NAS Learning – a fulfilling journey
The NAS talked to Brian Minehane about his journey through the NAS courses. He completed his NAS Introduction, Parts I, II and III and is now working on his Part IV.
Where did your interest in archaeology come from?
[BM]: My real passion is for everything oceanographic and that interest developed during childhood when we spent a lot of time in and round the sea. I’m also a self-confessed documentary geek, i.e. National Geographic, The history channel, Discovery etc. Finally, I learned to dive because I wanted to take my other passions – photography and videography underwater. When you put those three things together you get a nice little equation that simply says maritime archaeology. It’s as simple as that for me. I took this interest to a new level when I completed a BA (Hons) in Oceanography, Archaeology and Environment with the Open University in October 2012. That was tough, studying while holding down a full time job, but extremely satisfying.
How did you come across NAS?
[BM]: Would you believe – a web search! I found that studying with the OU was very fulfilling but I’m a hands-on person and I wanted to get practical experience in archaeology. I had no idea where to start so the answer was to Google it. The key here was looking for maritime or nautical archaeology experience. After sifting through the University offerings (which I didn’t want) the NAS was the obvious choice.
What made you decide to start doing the NAS courses?
[BM]: The structure of the course offerings and the fact that they are practical and hands-on, rather than more desk-based study. I couldn’t afford to commit to another major course of learning with my OU studies so the Introduction and Part I courses were ideal for me. That, aligned to the modular structure, made it easy to commit in a step-wise fashion at my pace rather than a pre-determined extended block of time that I might have struggled with.
How did you find each part?
[BM]: I loved them. The NAS modules are very structured - from the organisation of course materials, to the notification on dates, timetables and the predictability of cost. Furthermore, the content affirmed what I was learning with my degree studies turning theoretical knowledge for the most part into practical hands-on application. I’m never bored on NAS courses. I’m also a prolific note and photo taker throughout courses so being able to take away course material as well as visuals aids from the practical exercises is a very easy way to learn. I also love the progression aspects of NAS courses. You find that you are building on previously gained knowledge, some of which tests you, e.g. Geophysics, but all of which further piques your interest.
What about the theory side of the course - was it all new to you, were you experienced already, how did you find the workload?
[BM]: The workload was fine and the course tutors are extremely helpful. There is clearly a huge amount of knowledge and experience contained within the NAS community and being able to ask questions (some of which might have sounded dumb at times) meant that I could connect the dots as we progressed. With the exception of the diving aspects, most of the course elements were new to me. I did have a fair bit of theory from my OU studies and my avid documentary watching but having to put that into practice myself was exactly what I needed and the NAS modules gave me that.
What did you decide to undertake as the practical component of your course?
[BM]: Living in Central London is a challenge when it comes to finding suitable subject matter. There is a lot of foreshore activity with the Thames Discovery Programme but I wanted a subject that involved diving. With time being precious (work and study), I also did not want to travel far. The answer lay in Wraysbury Dive Centre close to Heathrow terminal 5. I had dived at Wraysbury many times and photographed the Elizabeth Austin (EA) – one of the diver attractions there. What I didn’t realise is that she’s a 1905 RNLI lifeboat. That settled it for me. The RNLI is my charity of choice (aside from supporting the NAS) and the age of the vessel along with her rarity convinced me that she was the right subject. I set some ambitious targets for myself since I wanted to learn from my mistakes, something I certainly did from my Part II project. That said, it was the best way to learn and I hope my report benefits from that as well. I guess successful completion is the answer to that.
Can you expand on your involvement in the fieldwork?
[BM]: For my Part II, I undertook 2D and 3D surveys, photographed the vessel in situ and created photomosaics from those photos. I took video to supplement previous footage and I also carried out research into the vessel as well as the history of the RNLI. I think most importantly (for me), I applied learning from the Part III courses that I had already undertaken, e.g. Project management, wood conservation and environmental archaeology, among others.
What do you intend to do now, continue studying?
[BM]: I am undertaking my NAS Part IV now. I took part in a three week archaeological field school in Caesarea Maritima in Israel in 2011 and I’ve also participated in several foreshore activities on the Thames with DigVentures and the Thames Discovery Programme as part of my project work. My main focus though remains on the EA Lifeboat. The RNLI has been very supportive, allowing me access to their archives and library at their Headquarters in Poole, Dorset as well as two days of survey work on a sister vessel (the Lizzie Porter) in Chatham Historic Dockyard. I am trying to answer the question “In situ preservation or degradation” for the EA. To understand this I am carrying out chemical, biological and mechanical surveys on the environment in which she lies in Wraysbury lake. As we all know from our involvement in the field – whether amateur or professional – the environment in which an artefact lies, determines how long it will survive. I want to answer that question for the EA.
Is your interest in maritime archaeology a hobby for you or is it becoming a vocation?
[BM]: You might describe my interest in the area as part of my work-life balance sanity check. My intention is to complete my NAS Part IV, obtain my HSE Scuba certification and then get more involved in professional projects.
Would you encourage others to get involved and do the e-learning course? Why?
[BM]: Absolutely and here’s why. Having spent almost four years working on my OU degree I am an absolute advocate of eLearning and distance learning. While some people do prefer the bricks and mortar approach to study, it is not for everyone. NAS ELearning allows you to work at YOUR pace, not feel under pressure in a classroom situation and to investigate additional sources of information (e.g. web) while you are studying. Life can be very pressurised for all of us and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) should be as easy as possible while achieving learning goals. I believe that e-learning is a fantastic tool for success and the NAS is absolutely right to embrace this. Finally, I think it is a great means to explore areas of interest and then to get involved in the hands-on side via face to face courses as well. Balance is the objective here and allowing people to choose their preferred method of learning.