Filling in the spaces: British-style

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so I figured I’d post a quick look at Life After USC Archaeology.

I’m currently at the University of Sheffield, getting an MA in Aegean Archaeology. I LOVE it. I have classes in research methods, Aegean prehistory, funerary archaeology, and a theoretical class called “Reinventing Archaeology.” The professors are phenomenal, and the city of Sheffield itself is pretty adorable.

The main difference between archaeology education in the States and archaeology education here is that here, I have to be totally self-motivated. I was warned about this by other students who have come to the UK to study. Here, it’s all about the reading you do on your own and the independent paths you take while hunting down an education. The professors are there to guide, to answer questions if you need them, but there aren’t a whole lot of assignments. Reading lists will include entire books for one week, and you can choose to read some or all or none of whatever is on the syllabus. I’m used to a little more direction–specific articles for specific weeks, with assignments to guide your progress.

I mentioned this to one of my professors, and she seemed surprised that I was having a little difficulty adjusting to the new system. She said, “I’ve always thought of education as spots of really bright light, and your job as a student is to fill in the spaces in-between. The classes are the bright lights, highlighting times and places across history, but the true process of education is purely self-motivated. It’s an individual journey of discovery. When I asked for her advice regarding how best to tackle the enormous reading lists, she shrugged and said, “Read what interests you.”

This amount of personal freedom is novel, exhilarating, and a little intimidating. Left to my own devices, I have a bad tendency to read trashy novels, play on the Internet, or paint my toenails. Or to read academic literature that has absolutely nothing to do with my area of study. For instance, I’m currently splitting my time between “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche and “Central Problems in Social Theory” by Anthony Giddens. Oh, and an anthology of famous vampire short stories. At this rate, I’ll be writing my dissertation on the social evolution of vampire lore and how that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Aegean prehistory. Unless the Minoans were vampires. Which is totally possible.

One project I am actually starting is an end-of-term paper in which I have to analyze the theory, motivations, ethos, and effectiveness of an archaeological publication. Somehow, I ended up being given “The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C.,” by archaeological rock star Colin Renfrew. Great! I thought. Should be interesting. And then I went to the library and checked it out.

Holy smokes. This thing is huge! About 600 pages! Nonetheless, I’m rather looking forward to writing the paper, once I manage to read the whole thing.

This week we do a field archaeology unit, where we travel around Yorkshire, learning about landscape archaeology, drawing, etc. etc. I’m pretty excited.

That’s all, really. Maybe I’ll put a picture in here.

Hiking around the Peak District, just outside Sheffield

Yup, this is where I’m studying. I’m a very lucky lady.

P.S. Here’s a quotation that seems rather relevant to this post. First of all, it’s from a tremendously trashy book (I wasn’t kidding about reading smutty stuff for fun). Second, it has to do with the quest for education.

“She had liked once to think of herself as passionate, in love with her books, drunk on history, enamored of the wide world, of all the peoples within it. To be studious was to be the opposite of boring, she had believed; it was to be so interested, so madly curious, that one simply could not wait for the answers to arrive on their own: one had to go chase them in the only manner available.”
~Meredith Duran

3 thoughts on “Filling in the spaces: British-style

  1. I came across this post while searching for information about the University of Sheffield. I’m graduating with a B.A. in Classical Archaeology this June from a college in the States and I’ve just been admitted to the M.A. in Aegean Archaeology program at Sheffield and found this post extremely informative — especially with respect about what I may expect if I chose to attend.

    I suppose I just wanted to say thanks, and that you should know your post has helped someone you don’t even know. =)

    1. Wow, I just saw this! I’m so glad the blog post helped you. Overall, it’s been a phenomenal experience here, although I would recommend starting end-of-term essays before winter break… I managed to get them all done in 3 weeks, but it was a struggle. The professors are so amazing, and they really care about you individually. Last year there was only one MA Aegean student, and this year there are two, and our advisor (the wonderful Sue Sherratt) is so incredibly helpful and genuinely interested in us. I would definitely recommend coming here.
      The Sheffield Round Table on Aegean Archaeology is also held here, which should be of interest. This year I met Colin Renfrew, Cyprian Broodbank, John Bennet, Carl Knappett, Michael Vickers, and many other respected scholars. This is one of the top places you can go if you’re interested in Aegean archaeology.
      I hope you end up going to Sheffield! Really, I can’t recommend it enough.

      1. Although, to clarify, there’s probably more time spent on the prehistoric Aegean than the Classical period. Nevertheless, you can choose electives that will focus on whatever interests you.

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