Meet the Young Heritage Professionals
For my virtual Young Archaeologist’s Club post this week, I caught up with some fellow young heritage professionals to talk about working in the sector in your 20’s, and what drove them to do the work they do. I spoke to Nick Henderson, 29 and Beth Harvey 25.
What is/was your most recent job in the heritage sector?
Nick: Currently my job is as the Development Officer for the Hadrian’s Wall Partnership. I’m based with Carlisle City Council, but I work with groups across the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage site to help make sure it will have the structure, support and resources it will need in future. My last job before that was looking after Aydon Castle which was fun.
Beth: My most recent job was working with a commercial archaeological company as a site assistant, excavating on different sites around the North. Before that I was working for The Vindolanda Trust as an Archaeological assistant, helping to supervise the excavations which take place over the summer.
What would a normal day at work look like?
Nick: It can be pretty varied! Lots of talking to people. Hadrian’s Wall is 73 miles long and the World Heritage Site is well over 100 miles. I’ll be in the office in Carlisle City Council, but as Hadrian’s Wall is a living breathing monument my role can take me from end to end just about as that’s where our partners and projects are/will be.
Beth: A normal day at work started with arriving at site at 9am and making sure that everything was safe and how we left it the night before. I would normally catch up on paperwork from the previous day, filling in context sheets and making sure that all of the numbers matched up. After that I would find my feature which we had previously exposed and start excavating. Sometimes these would be large features such as ditches and we could use large tools such as mattocks and spades, while sometimes they were smaller such as postholes where trowels were more commonly used. We would have a short break in the morning for a cup of tea and some food to keep our energy up and then head back onto site from some more excavation. Depending on the size of the feature I would sometimes finish the excavation portion of my day just before lunch. I would make sure that everything was cleaned up and tidy before heading to the cabin for lunch so that I could take my photographs afterwards. Once the photos of the sections were taken I would then draw the section and the feature onto the site map. This helps us to know how the different features all interact with each other and see the sequence of which features were made first. I would then fill in the context sheets for the feature and move on to the next. At around 3:30pm we could start to clean up the site and make sure that everything was clean and tidy for when we left at 4pm, so that nothing could be damaged overnight.
Did you always want to work in heritage, and was there anything in particular that inspired you to do so?
Nick: Not consciously. I got a summer job with English Heritage to help pay for my studies and it kind of went from there.
I always loved these places and history (I’d be lying if I didn’t say Age of Empires and Rome Total War didn’t have an impact on my love of history as well). I also loved telling stories, and engaging with people, and the research and education aspect of it which I got to do.
The variety is certainly something I really like and value, and the sense of contributing something positively to peoples lives.
To be honest the thing that has kept me in heritage this long is the people. I really lucked out and have met and worked with the most fantastic people and teams, many of them are among my closest friends and some have become more like family than just friends. I found myself smiling on my way to work more often than not, which is always a good sign.
Beth: I always wanted to do something with my passion for history. When I was younger I wanted to be a History teacher. That changed when I visited so many different historical sites around the UK on holidays and wanted in on the action myself. I think the particular point that I wanted to become an archaeologist was when I visited Chester and saw some excavations taking place. I wanted to join in and see what we could discover, and from then I was a bit obsessed with excavation, learning all I could.
Do you do any additional volunteering or other work alongside your job?
Nick: I’m currently a candidate to be qualified as a North East Blue Badge Guide. It’s a national certification of excellence in Tour Guiding, and will potentially lead to some work. I still have to sit a lot of exams for it, so I don’t have a lot of space left in my brain unfortunately at the moment for additional things. I will certainly volunteer my time again when the course is over.
Beth: I currently volunteer with The Vindolanda Trust, working in the museum and assisting the Curator with the collection of artefacts they have discovered there.
Did you attend university, what did you study?
Nick: I did. I studied Classical Studies at undergraduate, and did a Masters in Classics and Ancient History at Newcastle Uni.
Beth: I attended Bangor University in North Wales studying History with Archaeology as an undergraduate. In my third year I switched onto a 4 year Masters course in Archaeology, specialising in Roman Archaeology and Hadrian’s Wall.
What is your favourite period of history and why?
Nick: My go to was always ancient, something about it having an element of mystery, and seemingly so foreign, but also some of the most complex and influential events and people happened in Ancient History. They left legacies, and some really beautiful places you can still visit now too. Also, I mean, Roman army stuff is pretty cool, and still is.
That said I remember reading ancient sources, and epics (like the Illiad or Odyssey), and poetry, and letters, and you find these very real, human and relatable people despite them living centuries apart. For example, some letters to a very influential Roman Senator Cicero, after his daughter died.
