Grace McAlister

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Research Statement

Measuring the Value of Community-based Archaeological Projects to Young People in Northern Ireland

This research is positioned within the field of Archaeological Education, against a backdrop of Community Archaeology. Both fields are intertwined strands of Public Archaeology, with Community Archaeology initiatives in Northern Ireland providing a vehicle for outdoor Archaeological Education programmes. Archaeological Education is formal learning which uses archaeological places, objects and/or techniques to support the curriculum in learning about the past and consider the pasts’ implications for the future. Traditionally archaeological education had been seen as a way of developing archaeological and historical knowledge and encourage conservation of archaeological monuments and place. However, archaeological education has the potential to reach further and has been attributed to developing skills such as critical thinking (Bartoy 2012), interdisciplinary learning (Corbishley and Dhanjal 2019; Henson 2017; McManamon 2000), team working (Keen 1999), social responsibility, and developing positive sense of place (Sgouros and Stirn 2016).

However, despite these numerous references to the potential benefit of archaeological education to both participants and the wider heritage sector, poor evaluation practice has led to a lack of understanding of its value (Corbishley 2019; Moe 2016; Cole 2014). Where evaluation has been carried out, it has been focused on levels of enjoyment or reliant on hierarchical observations made by teachers, parents, and facilitators, with no evaluation of learning outcomes. While there is agreement among archaeological practitioners that learning outcomes should be evaluated, there is also acknowledgment that evaluation should not be focused solely on learning about archaeology; other learning outcomes, pedagogical benefits, and the social outcomes of archaeological education should also be evaluated (Corbishley 2019; Cole 2014).

To explore the effectiveness of archaeological education this research will focus on sense of place as a learning outcome. Sense of place is the connection felt between people and places. It can be broken down into two components: place meaning and place attachment (Semken and Butler Freeman 2007; Krudryavstev et al. 2012), which can be strengthened in two ways - through experience i.e., regularly visiting a place, and through instruction i.e., learning about place through stories (Kudryavstev et al. 2012). The reason for this is two-fold, firstly it is frequently referenced in regard to societal value of the historic environment and its links to societal wellbeing and economic benefit (Historic Scotland 2022; Graham et al. 2009; Bradley et al. 2009). Secondly, due to its field-based and multidisciplinary nature archaeological education is ideally suited to a place-based learning method (Sgouros and Stirn 2016) which has been recognised as an effective pedagogical approach to develop sense of place among participants. This has been shown in environmental education research where place-based programmes have been used extensively to improve sense of place and researchers have piloted measuring sense of place to evaluate the effectiveness of learning programmes (Semken and Butler Freeman 2007).

To better understand the connection between archaeology and sense of place, this research will design and implement an education programme as the intervention alongside a pre- and post-testing evaluation. The archaeological education programme will use a place-based pedagogy that incorporates place-based learning as the intervention. The evaluation will measure change in the archaeological knowledge and changes in sense of place by measuring place attachment and place meaning.  By doing so, this research will assess whether engagement with archaeology improves sense of place and in turn assess the effectiveness of the archaeological programme by measuring sense of place as a learning outcome.


Assistant Leader leader at Belfast Young Archaeologists' Club

Assistant Editor of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology

Historic Environment and Volunteer Project Officer at Binevenagh and Coastal Lowlands Landscape Partnership Scheme 


Archaeological Education; Community Archaeology; Outreach; Field Archaeology

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