Stocksfield : Oriel, 1984
Click to enlarge.
Flanders travelled Britain, drawing historic locations and buildings, with a particular passion for churches, cathedrals and castles. While visiting York, he worked by torchlight to sketch this striking picture of the west front of York Minster, and left us wondering about the shadowy figure at the end of the street.

The book provides a fascinating record of the great, the grand and the slightly quaint architectural landscapes of Britain.

For further resources on art and architecture, try exploring the E-resources Guide through the catalogue.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Broken laptop? It's not the end of the world...

Did you know that you can have your broken laptop repaired without ever leaving campus? So far this academic year, over 130 people have done just that.
Qwerty by Liam Higgins
Used under a Creative Commons license.

IT Services has an arrangement with Jennings, a local company, to provide a laptop repair service.

Laptops can be dropped off at the IT Support Office and the company will collect them, diagnose the problem, and provide a free quote to carry out the work. You then decide whether you’re happy to go ahead with the repair.

Jennings, who are an Apple Authorised Service Provider (for both In and Out of Warranty repairs), will collect and return laptops daily at the IT Support Office, and a diagnosis will be provided within 48 hours of collection. There's a set labour charge of £40 for all University members, which only applies if you decide to go ahead with the repair. 

For more information, please see: 

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Deaf Awareness - a personal view

What does deafness mean to you? Unless you've experienced it, it’s hard to imagine. My family still ask how I find certain types of music and certain types of listening situations. And, let's face it, many of us have a preconception of what a deaf person looks like. I have an amazing hearing dog, Chester - but the response has sometimes been "you look far too young to be deaf!"
Photo of cochlear implants by Fernanda Morais Araújo
Used under a Creative Commons license.

I have worked at the University of York Library for six years, and prior to that I was a student here. I was born profoundly deaf and have known nothing else. However my hearing has frequently changed: I wore two hearing aids from being a toddler, had a single cochlear implant aged 13, and a bilateral implant aged 23. These modern miracles of medicine have improved things enormously, but it is important to bear in mind that profound deafness can never be 'cured'. 

Medical experts told my parents that I would never learn to speak and that my abilities to read and write English were likely to be limited. My parents thankfully chose to ignore this gloomy prognosis and spent hours teaching me to read, sing, hum, understand word and lip patterns. Thanks to their efforts, I acquired a lifelong love of books, completing a degree in English literature at the University of York. 


Ruth with her hearing dog Chester, and Mark Durkan MP
at the House of Commons
Deafness is an invisible sensory impairment, and has the potential to make day-to-day communication very tricky. However, supportive colleagues and a supportive work environment make a huge difference. So I was delighted to be invited to the House of Commons on the 14th May as part of the lead-up to the recent Deaf Awareness Week. This was as part of an event run by a company called Hear First - they provide equality and diversity training, and had been invited to train MPs on how to interact with and support their deaf constituents. 

I was there as part of a 'deaf and working' team from four UK organsiations, invited to talk to MPs about our experiences of being deaf in a 'hearing' working world. We all had different communication preferences and requirements - for example, I mainly lipread, whereas others used British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language. 


It was a great experience and very interesting to hear the sorts of topics that MPs have come across. For example, it is still very difficult to contact your bank if you're deaf, and there have been incidents where deaf people have had their cards refused in error.

I was really proud to represent the University, the Library, and Yorkshire in general! It was brilliant to meet other people with a profound hearing loss and to learn about their experiences and strategies. And, of course, it's great to show that people of all abilities can often achieve way beyond what is medically expected of them - the right support and understanding makes all the difference.

Other links:

Article on the University of York news page

Ballantyne, J., Martin, M., Martin, A. (eds) Deafness. London: Whurr, 1992.
University Library Y 7.89 BAL

Gregory, S. and Hartley, G. (eds) Constructing deafness. London: Pinter, 1991.
University Library DA 2.42 GRE

Cooper, H. and Craddock, L. (eds) Cochlear implants :a practical guide. London: Whurr, 2006.
University Library Y 7.89 COO

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Behind the name on the door...

Have you ever noticed that each of the study rooms in the Morrell and Fairhurst has a name on the door, and wondered what's behind that name?

Wonder no more, as all is being revealed this week. Each name has been chosen because it represents a place or person, or something with a York or Yorkshire connection.

