Posts Tagged ‘OBHAG’

Heritage Under Our Feet – Week 36 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

What were you doing in the summer of 1977? In between watching Star Wars and mourning the deaths of Marc Bolan and Bing Crosby, a keen band of Oswestry volunteers were assisting Professor Barri Jones excavate a Roman marching camp at Rhyn Park. The excavation was a great success – not only did it add to our knowledge of Roman military and frontier archaeology in Britain, but it was the catalyst for the founding of Oswestry’s own archaeology and local history society.

The Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group (OBHAG) grew out of the enthusiasm sparked by the excavations at Rhyn Park. It brought together local people in and around Oswestry who were not only interested in archaeology and local history – but also interested in doing original archaeological and historical research. Since then, the group has worked on range of surveys, excavations and restoration projects in and around Oswestry, Trefonen and the Morda valley. They now support the Oswestry Castle Research Project and the annual excavations at Oswestry Castle. In addition to research, OBHAG sponsors regular talks, lectures and presentations by local, national and international academics and researchers on a wide range of archaeological and historical topics (even on heritage comics!).

OBHAG is forty years old this year. Social media, crowdfunding, open research and new scientific techniques have changed the practice of archaeology and local history significantly in those four decades – and OBHAG, too, is changing. The group is looking for members who can bring experience of new media and new technology. Perhaps you’ve got ideas about an Oswestry history app – or thoughts about how to use Kickstarter to fund a local history research project. It’s ideas like this – and changes like this – that will help keep interest in local archaeology and history alive, and groups like OBHAG going for another forty years.

If you’d like to be part of this change, then get in touch!

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Yesterday evening I was invited to the celebratory dinner marking the 40th anniversary of the Oswestry & Border History and Archaeology Group. This society came together in the wake of the excavations at Rhyn Park Roman marching camp in 1977. The organisation quickly attracted a large membership of not just those interested in local history – but actual local archaeologists and historians.

So it was with great pleasure yesterday evening that I finally got to meet, in person, none other than John Pryce-Jones himself: the historian of Oswestry. And it was also a pleasure to discover that he not only knew of the comics, but was extremely complimentary about them (including their accuracy!) – praise indeed coming from someone with such a breadth and depth of local knowledge. It was also a pleasure to be introduced to musician and historian Chris Symons, whose book on Sir Henry Walford Davies (Master of the King’s Musick, 1869-1941, and Oswestry’s most famous musical son) I have just purchased. Chris gave a dinner talk on Oswestry’s musical heritage – a theme and approach worthy of the Oswestry Heritage Comics!

An argumentation is, apparently, the collective noun for a group of historians. But despite our different interests in local history, the three of us could not have been in more agreement on three crucial points:

  1. Local history, archaeology and heritage research must be meaningfully interconnected. Too many researchers and groups still use language and approaches which are exclusive, elitist and divisive. It has made the study of the local past seem particularly intimidating, parochial and riven with petty rivalries. This is, to say the least, not helpful – and it does not have to be this way. Bringing together different “branches” of local interest is, in fact, the key to good local heritage scholarship.
  2. Local history, archaeology and heritage can be usefully approached “episodically”, whether as short articles – and John Pryce-Jones did originally in the 1970s and 1980s; or as short talks – as Chris Symons demonstrated that evening; or as comics. This both allows readers to “dip in” and read up on a single subject in appropriate detail at one setting – and allows the writer/speaker/artist to engage on a much larger project in manageable, bite-size chunks. Interestingly, this approach elides well with the Facebook post history of Oswestry emerging via sites like Hidden Oswestry.
  3. Local history, archaeology and heritage isn’t static. It is worth reminding ourselves that the work of canal preservation societies in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, were focusing on the heritage of only a generation or two back. Just as new approaches are needed – new perspectives are also needed.  The study of local history needs to embrace “as history” the 1980s, the 1990s – even the millennium! This history may be more relevant and more interesting to a new generation of local historians, too.

I count it as a privilege to have met both John and Chris. As a result of our meeting, I hope that both of them will feature in upcoming Oswestry Heritage Comics. More importantly, this meeting has given me new confidence in what I have been doing with the comics, and in significant ways validated the underlying approach I have been using. As the Oswestry Heritage Comics move towards their conclusion – and I now begin to engage with academics and students interested in the outcomes of the project – yesterday evening’s Argumentation has given me plenty of food for thought!

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