Professor Mick Aston (Doctor of Letters)

Wednesday 16 July, 11am (received by Teresa Hall and James Aston)

Press Comment

Dr Richard Jones from the University of Leicester School of History said: “A strong supporter of, and regular contributor to, the academic life of both the Centre for English Local History and the School of Archaeology here at Leicester, it is fitting that the University should recognise his enormous contribution to British archaeology.  Mick received notification of his Honorary Degree last year, but his untimely death in June 2013 has meant that this must now be awarded posthumously.

“Had he been with us we might have expected three things: he would not have been wearing a suit and tie (he did not possess a suit); he would have told us how overbearing university bureaucracy is stifling academic creativity; and he would have insisted that the job of an academic is not just to write for other academics, but to bring their subject alive and ensure that it reached the widest possible audience.”

Biography

Professor Mick Aston (1946-2013), landscape archaeologist, is perhaps most widely remembered for his role in Channel 4’s Time Team, a programme he helped to develop and which he fronted for nearly twenty years, putting the discipline in the public eye. As a scholar, few could match his profound knowledge of British archaeology or his prolific publication record, writing and editing 18 books and authoring dozens of articles in a career spanning forty years.  Born in the Black Country and never losing the accent, Mick studied Geography with an Archaeology subsidiary at the University of Birmingham.  He worked briefly for the Oxford Museums Service before becoming the first County Archaeologist for Somerset in 1974. Already deeply committed to Life-long Learning, he took up a post in the Extra-Mural Department of the University of Bristol in 1979 where he remained for the rest of his career, being awarded a personal chair Professorship in 1996.

Mick’s research interests lay in the medieval period.  A pioneer of landscape archaeology—a term he claimed to have invented—which encouraged archaeologists to look up from their excavations and place their ‘sites’ in a wider context, and an innovator in field techniques—even beating and hoovering hedgerows to collect bugs and beetles which revealed much about the origins of these features—he made substantial contributions to our understanding of the origins of towns and villages, the archaeology of monastic houses, fishponds, and more broadly the long-term development of Somerset.

As a scholar Mick achieved what few had done before, to marry erudition with a style of communication, on radio, TV, and paper that was accessible and engaging.  In so doing, he brought archaeology to life and into the lives of countless millions. A disciple of the ‘mud on your boots’ approach to landscape study advocated by W.G. Hoskins, founder of the Centre for English Local History at Leicester, Mick would always rather have been on fieldwork than in a departmental meeting.

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