Acomb doesn’t just refer to an obscure, far-away suburb at the end of the no. 4 bus line…
Acomb Room Sign, photo credit: Paul Shields, University Photographer
Researching for and writing these signs has been a fascinating process, and they show the wealth of resources that we hold here, in Special Collections and the Borthwick Institute for Archives. For instance, did you know that we have one of the original manuscripts of Laurence Sterne’s autobiography? And patient papers for The Retreat hospital, including poems, stories and paintings produced by the inmates?

Title page of the original manuscript of Laurence Sterne's autobiography, 5.36 RBY Col. Reproduced from an original in the Borthwick Institute. Click any image to enlarge.
Art therapy on lawn: Retreat patients sitting painting, RET 1/8/4/3/1, 1950s. Reproduced from an original in the Borthwick Institute

We don’t just have signs on famous figures either - there is information about lesser-known people, such as Catherine Cappe, who was prominent in the Unitarian movement in York.

Next time you’re in one of our study rooms, look up - you never know what you’ll find out.

The desktop is evolving. Is it mobile?

So, I wanted to write a blog on how the desktop is evolving - how we are using it to access information, generate content, how we interact with it at work and at home. I’m hoping to be less technical, more observational.

Photo of Banksy's Mobile Lovers by Vision Invisible.
Used under a Creative Commons license.
This recent work of art from Banksy seems to sum up exactly how we are all accessing and interacting with information in our daily lives. I think it’s a great picture - a couple embracing but also online, being in contact - physically and digitally.

So the traditional desktop - what is it? 

For most people it’s a PC on your desk with an operating system (eg Windows) and applications installed which allow us to do our work (whatever that happens to be).
This model has remained pretty stable for many many years and, yes, it has significantly improved over those years in terms of hardware, software and connectivity. 

But things are changing. The acronym BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has long been part of Higher Education environments and is just one of the factors affecting a change in desktop usage. So what are these devices? And why and how will this affect the desktop model? 

Well, I'm referring to staff and students using a mixture of mobile devices - smartphones, tablets, ultrabook laptops, Chromebooks etc. The point is, these devices are generally light, portable, fast, relatively (!) cheap and have a cloud based service or infrastructure around them to support the user (eg iCloud, Windows Store, Amazon, ebay or Google Play to name but a few ). The user has access to wide choice of smart, ever changing, exciting and powerful devices which allows them to access content anywhere in the world.

Consumer being the key word, these devices have come from this market and are entering the workplace. The popularity of Apple's iPad, iPhone and other competitor products have allowed users to make a choice about how they access ‘digital stuff’, not just on the PC but also on their smart device. These devices are now the norm in the business/education space - used to access work related content such as email, calendar, shared data and documents, but also used as the device of choice to interact with others on a personal level - making calls, acessing social media, using instant messaging, storing personal information, playing games, accessing movies or music, taking photos - witness the rise of the selfie :-) All simple, easy to use (kind of...) and ready to go - these really are smart devices. 

So back to the desktop - is it evolving? Yes, I think it is.

The device is changing, the user is mobile, the user needs to access their digital content whether it’s personal or work-related, and this is what we can see now:
  • We can make the traditional desktop applications (eg Word, Matlab etc) available on these various smart devices, using Virtualisation (VDI) or streaming apps technologies
  • The user isn’t bothered about the operating system - they just want access to the applications as they roam and move between different devices (PC, laptop, tablet) 
  • Some users never even use local applications - they simply run a web browser with multiple tabs open, accessing everything via different web based applications as traditionally native (locally hosted) desktop applications can now be found in the public cloud
  • Go to a meeting now, and you will notice those around you working on their mobile device at the same time - taking notes, multi-tasking perhaps, collaborating, sharing. A few years ago, this might have been considered bad manners - has it now become the norm?
  • We love our gadgets -  we love having the latest smart device, and many of us have a mix of devices
But let's take a step back, this is not happening overnight - the traditional desktop has plenty of life in it yet. Not every business, every individual or even every application finds their home on the mobile platform. We continue to support the traditional desktop, even as technically we are moving in the direction of the mobile platform for some aspects of IT. 

