What makes HCA so special?

Tanvi shares her experience of being an international student, and the supportive community of School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Student life in Edinburgh is colourful and multifaceted, and this is something that the University has continued to provide throughout my time as a student here. My experience at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology (HCA) started during Covid so my entire first year was online. I found that as an international student this eased the transition from home to university for me, somewhat. However, at the same time it sometimes made engagement difficult. I found, though, that the University – and especially HCA – strived to remedy this lack of in-person learning. And now, as a third-year student studying full-time in person, I find that the same opinion of student life here holds up.

Academic rigour

Students discuss a historic document with an academicThe School of History, Classics, and Archaeology provides not only a large variety of degree options, but also an allowance for flexibility and diversity within those degrees. In addition to a wide range of course options, HCA implements a balanced but academically challenging environment – something that is put in place from day one.

From my personal experience as a student from the USA, schools don’t have an A-level system and the courses offered are general and broad, with no opportunity for Classics or Archaeology backgrounds. I found that even with no prior knowledge of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History – although I was surrounded by peers who had the opportunity to take a Classics A-level – HCA has ensured an all-round and in-depth introduction to the subject. Overall, the class structure, assessment style, and myriad of course opportunities have allowed me to garner the same proficiency in my chosen degree as someone who had prior knowledge of some of the course material. I have found that other international students with a similar background have shared this experience in other degrees.

In addition to literal content, HCA implements an academic system with additional external support from faculty and such tools as the HCA writing centre and peer mentors that result in a higher output of quality of academic work. Three years at HCA have taught me – besides academic content – the professional qualities associated with research, writing, and presentation in regard to my academic work and external projects.


The academic opportunities that University of Edinburgh students have are a product of the faculty. The School ensures a broad panel of faculty spanning multiple historical, classical, and archaeological specialties. This not only allows the greater variety of choice for incoming and prospective students in pre-honours, it also allows honours students to choose from a large pool of academics to determine their postgraduate pathways and dissertation topics/guidance. In this way, the HCA faculty pushes students to explore various topics that allow them to experience a very varied subject area.


Logo for the Archaeology Society

By far some of the most influential engagement among students in HCA comes from the History, Classics and Archaeology societies. As a member of the Archaeology Society, I have found myself not only meeting other students in my course subject, but also other HCAhhstudents in HCA through joint society events. By meeting other people in the same subject as me my academic life has improved, which encourages me in my studies. And by gaining access to the wider HCA student network, this has created and sustained an even more warm and welcoming environment in the School.

In addition to the social aspect of the society programs, the academic and professional opportunities awarded to members and attendees is immensely helpful. Through opportunities like conferences and lectures by experts in various fields, the students of HCA have a wonderful chance to widen their academic horizons while also networking amongst academic professionals. And it allows them to browse and gain familiarity with future career opportunities. The Archaeology Fieldwork Fair instituted by the Archaeology Society provides multiple career and fieldwork opportunities annually in addition to other opportunities offered within HCA. The University also has a number of heritage and collections internship positions for students in the relevant fields, providing valuable experience for the future.

The wider University community

The resources and support available in HCA are supplemented by the environment of the rest of the University, and its faculty and students. The multicultural and diverse surroundings of the University and the wider Edinburgh area is truly something that not only influenced my decision to attend the University, but has deeply affected my current experience here as a student. As an international student, and a person of colour, the University of Edinburgh has created a central community in which students of all backgrounds, interests, and identities can collectively explore the beauty that the city has to offer.

“Forget Hargrove. Read Vere Gordon Childe…”

Vere Gordon Childe in his trademark round glasses, red tie and wearing academic robes.

Vere Gordon Childe

Before Indiana Jones, there was Vere Gordon Childe. The great man – Indiana Jones – recommends him to his students as he skids across a library on the back of a motorbike, but not even he had access to the Vere Gordon Childe Teaching Collection.

The Vere Gordon Childe Teaching Collection is a unique collection. Not only due to the interesting and varied objects it is composed of but also due to its connection with one of the pre-eminent names in the archaeology of British prehistory, and its use to teach generations of University of Edinburgh students. Recently, a group of seven archaeology students supervised by James Harvie (HCA Ancient History and Classical Archaeology alumnus) worked on the Vere Gordon Childe collection over three weeks, checking condition and doing preventative conservation work on the artefacts.

