My introduction to Portus

Sometimes I feel a bit like an impostor. I’m based in the University’s school of Archaeology, but I’m no archaeologist. Which is one of the reasons they asked me to review some of the media content for a planned FutureLearn course based around the Portus project.

I guess what I’m looking at are what the film industry call “rushes,” basic edits of the a-roll material without any of the titles, captions or  cut-aways to photos, maps and diagrams that the finished version will have. Each sequence did come with notes, though, about what some of those cut-aways and captions might consist of. So its like watching an early edit for Time Team, and I feel quite privileged to get this sneak preview.

The course is obviously intended as a sort of Archaeology 101 – an introduction to the subject, and to the project. It showcases the University a partner in a long-term project, and it showcases the work not just of professionals and faculty, but of the students involved in the dig.

Actually the Time Team analogy isn’t quite right, for two related reasons. Firstly of course, it isn’t quite as polished as Time Team. There’s no Tony Robinson for a start, and our presenters are not quite as relaxed in front of the camera as the Time Teamers. But therein lies the second difference. Time Team’s voice says “look at all these clever people using arcane technology to tell us about the past, you’ll never be a clever as them” whereas the Portus videos voice says  “join as as we learn about learning about the past.” Here the lack of polish is an asset, it make the experience more authentic somehow.

It’s the punk aesthetic again. The technology of media production has become so cheap that its no longer the preserve of organisations that need to sell their work (through licence fee, subscription or advertising). Now we can all share our enthusiasm for what we’re doing, and that enthusiasm sells the project. I could imagine down the line a number of students applying to Southampton’s archaeology department having seen this FutureLearn course.

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