Mudlarking for innovation
Listening to Tyson Yankuporta’s Sand Talk and reading Lara Maiklem’s Mudlarking makes me think of how we can learn from the art of mudlarking to dig deep into the lessons and practices of our ancestors to ground ourselves for the future.
Unlike many museums, mudlarking uncovers treasures that people have discarded into rivers over the centuries because there were so mundane at that time — be they spoons, coins or pipes — that they weren’t worth preserving, and yet the reason those materials can still be found is that they haven’t been destroyed by the vagaries of time or nature. Roman coins mix with Victoria jetons and Georgian cigarette boxes.
Yet, they provide clues to what life was like in those times, in some cases even challenging historical assumptions and in other cases, a missing piece in a jigsaw. Lara Maiklem’s book is based on the River Thames, which has another quality, which is that of a global city which has existed for centuries and has hosted invasions, conquests and migrations from different tribes and cultures, who have brought with them their own currencies and artefacts. The river isn’t just a a repository for the local history of the city, but that of the communities that have come to our shores.
You wouldn’t find anything in the river that was written down, as the ink would have been washed away immediately, unless it was engraved or embossed. Yet, official history that we learn at school isn’t only written by the winners, it is written. Written communication has historically dominated over oral communication and we see that most starkly in the history of language, where languages that were written stayed resilient throughout time, while oral language become forgotten if there was a break in transmission between one generation to another.
Transmission of stories and culture across generations which is a guiding feature of Sand Talk shows how important an understanding of context is, over the generalisation and standardisation of a way of thinking or doing.
The Long Time Project have a great toolkit that helps us test out ways to look into the future which I hosted a discussion on. I’ve blogged about work I’ve done on using different senses to create “open air innovation” — from treasure hunts to better connect established and newcomer communities or blind tasting food to put yourself in the shoes of people from other cultures, and it would be great to find out other examples.
What activities have you seen which use story telling and making as a way of sharing lessons with each other and envisioning the future?
How can we better recognise the importance of generations being able to transmit learning to each other as a way to sustain cohesion?
How can we enable people to learn about the history of their past not just through history books but through activities like mud larking?
What ways have you seen that better value the skill of understanding context on a par with understanding the formal processes of an organisation or sector?