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University of Bradford Archaeology department goes above and beyond

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James King, who is studying a Master's in Archaeology and Identity

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have studied in a creative department that thought out of the box and helped me engage with the course”

James King completed his degree in archaeology in 2020 and has just enrolled on a Masters in Archaeology and Identity. His passion for understanding better how people lived in the past and the ways this still influences contemporary society fuelled a successful archaeology degree at the University of Bradford.

James talks fondly of the great lengths to which the school of Archaeology & Forensic Sciences went to give him the best opportunities for his studies. From time-consuming makeshift braille programmes by lecturers to using large tactile screens, these accessible adaptations meant James could truly engage within the intricacies of his archaeology degree.

James is severely sight impaired due to the inherited eye condition of Macular Dystrophy which causes deterioration of the central retina (macula). Here, he talks about his experience at Bradford.

Why Archaeology?

“I have always been fascinated with the subjects of archaeology and history through reading books and having conversations with my family,” he says. “Studying the social dynamics that people had in the past is closely mirrored to the present. I know there are monumental differences but the fundamental basics for people are the same today as they were over a thousand years ago.”

James specifically highlighted his learnings on the perceptions of disability throughout history. He said: “People with a disability existed just as much in the past as they do now. I found it incredibly interesting not just on how they lived, but the types of segregations that were in place which can still be seen today. In some ways you can pick these examples from the past and put them in modern day society and you would not notice.”

Navigating the expansive nature of studying Archaeology

James explained the many exciting but nervy aspects of his course: “Archaeology is not just studying in a lecture hall but is also about getting out in the excavation sites. This was a big one for me as it took place in a wood in Halifax. Logistically there were some obstacles to overcome – I didn’t know the area, there are no real markers for navigation and co-ordination once you’re there. It was a nervy experience, but it just meant figuring out my transport there, how can I learn the journey and how can I speak with my group for support to get into the area together. It all worked out well.”

There were similarities between his first excavation and the nerves he felt starting university,  

“Navigating the campus, learning my routes around, working out what rooms I needed to be in and specifically meeting new groups of people. It definitely gets easier with time as you make new friendships and become comfortable with where you are. Everything is then a lot more enjoyable”.

Bradford University going above and beyond

James speaks highly of the efforts his course department made to make his studies accessible through multiple adaptations.

“I have been really lucky at the University of Bradford. It has lots of great modern equipment that can be used in an accessible way. Some aspects of archaeology involve examining tiny marks on pottery and metal, which for me is impossible. But the university found a way around this by using a mixture of tactile indications as well as the lecturer working one to one with me on how I can identify things just by feeling them. This really helped. We also used special microscopes that link to large screens. This enhanced the object and allowed me to see it in a way a fully sighted person would.

“We used 3D scanners to copy the objects onto the touchscreens where I could then zoom, flip and manipulate it in a way I would not have been able to do with just the object itself – it was so useful.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have studied in a creative department that thought out of the box and helped me engage with the course.

“In my first year one of my lecturers spent two hours using a pin and some glue to create a braille diagram for me on A3 paper which I was just so thankful for. It gave me an indication of the levels the university was willing to go through to give me the best opportunities. It made me work harder.”

What could have been better?

Library reading materials was the one thing he felt could be improved.

“It was really difficult to get some of the core reading and textbooks from the library in an accessible format. I appreciate it’s not an easy task but is frustrating when you get a reading list for the course, but you can’t read any of it for this reason. But this was before lecturers were aware of my needs. I would recommend speaking with them, so they are aware and can avoid this issue.”

Settling into university life

James has some great advice for students and adds: “Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I first started university, I wasn’t a very confident person but over time I became more confident – it’s all about building this up.

“Studying Archaeology helped as we’re always moving between buildings. This may have been a bit annoying at first but gave me a chance to speak to more people when asking for support and guidance. It can feel stressful, pressurising and anxiety-inducing but once you get used to that, it's liberating.”

Looking to the future

James is excited to begin his new journey starting a Masters in ‘Archaeology and Identity’ as well as continuing his newly found passion of playing rugby. He says: “I thought I was done with my studies in January but with Covid-19 happening, it made me stop and think about my life and what I wanted to do. It’s a decision that will give me another year of learning and enjoying archaeology. The other half of the Masters will give me a chance to study the psychological and sociological aspects of society which can open opportunities to work in the sector of potentially helping other people with disabilities.

“I currently play in the Physical Disability Rugby League for Leeds Rhinos. It’s a fairly new and developing sport but has had a profound impact on my physical fitness and mental health. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, as I had never really done any sport, and has been a real positive influence on my life. I would recommend any person out there to go out and find a disability sport. It might just change your life the way it changed mine.”

Top tip: James’ final advice for students

“Ask for help when you need it. You want to take it all on yourself, but it can be an intimidating environment. I learnt a valuable lesson that if I ever have a problem, big or small, just ask. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s the golden nugget to help yourself the most.”

 

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