Musings on Reference Resources

We’re using capitals for ‘Reference Resources’ throughout this project, to indicate that they are something specific and defined. We’ve added a page to the website What are Reference Resources which aims to explain what these are, and includes the explanation given by Historic England in their Strategy for developing Research Resources. A brief approximation would be that Reference Resources are what specialists use to identify and make sense of things found at an archaeological site, and to set the objects found there into context.

What this project aims to do is to identify the Reference Resources that are used on a regular basis by archaeological specialists. Not the ones used very very occasionally, but those used regularly or at least within the last three years. We also want to find out about existing Reference Resources that people would like to use but can’t get hold of or access, or which are difficult to get hold of or access. In addition we want to take the next step of finding out about the Reference Resources people would like – updates to things produced years ago, or gaps that people would love to have the time to research, or wish that someone else would research and publish.

So far, so straightforward, it would seem. However, talking to different specialists and adding data to the database has shown us that identifying what to include as Reference Resources is not quite as straightforward in practice.

First of all, it became clear from our literature search and from talking to people at their conferences and meetings, that different kinds of Reference Resources are used and needed by specialists from different specialisms. Archaeobotanists need Reference Resources that help them to identify carbonised seeds, so if there is something about a relevant type of crop found at a site in Egypt, if the pictures are better than those from sites in England, they will use it. By contrast, much medieval pottery is locally or regionally produced, so many of their Reference Resources need to be about local and regional types of pottery. There are differences between different specialisms that we probably don’t think about most of the time, but which become significant when trying to work out what resources are Reference Resources.

We found it didn’t end there, though: there are more things to think about when considering when is a resource a Reference Resource; for which see my next post.