TEACHING AND LEARNING ARCHAEOASTRONOMY IN EUROPE AND BEYOND
Held on Monday, April 10, 2006, 10:30–13:00.
1. Aims of the workshop
This two-hour workshop was organised by the SEAC Education Committee. Its broad aims were as follows:
(1) to exchange knowledge and experiences;
(2) to explore ways of sharing resources; and
(3) to investigate possibilities for funding that could improve education and training in archaeoastronomy throughout Europe, particularly through exchanges of staff and/or students.
The following gave short presentations (or supplied information) on the courses they run, the topics covered and the methods used:
Clive Ruggles (Leicester, UK). Archaeoastronomy modules within undergraduate archaeology degree, MA in Landscape Archaeology, and four-year degree in interdisciplinary science.
Sarah Symons (Leicester, UK). Egyptian astronomy in life-long learning courses and within the interdisciplinary science programme.
Nick Campion (Bath Spa, UK). Masters programme in Cultural astronomy and astrology.
Lionel Sims (East London, UK). Archaeoastronomy within “Neo-Darwinist” anthropology programme.
John Steele (Durham, UK). Historical astronomy lectures within Physics and Astronomy undergraduate degree.
Frank Prendergast (Dublin, Ireland). Gradually changing attitudes to archaeoastronomy teaching within archaeology and astronomy Departments.
Juan Belmonte (La Laguna, Spain). History of astronomy and archaeoastronomy within the astrophysics PhD course at La Laguna University.
V.F. Polcaro (Italy). Teaching and public outreach of archaeoastronomy in Italy.
X. Moussas (Athens, Greece). Archaeoastronomy within history of mathematics and history of astronomy programmes in Athens.
Ioannis Liritzis (University of the Aegean, Greece). Archaeoastronomy within archaeometry topics for archaeology students at the University of the Aegean.
Stanislaw Iwaniszewski (Poland/Mexico). The state of archaeoastronomy teaching within various disciplines both in Poland and Mexico.
Alexander Jones (Toronto, Canada). Teaching on “ancient astronomy" within historical astronomy courses.
Jarita Holbrook (Arizona, USA). Cultural astronomy within a proposed Masters course aimed mainly at teachers of introductory astronomy within community colleges, etc.
3. Emerging themes
A number of common themes emerged from these reports:
(1) People teaching cultural astronomy approach it from a variety of disciplinary perspectives: archaeology, anthropology, history of astronomy, history of religions, mainstream astronomy, and geodetics.
(2) Existing programmes are experiencing a variety of problems related to institutional politics and funding issues, the main ones being:
(a) What they can do is restricted by the expectations of colleagues within their own particular discipline;
(b) Although institutions pay lip-service to interdisciplinarity, institutional infrastructure, which is innately compartmentalised into separate disciplinary units, works against this; and
(c) Teaching programmes are being cut to increase research output, and new or “out-of-the-ordinary” courses tend to be particularly threatened.
(3) A few individuals are “holding out” against these pressures in order to maintain and expand their archaeoastronomy teaching programmes. The presence of such individuals is a key factor in the level of provision currently available in different countries, both within and outside Europe.
4. Ways forward
Following these presentations there was a general forum aiming to identify particular goals and objectives and to seek ways forward to achieving them.
(1) Sharing resources. Resources such as course outlines, materials and images should, wherever possible, be made available for sharing between different people running cultural astronomy courses.
(2) It is not self-evident that developing new courses, or exchanging staff or students between existing ones, is preferable to making efforts to include elements of cultural astronomy in a variety of broader topic areas within archaeology, anthropology or other relevant disciplines. However, interdisciplinary Masters programmes, especially at an inter-institutional or even an international level, might achieve a critical mass that would achieve, as a side effect, the necessity of educating colleagues. Either way, this process is likely to be a gradual one taking many years.
(3) Collaborations between different institutions should be encouraged and efforts to obtain funding for such initiatives (e.g. through the EU) should be supported wherever possible.
(4) Distance Learning was generally felt to be a key factor in expanding teaching programmes in cultural astronomy in the future.
(5) Astronomical heritage issues (e.g. the current UNESCO initiative) could help us “sell” the value of teaching in this subject to our colleagues.
(1) Sharing resources. It was agreed that Roz Frank would co-ordinate efforts to mount teaching and learning resources (either the actual resources or links to them) on the SEAC web pages.
(2) It was agreed that a follow-up workshop at SEAC07 in Lithuania should focus on the possible content of an interdisciplinary Masters programme for Distance delivery. People should consult the materials gathered under (1) in order to prepare their own proposals for the Lithuanian workshop.
Clive Ruggles, Rhodes, 10.4.06