In these letters you had very real and very raw expression of human emotion. You find a range of these in ancient authors and the words are a bridge through many centuries I could connect with. They were human beings, with emotions and thoughts and feelings of very real people and it makes them very relatable. Some good life advice in them too.
I’ve ended up finding something in all periods that I can connect with and love about them however. Even the Tudors and 17th Century that used to bore me a fair bit. I’ve found it’s sometimes how you encounter a period of history and what resonates with you personally that can turn you away from it or to it, but ultimately history is stories about people and places.
Beth: My favourite period of History has to be anything to do with the Romans. There is a running joke ‘What did the Romans ever do for us?’ because they brought us so many things! I find this period of history so fascinating with so many next inventions and so many discoveries which can come from this period in time.
When I was excavating at Vindolanda, we found some of the famous Vindolanda writing tablets, along with many different artefacts. I find them so fascinating because of the things they can tell us, with so many relatable aspects to our everyday lives, from shopping lists to birthday invitations. I grew up close to Chester, where there was originally a legionary fortress. I remember learning about the Romans in school and it was probably the topic I remember most.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
Nick: I don’t know to be honest. I’d probably want to meet an historical figure in order to change history for the better but just make it worse.
Tempted by Cicero, but I failed an exam because I had to translate one of his speeches. I was very bad at Latin. I guess that’s not his fault.
I’d love to talk to some of the really ancient figures or peoples whose lives or cultures we don’t know a lot about, like Native American tribespeople, or members of the Indus Valley civilisations, Neanderthals, or mythologised people like Gyan Yu who was deified as a god in China. Or a person who profoundly changed history and lives like Buddha, or Jesus Christ.
Beth: This is a really hard one for me because there are so many different historical figures I would love to meet for so many different reasons. The main reason I would love to meet any of them would probably be because I would love to know what they were thinking when certain events happened, or what the world was like in their time. There is so much knowledge lost from every time period that these figures could give us an insight into. Personally, instead of meeting select historical figures, I would love to be able to go back to each time period and just observe everything. Historical Figures are mostly the upper classes, kings, queens, emperors, and I would love to be able to meet someone from each area to know what each period of history was like for everyone, not just the most important people.
Do you have a favourite museum?
Nick: Probably the British Museum, or the Acropoli Museum in Athens. There is an element of irony there regarding the Elgin Marbles, maybe. But the British Museum is just, it’s like all human civilisation in one place.
Beth: My favourite museum is probably a tie between the Vindolanda Museum and the British Museum. The Vindolanda Museum consists of artefacts which have been discovered through 50 years of excavation on site, giving us a real insight into life along Hadrian’s Wall and the line of forts which were built here before the Wall. They also hold the largest collection of Leather from the Roman Empire, along with some unique artefacts such as a Roman Helmet crest, the only surviving crest from the whole of the Roman Empire. The British Museum is also a favourite because of the sheer amount of artefacts it holds and the wealth of knowledge it can give us from all over the world.
What would be your dream job?
Nick: Something which can positively impact on people’s lives, and that has variety, travel, and progression. In Heritage that might be creating a heritage attraction, like community project to recreate a Roman Fort.
Beth: My dream job would be working along Hadrian’s Wall, as an archaeologist or working with the artefacts which have been discovered here. There is so much left of the Wall region that is yet to be discovered and so much knowledge left to find.
If you could give your teenage self any career advice, what would it be?
Nick: It’s very hard to know what you want to do in future, so don’t worry about it. There will be a lot of opportunity come your way in life in general, and this means jobs too. Just whatever you do don’t turn down an opportunity because you’re lacking confidence, or got too comfy where you are, or it’s a bit frightening, or there might be a lot of change involved. Just try not to regret not doing something as much as you can. Also, try and pack your days and years with as much experiences as you can, volunteer more, get more involved in special interest groups in areas you might be interested in as it’s a chance to form connections with likeminded people of all backgrounds.
When you don’t know what you want to do, don’t worry about it. When you do have an idea what you want to do, that’s great, and just go for it, try it on for size. If it works out awesome, if it doesn’t work out that’s fine too, sometimes you make a bum decision, that’s OK, just make sure to forgive yourself and keep going. We live generally long lives, and it really doesn’t matter there is time to get it right. What’s for you won’t pass you by.
Beth: Always try your best and just go for it, even if you don’t think your qualified or that you won’t be able to do something. If I didn’t take the chance of applying for a job, I never would have been able to work in the subject and area I love and get so much enjoyment from.