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Interview with history-Dr Tony Pollard on Battlefield Archae

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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Nov 2010 16:28    Onderwerp: Interview with history-Dr Tony Pollard on Battlefield Archae Reageer met quote

NTERVIEW WITH HISTORY - 2 - Dr Tony Pollard on Battlefield Archaeology

For the second appointment with an "INTERVIEW WITH HISTORY" we will (virtually) meet no less than Dr. Tony Pollard of the Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division. Italians might not know his name as well as almost any English person interested in History and Archeology, perhaps because "Two men in a trench", the BBC documentary series he conducted with his colleague Neil Oliver has never been broadcast on Italian screens or because his studies mainly focus on Scottish history. However Tony Pollard, besides being a writer (his novel "The minutes of the Lazarus Club" has recently been included among the top thrillers of all times by Mark Ripley, a famous English crime fiction critic), is internationally renowned for being Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology of the University of Glasgow and co-founder of the "Journal of Conflict Archaeology". The centre, which is the first of its kind, aims to study and preserve the sites of famous battles and so far has carried out several study projects in the UK and abroad
But information about Dr Pollard's biography is just a click of the mouse away, so I'll now leave further details about him and his past career to your Googling skills and get down to the questions…

Hi Tony, and thank you again for accepting to have this interview with us.
Let’s start with the Centre. Why has Battlefield archeology become a new branch of archaeology, and one that is increasingly popular? And do you think there’s a particular reason why the first important centre in this field was established in Scotland?

Battlefield archaeology has been around for about twenty years now – the real beginnings go back to the 1980s when American archaeologists began to investigate the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn from 1876 after a brush fire cleared the ground of vegetation. Although there were some early attempts to study battlefields in the UK it’s really only been the last ten years in which the subject has really taken off over here and been accepted as a genuine branch of archaeology. We are now much more willing to discuss issues such as violence and conflict in our past – it has always been a facet of our experience as humans and shouldn’t be swept under the carpet and perhaps a reflection of the violent times we live in.
The first Centre devoted to battlefield archaeology and the wider field of conflict archaeology was founded at Glasgow University in 2006. It happened here simply because I had given up my interests as a prehistorian around 1999 – when I set up a project to investigate sites related to the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa. I then co-organised the first ever international conference on the subject which was hosted at Glasgow University in 2000. A BBC television series, ‘Two Men In A Trench’ followed and by the time 12 programmes had been made there was no looking back. It was obvious that if we didn’t set up some sort of institution then someone else would, and given our intensive involvement in the field it seemed only right that it was us. We were also very keen to start teaching the subject – and the Centre in turn allowed us to establish the world’s first postgraduate taught course in Battlefield and Conflict Archaeology, which has proved very popular. We also have a growing number of PhD students which I’m very pleased with. My colleague Iain Banks and I set up the Journal of Conflict Archaeology at about the same time.

You started as a Prehistorian but then "slipped" into the XVIII century, which, if I’m not mistaken is now one of your specializations. What happened?
I got bored with what I was doing – which for a lot of the time involved looking at pieces of chipped stone. It felt as though I had taken the subject as far as I could and it was time for something new. For one thing the distant past seemed very abstract and I couldn’t help thinking that I was making stuff up on the basis of minimal evidence. I have never regretted the decision.

Being a passionate anglophile, of all the battles of the past I am particularly fascinated by Agincourt. What about you, which is the one you have researched more in depth and more passionately? The one you would have liked to have taken part in (once you were sure to get out of it safe and sound ;-)? Why?
I have a long running relationship with the Battle of Culloden (1746), which we first investigated as part of ‘Two Men In A Trench’ in 2000. The results of this work led to a total revision of the layout of the site by the National trust for Scotland and informed the brilliant new visitor centre opened in 2008. We have learned a lot about our techniques at Culloden and we now apply this knowledge elsewhere. It was famously the last stand of the Jacobite cause when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Army was defeated by George II’s redcoats under the command of his son the Duke of Cumberland. I am now very interested in the Jacobite Wars as a whole and we have investigated a number of battles from the period, including Killiecrankie (1689), Sheriffmuir (1715) and Prestonpans (1745).
I have many interests though, and hope to extend work we have recently done on World War One into World War Two and even more recent conflicts.

So far, what moment would you consider as the apex of your career as an archeologist?
I think the discovery of the mass graves at Fromelles in northern France in 2007 and 2008 will always be a high point. These were the unmarked graves of Australian and British soldiers buried by the Germans after the Battle of Fromelles fought in July 1916. Two Hundred and Fifty bodies have been recovered since then and now rest in individual graves in the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery established in about 50 years.

Let’s move on from archeology to future-ology! Any projects in the pipelines?
There is always a lot in the pipeline – though not all of it always comes off! We have a number of exciting projects lined up for next year. For one thing, we are returning to the Somme to continue the work we began there this May (and which will be shown as a TV documentary in the UK and elsewhere in February 2011). We hope to be doing more projects with a television connection – it’s a great way of getting our work to a wide audience.
Away from archaeology I hope to finish writing my second novel some time early next year. I am looking forward to locking myself in an isolated cottage on the west coast of Scotland for three weeks over Christmas to concentrate on this. It’s a horror story set in a prisoner of war camp during World War II - you could say that for me it’s total escapism!

Thank you again Tony, and good luck for your future plans!

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