By Tara Copplestone (@gamingarchaeo)
It is with great pride and excitement that I am now able to announce that The Heritage Jam will build on the roaring success of 2014 and return bigger and better than ever for 2015. This brief blog post will overview the history of The Heritage Jam alongside what it means to create through such an event before profiling what is on offer in the 2015 installation of the event. Don't forget to save the dates and follow #THJ2015 on Twitter, Facebook and through our mailing list.
The Heritage Jam was first instigated at the University of York in 2014 as a way to encourage interested individuals (heritage professionals, artists, photographers, programmers, game designers, general public) to experiment, collaborate, challenge and create heritage visualisations in a confined amount of time, to a central theme. Whilst such creative sprints are standard practice in the video-game industry they were relatively novel to academic fields, although are increasingly gaining traction as an effective method for rapid prototyping and creative experimentation. The first Heritage Jam in 2014 was thus an experiment into how effective "jamming" might be for Heritage practices as well as a chance to critically engage with the making and visualising practices. Despite being a unknown quantity at the outset the 2014 Jam exceeded all expectations with, as Dr. Sara Perry  noted in her write up of the Jam:
"92 registrants from most continents of the world, 17 official entries submitted by 37 contributors, 249 Twitter followers & 161 tweets, and 474 Facebook followers from more than 40 countries, speaking more than 30 languages, with a total reach of posts to over 6600 people."
The level and breadth of engagement was astounding - as was the inventiveness and quality of all the submitted works:
"You only need to browse the entries in the gallery to see the remarkable talent that infuses the tiny proportion of the heritage sector that registered for the Jam. This is important, because there is ample evidence that creative experts working in the heritage sector are undervalued, underpaid, underestimated and often undermined. Part of the intent of the Jam was to expose the depth and breadth of expertise amongst the professional community, and the possibilities that come with actually investing in such expertise."
Whilst the engagement and results were both reflections of a fantastic event it was the paradata and feedback from participants which Dr. Perry discusses as being the real value of "jamming":
"...it required openness to creating things quickly, which means making mistakes and wrestling with practicalities and exposing one’s process, and hence one’s potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses; it demanded doing just as must as intellectualising, which can be problematic given how theoretical much extant ‘archaeological representation’ discourse is; and the in-person event hinged upon teamwork, which as any educator will tell you, can go horribly wrong—but, in the best cases, can equally blow you away in admiration."
My own experience of the 2014 Heritage Jam reflects this sentiment - working to tight time frames, themes and skill caps whilst paradoxically having the freedom to create anything I desired fostered a space where I was allowed to be creative but critical, freeform yet structured. In the end, whilst I was incredibly proud of my final game and the skills which I had learnt along the way of creating it, the real value came from exploring how and why I create the way I do and taking the good, bad and ugly moments from the experience, analysing them in the context of wider heritage practices and learning from them. My seasoned game-development partner for the jam, Luke Botham, similarily found his normative practices challenged via the collaboration, a learning curve which opened new doors to interpreting, understanding and visualising heritage.
As heritage professionals we rarely get the opportunities to create outside of our standard practices (time, money and skills being stringent limitations) whilst others from external disciplines (be them artistic, technical or general interest) rarely get the opportunity to engage with or influence how the past is visualised -the jam format allows the freedom for experimentation and collaboration which transcends these boundaries whilst still focussing critical attention where it matters. Orson Welles is often credited with saying that "...the enemy of art is the absence of limitations" and in the case of the Jam these limitations become the structures which drive creativity and experimentation.
In 2015 The Heritage Jam wants to grow this spirit of critical experimentation and collaborative creativity by offering two Jam categories with solo and collaborative options available in each track. The "Online Jam" will run from the 20th of August till the 24th of September whilst the "In-Person Jam" will run over two full days, from the 25th till the 26th of September. A huge array of surprise announcements are planned for both the in person and online events - so be sure to watch this space! The theme will be announced and registration opened on the 20th of August, but for now be sure to save the dates, surf the updated website and start thinking about how you will participate in this fantastic event.
If you have any queries or questions regarding The Heritage Jam please feel free to get in contact with us by leaving a comment here or directing your query via email.
Perry, S. 2014. The Power of Making, Or What it Means to do Archaeology Through Creative Experimentation With Media. Day of Archaeology. 18/07/2015.