Changing Minds, Changing Coasts (CMCC) was run by CITiZAN, the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network and funded by a NERC Public Engagement to look at alternative ways to engage with the public and gather data during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based within the Mersea Island (Essex) Discovery Programme, CMCC aims were to increase online public engagement through co-creating a dataset documenting the rate of coastal erosion over the past 100 years in 20-year periods. This exercise would in turn contribute to the wider public debate on flooding, coastal erosion, and the community’s response and adaptions. This project was funded by NERC Public Engagement to explore the feasibility of adopting a more holistic focus to study historic coastal change while also trialling new ways of facilitating participatory research and public engagement within the context and constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project sourced over 300 photographs and five hours of oral histories, directly engaging with 20 members of public with strong connections to Mersea Island. These have been incorporated into the annotations of the five geo-referenced maps compiled by the project to document coastal change on Mersea Island over the past 100 years in a more holistic way. As well as volunteer involvement, the wider public engagement for the project has included a museum display at Mersea Island Museum and an online Storymap of the project. The project with its ecological, historical and archaeological approach has proved hugely successful in engaging island residents. As the following quote from a volunteer participant shows, members of the community found this to be an invaluable lockdown opportunity.
“The whole project has stirred an interest and interaction amongst participants that has been very rewarding. To have been able to contribute to “living” history has been a fascinating journey, it has encouraged collaboration and some deep research in a new and novel way.”
Our citizen science approach demonstrated to participants that they have more to contribute to research on coastal change than they might have thought and, made them doubly invested in engaging with future research that they now feel they have a personal stake in. By actively involving the coastal community in a research project that produced a genuine science outcome with shoreline management policy implications, the participants not only provided data and valid assessments of the evidence, but also helped develop the research questions as the project progressed.
The impacts of this project have already been felt within the Mersea Island team and is reflected in the stronger connection made both with the volunteers and the wider island community during the pandemic.
This project has facilitated new ways of thinking not only about contextual and holistic interpretations of the past, but also expanded our toolkit enabling us to disseminate information more widely. Together, we showed how much the coast has changed over the last century and changed many minds in the process.
CITiZAN is administered by Museum of London Archaeology, with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund and NERC. We also wish to thank all the Mersea Island community team, especially Mark Dixon, James Pullen, Carol Wyatt, Joanne Godfrey, Tony Millatt, David Cooper, Lee Morrison, Stacey Belbin, Ron Green, David Stoker, Dave Conway, Don Rainbird and Brian Jay.
Main picture: Cudmore Grove in 1920 (Mersea Museum/Wenda Lord Collection ID: WLD_FEN_001) and (right) in 2020, showing dramatic coastal change on Mersea Island, Essex over the last century.
Danielle Newman is the CITiZAN community archaeologist for Mersea Island. She recently completed her PhD in Archaeology from the University of Southampton. Prior to joining CITiZAN she was the education lead and roadshow coordinator for the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project. She is passionate about combining digital, technology, and traditional engagement to involved communities in coastal and maritime heritage.