Volunteering For Hadrian's Wall: A New Research Project

Image of Volunteers on Hadrian's Wall from Vindolanda Excavations

Volunteering For Hadrian's Wall: A New Research Project

(Pictured: Volunteers take a break from the excavations at Vindolanda. Image courtesy of the Vindolanda Trust)

Research is always happening along Hadrian’s Wall. We’ve had the opportunity to sit down with Marta Alberti, PhD candidate at Newcastle University, to discuss her research project on volunteering on Hadrian’s Wall.

So, what is this project all about?

The project, which started in 2017 and will continue until 2022, looks primarily at volunteer motivations on Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. It aims to test a set of research tools which could, in the future, help heritage organisations to figure out what volunteers want from their experience, what heritage professionals need and what is already on offer.

Why does this research need to happen?

The importance of Hadrian's Wall lies not only in the magnificent sites along its line, in its charming natural setting, or in its thought-provoking archaeological collections. People are a key element, often unrecognised, of a World Heritage Site. In particular the Wall owes much to its volunteers. Yet, remarkably little research has been conducted on the subject. My research aims to address this gap in our knowledge.

Can you give us a bit of background? What is the context of your research?

The origins of Hadrian's Wall archaeological research date back to the Victorian period, when Antiquarians armed with little more than passion and personal resources began exploring the sites and, in some cases, transformed fields of pasture into the places visitors can observe today. The work of agricultural labourers was gradually flanked by the work of students, who then became the first 'professional' archaeologists. In the 1970's professionals were joined by newly trained workforces, such as those provided by the Manpower Service Scheme. While local archaeological societies, such as the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle, continue to thrive to this day, heritage organisations such as sites and museums began actively encouraging volunteer participation from the 20th century onwards. Today, volunteers who welcome visitors to Hadrian’s Wall outnumber paid professionals. Hundreds of people each year help with surveying the conditions of the monument, excavating archaeological remains, handling and indexing collections, delivering educational activities, and guided tours. My research gives all such volunteers a chance to ‘level’ with heritage professionals and to actively participate in the creation of new pathways to volunteering on Hadrian’s Wall.

So in practice, what are you doing?

The project develops in two phases: in phase 1, through a simple one page questionnaire, this research explores quantitatively what motivates those who volunteer on Hadrian's Wall in an institutional setting (for example through volunteering programs by the Vindolanda Trust, English Heritage, the National Trust etc). In phase 2, (which will take place in 2021 - 2022) a number of participatory workshops will be held, with a view to offer volunteers, volunteer coordinators, archaeologists, curators, and site managers across the Wall, a chance to cooperate and explore, old, new and improved pathways to volunteer participation.

Can people get involved?

Yes! Without participants, there is no research! If you are a volunteer on Hadrian's Wall, and would like to contribute to this project, you can fill in a quick questionnaire: https://forms.ncl.ac.uk/view.php?id=5619924  

If you would like more information about the project, to be included in a newsletter or to express your interest in a workshop, please email Marta at: m.alberti@newcastle.ac.uk

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