As the desktop evolves, some things don’t change - having a safe, secure infrastructure in place to support personal and application data is as vital for mobile devices as it is for the traditional  desktop. Currently most users access IT in a mixed way,  swapping from desktop to mobile depending on location, application and device performance - making their own decisions to get the best user experience. We’re in a phase of transition which continues to evolve - and perhaps one day the desktop will become completely mobile? 

Friday, 6 June 2014

The book that didn’t win the Bailey’s Prize this week

Despite picking up the Pulitzer Prize this year, Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch lost out this week to a novel by first-time author Eimear McBride. McBride’s book, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, won this year’s Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).


The Library has The Goldfinch on the shelves (at MB 83.9 TAR) but we also have another couple of interesting items that I stumbled across when looking for it.

Ever heard of Carel Fabritius?

Me neither, but he painted the picture that features in the novel and peeps out from the front cover of the book.

Photo of front cover from Library copy.
p. 26 Carel Fabritius: complete edition
with a catalogue raisonné
Oxford;Phaidon, 1981
It’s hanging in the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery in the Netherlands - coincidentally the same gallery that houses Johannes Vermeer’s famous Girl With a Pearl Earring, which was also the subject of a modern novel.

We have a complete edition of Carel Fabritius’ work in the Library and, courtesy of the York City Art Gallery Gift Collection, we also have a book on the work of his brother, Barent Fabritius. Carel studied under Rembrandt, and it seems he was a promising young artist until he was killed in a massive gunpowder explosion in the city of Delft in 1654.

And, in keeping with our theme, the National Gallery has a painting of what Delft looked like after the explosion.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Guest post: Review of the Sage Research Methods online collection

As a second year PhD researcher at the York Management School, I have found the Sage Research Methods online collection a useful tool for my research. The collection covers everything from explaining to a new researcher how to write about a piece of research, to various methodologies in social science research for intermediate and advanced researchers. In terms of research preparation, it’s a great place to start and a highly-recommended reference point for students. If you need help using it, you can just click on the Video button to see step-by-step instructions.


The collection contains encyclopaedias, handbooks and other important resources in research methodology that include qualitative and quantitative methods. It also has content from hundreds of dictionaries, and guides on particular subjects along with Sage Journals content and videos. This is broad and varied access to quality resources for social science researchers. 

Searching is easy and the interface is user-friendly: options include browsing and searching related topics and methodologies. You can move straight from the results list to contents and methods, and explore the relationship between the two. Advanced search features allow you to search the full text, method, title, author, journals, and more. The only drawback I experienced when using the search box was not being able to find a journal that contained more than one keyword. For instance, I tried to search for a journal which contains the words 'Immigrant Entrepreneurs' and the results contained either 'Immigrant' or 'Entrepreneurs'. However, it is still a very useful tool to learn about writing research - especially for a beginner. 

Methodology is crucial to a piece of research and Sage Research Methods online collection makes things easier. Methodologies available in the database include basic statistics, advanced statistics, quantitative methods, and qualitative methods making this tool suitable for all levels of researcher – from beginner to expert. 

Method maps and method browsers allow the user to view all the possible and relevant methodologies available. This is very exciting and easy to use because users can just click on the bullet points in the page to can see lists of concepts and philosophies, literature reviews, mixed methods, qualitative research, quantitative research and research design. Selecting a topic directs the users to explore more, suggesting relevant books and journals for their research. Unfortunately, there is no back or next button on this page - the user has to click on the back button in the browser instead. However, it is still helpful that a good reference is provided for the research method. 

Selecting the Show Content box shows two book series included in the collection - Little Green Books and Little Blue Books. The Little Green Books discuss the most topical questions about quantitative research within the social sciences while the Little Blue Books focus on qualitative research is well suited to nascent research, and to those who wish to widen their methodology list.



Nur Suhaili Ramli,
Doctoral researcher
The York Management School



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

GEUG14 - Google Apps for Education European User Group 2014



Many Higher Education Institutes worldwide have 'gone Google' and now use Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Following the success of GEUG12 and GUUG11, The University of York invites academic and support staff to this year’s European User Group Meeting on 23 and 24 June.

York was one of the first to move to Google for students and staff, and we're keen to pool our knowledge and learn from others. We've hosted smaller groups to share experiences with other institutions, and we're now pleased to be home to this much larger event.

At the time of writing, we have 72 people attending from 29 institutes in England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, Denmark and Austria. Registration closes on 9 June, so there is still time to increase our numbers. If you are a current customer of Google Apps or are interested in learning more sign-up while you still have the chance.

