Author: Anneke

Date Published 17th June 2020

I started my new job as Digitisation Project Officer at Vindolanda just one day before lockdown started, so I've had an unconventional start to my time at Vindolanda.

Before joining the team here, I was the curator at Keswick Museum, a busy museum telling the story of Keswick and the Lake District. Prior to moving to the UK, I worked as a secondary school teacher, and lectured at the University of Education in Schwäbisch Gmünd on the use of museums as learning environments, providing a link between museums, schools and the university. I have worked for Roman museums along the German Limes, most notably the Limes Museum in Aalen, the site of the largest Roman cavalry fort north of the Alps. My role there was in the learning team, developing and delivering programmes working with genuine objects. I strongly believe that working with actual objects provides a unique learning experience, and for my postgraduate studies I undertook a broad research programme on the effect authentic objects can have on learning among secondary school children.

With such a long-term connection to museum education and Romans, it may sound strange that my subsequent PhD focused on modern history, specifically the relationship between the sport of cycling and the totalitarian system of former East Germany. However, I wanted to challenge myself in a different area and combine subjects I also enjoy, those of sport, political history, and psychology under dictatorships.

So why Vindolanda?

From working on the German Limes, Vindolanda is a place I've long known about, and to which I feel a very strong connection. In fact, during my first term at university in Germany, the writing tablets were mentioned in a lecture as examples of famous written sources, and I’ve been intrigued ever since by the fact that they allow us to get a personal connection to our ancestors, and to discover similarities. Years later, travelling to the UK and actually visiting Vindolanda, and especially seeing the leather shoes and wooden artefacts, I found it just as breathtaking as I’d imagined. Friends often ask “how can you get so excited about old shoes?” It’s the fact that a child, woman or man wore them 2000 years ago. They’re such personal things, and yet they look the same as many shoes today.  To find them so well-preserved is unique, and all thanks to the soil conditions. I now find myself in the UK living very close to the museum, and in the exciting position of working with this special collection - you can probably tell I'm a long-time fan! I’m impressed with the vision and sense of place that Vindolanda has built, particularly with the style of the exhibitions and the strong focus on the artefacts themselves: nothing gets between you and these connections to the past.

What is the digitisation project?

My role in this team is to explore the opportunity modern techniques of digitisation give us to get even closer to the past through Vindolanda’s treasures, and I'm grateful to Arts Council England for funding such an exciting project. The main objectives of the project – a collaborative effort between volunteers and staff – are:

  • To make the wooden collection accessible for ongoing research and to a global audience by uploading imagery to online databases and museums’ websites, and working closely together with partners from a wide range of universities such as those of Newcastle, Dublin, Nottingham and Western Ontario.
  • To give the museum's visitors greater access to and engagement with the wooden collection by developing sharing days to present the outcome of the project, and allowing visitors to access parts of the digitised archive.

Having an opportunity to be involved with making even more of Vindolanda’s collection accessible is exciting, and I’m aware of the great chance which lies ahead for Vindolanda to make the collection accessible globally if, for example 3D scan of artefacts were to be available online. People everywhere will be able to study artefacts, including those which aren’t on display, in amazing detail.  A further benefit is that digitisation will help to preserve the objects, as we will not have to move and touch them as much, keeping them safe for future generations.

My leisure time is split between exploring the outdoors by camping, cycling, swimming and being part of the Hexham Triathlon Club, and rehearsing with the Hexham Amateur Stage Society.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at Vindolanda, and hope to share my work with you all over the next few years.