Monday, 8 April 2013

Career Interview: Joanne O Meadhra-Elder

We caught up with Cutural Resource Manager, Joanne O Meadhra-Elder to discuss her career in so far...

Joanne O Meadhra-Elder
Where did you graduate (and what in) and what are you doing now?
I am a graduate of University College Cork, Ireland where I undertook an HONS BA ARTS (Archaeology and Sociology). I also undertook a certificate course in Tourism and Heritage Management-Museum Studies at Colaiste Stiofan Naofa- Cork.

I have always been keenly interested in public archaeology and professional non academic archaeology. Having worked all over the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland following the Global Financial Crisis a new challenge was required and since 2012 I have been living in Sydney, Australia. I am currently involved with the digitization of museum collections at Australian Museum and I am also a project volunteer at Sydney Living Museums (HHT NSW). In addition to being a generalist Heritage Consultant I am a specialised field archaeologist and post excavation manager.

When you graduated were you looking for a career in archaeology?
I was never interested in an academic archaeology career and throughout my undergraduate years I had already been employed on a fulltime basis on professional archaeological excavations as part of major infrastructural commercial developments so on graduating in 2003 it was a natural progression for me to head back into professional commercial field archaeology. Luckily for me I was head-hunted rather than having to apply and I have never had to interview for an archaeological position since.

Although I am an archaeology graduate I do not consider this to be a pre-requisite for being a great field archaeologist nor should it be the baseline by which all levels of professional archaeologists should be judged. Throughout my career I have worked alongside and trained many non archaeology graduates who have been both professional and showed real understanding of the highly complex nature of developer led and commercial excavations. Conversely I worked alongside graduate archaeologists who showed no aptitude at all for field archaeology and would have been better suited to academia or another archaeological or related specialism. Ireland traditionally does not have a culture of volunteer, hobbyist or private research excavation due to the cultural heritage legal framework in place so the majority of fieldwork is developer led rescue excavation which is a highly specialized area and demands a highly skilled practical workforce. Whilst management level/Director should require at least a third level qualification in my opinion it is not a necessity for the general level field archaeologist. A baseline qualification for who should be a vocational qualification of some description in archaeology or a related field which demonstrates the ability to understand the reasoning behind rescue excavations and the desired outcomes.

What has been the greatest success in your career so far?
Learning to be highly adaptable, forward thinking and being a great negotiator and problem solver. As a professional cultural resource manager I have often been called upon to wear different professional hats e.g. field archaeologist, architectural heritage surveyor, archaeological environmental impact assessor, curator, artefact and
collections co-ordinator, archivist, report writer. All of these roles have brought with them challenges not least of which was being a female working alongside traditionally male dominated professional fields. For me the greatest success has been to be at the cutting edge of challenging, influencing and changing negative attitudes towards professional field archaeology through implementing high standards of professional practice in partnership with clients, colleagues and the general public.

Who's your favourite archaeologist?
Thats a very easy one to answer a certain Mr Stuart Elder, my husband who was one of the first Professional Archaeologists I ever met and had the pleasure of working with throughout my career at different stages.

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