The day and a half event will feature sessions from different Universities, the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and Google. They will focus on using Google Apps in learning environments, business procedures and the support side. Topics include cloud computing, Google Analytics, Google Apps Script, Google Drive, bringing on board unhappy staff and more.

Starting the meeting off will be Matthew Collins, a lecturer in Archaeology at the University of York. His keynote speech, Living in the Cloud, will discuss how GAFE can be used in an undergraduate module and explore the advantages and pitfalls of doing so. Matthew is a keen user of GAFE and uses it in his teaching modules as well as to collaborate in projects across the world.



One highlight of the meeting will be the Google Roadmap, which is a closed session on Tuesday 24 June, open to current customers of Google Apps only. Presented by Ross Mahon, Strategic Partnerships Manager at Google, the Roadmap will cover some of the things in store for the Apps suite.

ALT Award winner Gary Wood will be giving a presentation and workshop - Google in Learning & Teaching: A Case Study All About Linguistics - on how he used the Google Apps suite to facilitate authentic learning opportunities and build inclusive communities of learning, leading to him receiving national recognition from Google and ALT. The session will demonstrate the work of All About Linguistics and the workshop on offer will give delegates the opportunity to learn more about the tools used.

For those who have not yet 'gone Google' or are looking to delve further into the world of GAFE there are multiple sessions describing experiences of this transition. Brian Morrissey's session The Big Move describes the University College Dublin staff transition to Google Mail. Mally Mclane from the University of Bristol will use his session Calendar, Guided by the Principles to tell us how the University went from having no calendar to everyone using Google Calendar in 48 hours - and still managed to keep everyone sane.

On the topic of keeping people sane and happy, and dealing with those who aren’t so happy, Joanne Casey from the University of York will give a session on how to bring users on board with GAFE - even the ones who tell you You've ruined my life!


Check out the rest of the programme...

GEUG14 is supported by Google, with exhibits by Ancoris and Paperpile who will be present to discuss their products. Ancoris will be demonstrating Appogee Leave and have Chromebooks on hand for delegates to try. Paperpile, a reference management tool, will be around to answer any questions about their Add-on.

What: GEUG14 - Google Apps for Education European User Group Meeting
When: Monday 23 - Tuesday 24 June 2014
Where: The Ron Cooke Hub, University of York, UK
Website: www.york.ac.uk/geug14
Who: Kimi Smith
Twitter: @GEUG14

Monday, 2 June 2014

Digging for treasure!

Philip Rahtz (right) and John Brown at Chew Valley c.1953. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
Today marks the anniversary of the death of archaeologist Philip Rahtz, who passed away at the age of 90 in 2011. Rahtz was “one of those who transformed the practice of archaeology in Britain in the 1960s and 70s” and was instrumental in founding the University of York’s Department of Archaeology.

Before his death, Rahtz donated his slide collection to the University and it can be explored online through the Digital Library. The collection covers a large number of digs associated with the archaeologist from the 1950s onwards, including Wharram Percy, Chew Valley, Glastonbury Tor, Chew Stoke and Bordesley Abbey. The collection tells a rich story, from the initial preparations of each excavation site to the finds uncovered and all the muddy fun to be had in between!

As his obituary in The Times explains, Rahtz’s “excavations opened windows on Bronze Age burials, Roman villas and temples, Anglo-Saxon palaces and cemeteries, medieval houses, abbeys, churches and a hunting lodge. The post-Roman cemetery at Cannington with its young female “saint”, the “Arthurian” fort at Congresbury, King Alfred’s palace at Cheddar and the great Cistercian landscape of Bordesley Abbey are household names in the profession, sites where history was revealed with exceptional clarity, proficiency and common sense.”
 
Rahtz, who was originally an accountant, was drawn into the field after striking up a friendship with archaeologist Ernest Greenfield while they were both serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. After the War, the pair began excavations at Chew Valley Lake. In addition to the amazing finds, including a medieval fish jug and a Roman lioness pendant, the slides illustrate some of the “famously hands on” excavation techniques the pair employed. As the picture to the right, which shows Ernest Greenfield being submerged into a well, indicates, some of these techniques would not be advisable today!

In addition to Rahtz's slide collection, the Library also holds a number of titles by the archaeologist