Postgraduate Lives: Digging to make a difference

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The Independent Online

Michelle Waterman, 31, is doing an MA in public archaeology at University College London

Michelle Waterman, 31, is doing an MA in public archaeology at University College London

I grew up in Boston, and lived in New York before coming to London. I had no previous background in archaeology. My undergraduate degrees were in German and business, and I worked in finance for 10 years. During that time, I was a member of the Archaeological Institute of America - I used to drag my husband off to dusty locales across the world to indulge my interest.

I did a one-year qualifying course before starting the MA. I think UCL is unique in allowing people to come to archaeology from other disciplines. I had virtually no idea what public archaeology was before I started. It's to do with the interface between archaeologists and cultural-heritage practitioners, and the public at large. We look at all kinds of different mediums for presenting archaeology to the public - TV, academic journals, cultural tourism. UCL gets some amazing guest lecturers, from newspaper reporters to representatives of Aborigines. It looks at archaeology from so many different directions.

It's great studying archaeology in the UK. Recently, we went on a field trip to Stonehenge. You can't see anything like that in the States, but there have been so many stakeholders involved in Stonehenge that it's hard to get a complete picture of the history of the site. All the artefacts that have been found are miles away in a museum in Salisbury. We also went to Down Farm, where the landowner has personally undertaken all the archaeology on the site. This means that everything that has come out of the ground is still there. So it showed us a different way of presenting archaeology and the factors affecting its presentation.

Archaeologists need to publish, to share their discoveries with the public. It's not a field that's full of jobs. I'm not necessarily going to be a field archaeologist. My background in finance and business should qualify me for other aspects of the profession. I'd like to work with development and funding agencies such as English Heritage or the World Monument Fund. I would ultimately like to work for an international organisation, so that I can go back to the States.

I'm interested in Near-Eastern history, but it's a very popular area, and I think I have the wrong kind of passport to be travelling there at the moment. There's a lot of variety in the field, so I haven't chosen a particular specialism yet. History touches everyone. Given the problems and conflicts in the world, I think there may be a way to use that history in constructive ways.

Archaeology has a role to play in rebuilding some cultural bridges - for example, in the US, where the role of African-Americans in building the country has now been acknowledged. It doesn't preclude the painful aspects of history, but focuses on the positive things as well as the problems and conflicts.



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