Leskernick Project Diaries

1995 1996 1997 1998


Paul Basu

In terms of assembling the Leskernick web site, the inclusion of the project diaries has been perhaps one of the most contentious issues...and also one of the most interesting.

The problems were anticipated from the very start when we first sat down to discuss the possibility of electronic publication for the project. The following excerpts from my own (short lived) project diary record both the sense in which I felt that being invited to keep one marked a formal initiation into the project, but also the recognition that their potential for revealing the ‘true’ process of archaeological research could never be fully realised:

January 12, 1998

I have been asked to keep a diary—now I really feel a part of the Leskernick project! Geertz describes the diary as a literary product genre-addressed to an audience of one: “a message from the self writing to the self reading.” And yet there are limits to what one writes, because the most intimate writing is also somehow public. The Leskernick diaries are self-censored, this fact must be stressed when they are eventually used in publication. Barbara explains that they keep two versions of their diaries, one for public consumption, another which presumably tells the truth!

January 26, 1998

We discuss the Nested Landscapes article, particularly the use of the diary entries. Barbara has already mentioned the (self-)censorship problem. I suggest an alternative approach for the ‘electronic’ Nested Landscapes article: the diary entries are not quoted in the main text, but can be accessed by hyperlink. I suggest that the whole diary texts should be available so the ‘reader’ may scroll through them and not be restricted to only predetermined sections. Chris seems furtive about all this, I suggest their use in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society version of the article might be a bit of a ‘bluff’ and he more or less agrees. They are just as much part of a linear and ‘monologic’ text, deliberately placed, conventional. They lie because of what they do not say. Isn’t this what we are criticising? I wonder how sincere is that criticism. Barbara agrees that the problematic nature of the diaries needs to be addressed explicitly, but she is adamant that the unexpurgated diaries should not appear.

As I write now, I am aware of the problem. Who am I writing for? Myself, of course, but what benefit will this have for the project if I do not even submit it to Barbara, Chris or Sue? Perhaps it will be necessary to highlight the process of expurgation by indicating in the ‘published’ diaries where details or comments have been edited out. Of course, those comments that are not even committed to ‘private’ diaries will remain invisible.


The meeting is too brief. Little is resolved.

Why am I so disappointed in Chris’s attitude? I start to write…about his evident enthusiasm lecturing on Barthes, Burgin, Berger, et al (perhaps merely performance?), so many articles and books, so much to say about the construction of texts, and now when there is an opportunity to go beyond…indifference? But then I think what is the point? I will only delete it later when the private text becomes public. Only the banal will survive.

February 2, 1998

Back at the Department. I read a lovely letter from Chris. It is sensitive and encouraging. The imagined rift is mended.


On the train journey home I begin to read Henry’s diary. I smile to myself, but am also rather shocked at his criticisms of Barbara. I think again of my criticisms of Chris—how can we be frank in a diary written for others? Our belief or non-belief in each other is amended within the hour.

March 18, 1998

3pm, SLAIS. Chris Locke and I show Sue, Barbara and Chris Tilley our progress with the web site. We spend about an hour looking at the site, looking at other sites and generally discussing matters arising. I feel happy with the reaction.

Sue had previously announced that she had an appointment at 4pm, Barbara, Chris Tilley and myself had agreed to go on for a coffee to discuss the project further. Sue seems preoccupied as we walk out of SLAIS, normally she is the first to praise and congratulate. Before separating, Sue announces that it is obvious from the diaries that her organisational skills are not appreciated, and that she intends to leave Chris and Barbara to their own devices this year. Sue is tearful and upset. I feel awkward since this is obviously between the three of them.

Chris and I move off, Barbara talks a bit longer with Sue. I try to start a conversation with Chris. He starts heading back to the department, I ask if he is not coming for a coffee, he says he’s going to his office and that he feels tired. We part. I wait for Barbara. She is surprised that Chris has gone off. We end up going for a coffee together.

We have quite a frank chat about Chris. I tell Barbara of my concerns about our relationship: the difficulty I have with his distance and apparent nonchalance. Barbara says, because of her absence, she feels partly responsible for the poor communications between Chris and Sue, she normally plays the mediating role. We have a good talk. Barbara reiterates her disappointment that I can’t come to Leskernick this season, but we pencil a date in April for me to at least visit the site. I’ll stay with her, we’ll do it with or without Chris. We both enthuse about the possibilities of the exhibition.

It is clear that the diaries are deeply problematic. They are either sanitised and mundane or else frank and potentially hurtful. I suggest that the diaries are an experiment, and that an experiment doesn’t have to be successful to be useful. We walk back to the department. Looking up at the college buildings, Barbara says something like, “now you know why I’m so reluctant to come up here.” I assume she is talking about the ugliness of London compared to idyllic Devon but realise she means somthing else…“the internal politics,” she confirms.


I am getting a bit tired of all this and feel that, unless something really changes, the project will achieve much less than its potential. Having said that, from an outside perspective, for those reading the articles, much of the pettiness of the internal politics will—despite the rhetoric of openness—remain hidden. The people, the incompatibility of their personalities, and the subtext of their individual goals will, finally, be removed or at least rendered incidental to an authoritative and ‘scientifically’ rigourous text. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose as they say!

There is no doubt that in introducing the trivia of human relationships into the construction of academic knowledge, one devalues, delegitimises and disempowers it. The critique is familiar, but it is also empty, for there is little evidence that the academy wants to remove the little power it has remaining.

Two thoughts occur to me as I write. Firstly—relating specifically to the Leskernick project—is how important it is to include UCL in the Leskernick ‘landscape’. I am insistent that a photograph representing the college environment is included in the web site home page. The second point is appreciating the value of witnessing the difficulties of the project. It is an experiment, the construction of academic knowledge, like any human activity, is dependent on inter-personal ‘trivia’ (which is not trivia at all, but the very stuff of human relationships), that the project may fall short of its potential is a failure of the project, but not a failure of the experiment. Indeed, if one of the purposes of the project is to expose its inner-wranglings, then it could be argued that the project is an astounding success—if, that is, this is exposed.

The issues are clear enough in these excerpts to need no reiteration. What is worth highlighting, though, is the value of the diaries—expurgateded and edited as they are—in exposing the normally hidden, but ever-present, internal politics of any academic project. It is under such heated circumstances that the cold facts of ‘science’ are invariably produced.

In adapting an example set of diaries for the internet (Barbara Bender's, Sue Hamilton's and Chris Tilley's for 1996), I have attempted to explore the great potential of the medium for ‘parallel reading/writing’. Entries for particular dates may thus be viewed alongside each other, so that the reader can juxtapose the three diarists’ views on the same events. A full set of diaries will eventually be made available on-line.