Having read through the many submissions to Desert Island Archaeologies, I’ve noticed that many of the author’s’ top ten books are usually those that relate to the specialisms and interests, and this list is no different. As I open my steamer trunk on the gloriously sunny beach on the desert island, I would be faced with a sea of buildings archaeology and churches amongst the other books I’ve chosen.
The Archaeology of Churches by Warwick Rodwell.
This would have to be the first book in my steamer trunk. I first read this book in the early days of my undergraduate days. In the dark days of trying to decipher archaeological theory, I picked up this book from the library while choosing my modules and instantly fell in love. I’d always had, ‘a bit of a thing’ for churches, but reading this book and seeing what could be teased out of the fabric of these buildings with a little knowledge grabbed my attention. I immediately went to all the second hand bookshops in York and bought my own copy. It still has pride of place on my bookshelf.
Death in England: An Illustrated History by Peter Jupp and Clare Gittings (Eds.)
Aside from buildings archaeology, my other love is medieval history – particularly their attitude to death and burial, and how this attitude developed and changed through the post medieval period. There are a few chapters in this book, as simple a read as it is, that caught my eye – those on the medieval and post medieval period (chapters 4 through 9). I find the study of how humans in the past viewed and reacted to their surroundings fascinating, and this book fueled this passion for understanding the relationship of peoples attitudes to death.
The Medieval Chantry Chapel: An Archaeology by Simon Roffey
Again, this second book is a remnant from my undergraduate days. As I became more and more fascinated by churches, and their past, it seemd natural that my thesis would focus on this subject. The more I read around the subject, the more I became interested with the use of religious (and secular) space in churches. After reading Simon Roffey’s book, my mind was left in no doubt as to what my thesis would be about, and I’ve kept up this love to this day – I still go gaga at a good old chantry chapel.
Archaeological Theory by Matthew Johnson
Okay, so here is my big confession: I really don’t understand archaeological theory. At all. It is one of my New Year resolutions to re-read this book, which I purchased in my first year at university. I have a suspicion that if I understood theory, it would not only make me a better archaeologist, but I would probably rather like it. If I were to be stranded on a desert island, with enough time to read ten books, then I think this one should be among those in my steamer trunk, as I would have time to read it and understand it.
Channel Island Churches by John McCormack
This is an addition from my postgraduate degree, but that has stemmed from my early childhood. I have been visiting the Channel Islands since I was a baby, and have a particular love of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The island has a history and culture all to itself, and the influences it has have made it unique. This uniqueness has had an effect on its relationship with religion and the buildings it created, making the churches on Guernsey absolutely fascinating to a young buildings archaeologist enthusiastic about churches, such as myself. This book is the bible for Channel Island churches – it’s probably one of the only books on the subject– and as a result deserves to be on my desert island list. The top spot on my bucket list incidentally is to rewrite the story of the Channel Island churches from a 21st century perspective, as I feel they have so much more to yield about their history.
Matthew Shardlake Series by C. J. Sampson
This is an addition of fiction to my list. I have read and re-read these books so many times I can probably quote from them now. There are six in total (so far), which are set in Tudor England and tell the story of lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who, as well as battling personal daemons and struggling to come to terms with his changing attitude to religion during the Henrician reformation, is thrown into the murky waters of politics. He solves crimes along with his assistant, which always give him powerful enemies in court. They start with Dissolution (2003), and have grown up with me though secondary school, university and now in the early days of working in heritage. As this is a series, and listing six books probably isn’t fair, if I had to choose one it would be Revelation (2008) because of the drama in the story and the way the plot still keeps me gripped, even after the 50th read through.
Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past by Roberta Gilchrist
This book is on the list for numerous reasons: Firstly, I love most of Roberta Gilchrist’s work and could happily fill the entire list with her publications, books, articles or otherwise. Most importantly of all, however, this book opened my eyes to the importance of the study of gender in archaeology. It was one of the contributions to my awakening as an openly proud, and vocal feminist, not only in my regular life and in my political opinions, but in my views on history and archaeology. This book showed me a different view to the male dominated perspective I had previously been reading in archaeological and historical texts, and allowed me to interpret things I had studied before in a new way.
Yorkshire: York and the East Riding Pevsners Guide to England
I don’t think you can love buildings without having a love, even if it’s a begrudged love, of Pevsner. His unique opinions of the various iconic buildings in England make not only a fascinating, but also sometimes an utterly hilarious read. At work we have his notes in the archive, and having read through just a small percentage of them, have made me even fonder of the opinionated architectural historian. As for my choice of locality –my family are all from Yorkshire, I studied in York, and personally I think it has some of the most beautiful buildings and scenery in England. Having Pevsners’ opinions of my favorite buildings and places in England would make the time far away from home on a lonely desert island more palatable…
The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from Earliest Times to the Twenty-First Century by John Hunter and Ian Ralston
This ‘beginners guide’ to the archaeology of Britain was one of the first few books I read in my undergraduate studies, and it signifies the start of my journey in archaeology. Even though my love of history is firmly seated in the medieval period I am, at heart, an archaeologist. I enjoy learning about all periods of Britain’s long history, and this book is the one that will always stick in my mind, as it showed me my preference of historical archaeology rather than prehistory, a love that has stuck with me ever since. If ever I want to freshen up on any period of history, this is the book I go to first.
Beowulf by Seamus Heaney
I wrote this list and then scrolled through previous submissions and have spotted this book more than once, but I don’t regret bringing it up again. I’ve saved the most enigmatic until last, and Beowulf holds a special place in my heart. My special topic in my undergraduate degree was, ‘Early Medieval towns: 500-1000AD’. When this is coupled with visits to both Sutton Hoo and Orkney around the same time, it’s no surprise that I took a delve into Early Medieval history. I bought my copy of this book, along with a book on Old English, at the Sutton Hoo gift shop, and proceeded to read both of them cover to cover. The stories of dragons, warriors and adventure almost take me back to the Early Medieval period. When I last read it, I was camping in the Peaks, and this barren, beautiful but enigmatic wilderness set my mind into overdrive. I would read this book last, while looking into the horizon hoping for a rescue boat…
Cath Poucher is a lover of buildings archaeology, and currently works as a historical researcher both freelance and at a leading nationwide archive. She is can be followed on twitter at @archgirl88 enthusing about coffee, Downton Abbey, and feminism…