The Archaeology of Moving
Almost a year ago this month, the Great Move occurred as the administration rooted the Department of History from its long-standing and exceedingly-comfortable space in Merrifield hall and moved us across the quad to O’Kelly. We are now settled into what I think most of us regard as equivalent, if not superior space, at least in the case of my office.
As I was reflecting on the events surrounding our move, I stumbled on a very recent article by John Schofield (whose work I am really coming to appreciate and notice) in the journal Archaeologies called “Office Cultures and Corporate Memory: Some Archaeological Perspectives“. He describes the archaeology of office culture and corporate memory through a study a move made by English Heritage in 2006. The English Heritage office moved from a prestigious Savile Row address in London to a new “more modern” office space further from the city center.
The paper itself is a vivid – but not exceedingly detailed – account of the things left behind in the office of the English Heritage as well was the spaces, behaviors, and memories embedded for him the spaces so recently occupied by co-workers. At the end of his article, he comments on the feelings associated with abandoned and empty places:
As an archaeologist I am fascinated by empty buildings and by the material culture of abandonment. One of my earliest lessons in archaeology concerned Skara Brae, a story of hurried desertion with precious objects left where they fell. More recently I have studied and inspected military buildings forsaken at the end of the Cold War… In Malta I have studies former bars that closed abruptly with the Navy’s withdrawal in the mid to late 1960s, bars that have remained firmly locked ever since. I like these empty places and do sometimes feel something as I wander about.
As I look back on some of my blog posts from the days of the move, I think the final line of the quote captures the experience of wandering through the abandoned offices in Merrifield. I felt something even though I did not have a particularly long history history associated with Merrifield Hall, nor did I enjoy a particular luxurious or historically rich accommodation there.