“We’re continuing in the footsteps of a long line of volunteers in caring for and researching the objects in this fascinating collection,” said James Harvie. “Our goal during our time with the collection is to create condition reports for the objects within the collection, identify any objects in need of conservation treatment, and continue some of the projects started by previous volunteers, such as creating appropriate storage conditions.”

An example of the kind of work undertake are three Egyptian copper alloy statuettes, attached via wires to an information card (likely done in the early years of the collection). The wires were rubbing against and damaging the copper alloy, as well as preventing the students from giving a complete condition report. The statuettes were carefully removed from their backing, allowing them to complete the condition report, then repacked in a more appropriate manner with acid-free tissue paper and silica gel. As the information card is itself an interesting part of the history of both the collection as a whole and those specific objects, this too was repackaged and placed alongside the statuettes.

“As a a graduate of the School I knew of and had an interest in this collection, so I got in touch with Dr Guillaume Robin (the current custodian of the collection) to offer my help with its conservation, whilst back in Edinburgh for my summer holidays. This is a great opportunity for myself working with the Vere Gordon Childe Collection, whilst also being able to offer students an insight into the world of conservation. Our thanks go to AOC Archaeology who kindly donated some of the supplies we used in the work.”

You can find out more about the collection and view items with in here – Vere Gordon Childe Collection – and more about his work at the University of Edinburgh here, the tradition of archaeology at Edinburgh.


Darwin Leighton and the Raiders of the Lost Plaque

When History and Archaeology student Tom’s outreach project fell foul of Covid, he looked closer to home for inspiration and Footnotes was born.

One day in December I was trawling through reports written by the commercial archaeology firm Oxford Archaeology North about the archaeology that they had found in my local area. Commercial archaeologists survey archaeological remains on behalf of companies and governments, usually to help them make decisions about heritage preservation or building projects. Commercial archaeologists are made to work much quicker than academics, navigating strict deadlines and small budgets. Consequently, their reports are often dry lists of facts with few attempts to make them relevant or exciting to a wider audience. They are often referred to as “grey” literature. Not so that day!

Almost by accident I stumbled onto a description of a plaque dedicated to someone called Darwin Leighton. Intrigued by – if nothing else – his name, I looked him up online. It turned out he lived and died in Bleak House, Kendal. It was then that my obsession began. Why? Because Bleak House is less than 100 metres from where I live, where I am sitting right now. In fact, because my house was a bakery during Darwin’s lifetime, it’s possible he once stood in the very room I am writing in.

I just had to find the plaque. This would be an ideal story to share for the same reasons it appealed so much to me. It was local and personal, highlighting how archaeology can allow us to explore the lives of humans who lived in the same places we do and – in many ways – lived quite similar lives to us. The problem was no map was included in the original report, instead just a cryptic reference to another report. The black and white photo of a wall next to some trees was also, to put it mildly, less than illuminating. But I was on the scent and, like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones, I couldn’t be stopped. Admittedly – rather than hired guns, intricate booby traps and (sigh) dinosaur infested Aztec ruins – the challenges facing me were local bureaucracy, rain and overgrown bushes. I eventually found the second report and even a vague grid reference for the plaque. Armed with a paper printout, I strode into the woods convinced that determination, guile and grit would find the plaque. They didn’t. Hours later, I was stood on the roadside, trying to read my crude map by the light of the setting sun. Then, it struck me and all at once I understood the meaning of the map. The plaque was metres away from me. There were two paths I could take, a long route following footpaths or a much shorter route through some bushes. Seconds later, I had found it! “Archaeologists are a peculiar bunch” I thought to myself, pulling twigs out my hair.

Why was I doing all of this? I was enrolled in the course Geoscience Outreach and Engagement, where each student organises their own outreach project in order to share something about our university course with the public. My original plan, a tour of Edinburgh’s archaeology, had been scuppered by the second wave of coronavirus in the UK, forcing me to return home to Kendal, Cumbria. Instead, I decided to make a series of short videos highlighting the unsung archaeology of my local area to, firstly, teach the people around me about the archaeology of my home town, and to tell stories that are deeply personal about the people who lived here in the past, many of whom were just like me. But I realised that, especially at the moment, not many of the people who watch will be able to visit Kendal so I also strive to teach broader lessons about what archaeology can teach us and how people can make their own discoveries.

Four videos are now on YouTube on the Footnotes channel covering lime kilns, time guns and ridges and furrows. And Darwin Leighton, of course.

You can watch all Tom’s videos on the Footnotes channel on YouTube.