Olivia Shelton

olivia shelton profile

Jan-Georg Deutsch Scholarship 

Joining us from: Oxford, UK

MSc African Studies (2022)

I recently graduated from the University of Cambridge where I studied Archaeology. Having grown up in Oxford and lived in the city for 21 years, I am immensely happy to have returned to study a few hundred yards from my home. Even more exciting is the fact that I am attending a college that I walked past thousands of times in the past but never imagined I would, one day, be part of. Being a post-grad in Oxford has given me a completely different perspective on the city. 

I studied Archaeology for my BA at the University of Cambridge, eventually choosing to focus on Africa as the centre of my practical and theoretical exploration. Before specialising, I covered a wide range of archaeological periods and places, with modules ranging from the Palaeolithic to postcolonial periods. My BA dissertation utilized mapping techniques to create the first comprehensive database of pastoral rock art in Marsabit County, Kenya and drew upon phenomenological theory, namely Ingold’s ‘taskscape’ and Lefebvre’s ‘meshwork’, to determine the relationship of the sites to the surrounding landscape. Throughout my undergrad experience, I became increasingly interested in deconstructing dichotomies commonly found in academic literature, particularly those of modernity/tradition and continuity/change. I plan to critique these polarisations through an exploration of the Maasai shuka/illkarash (body wrapping) and the social and historical formation of Maasai tastes in clothing. 

From a young age, I have been particularly interested in artifacts, collecting items that I found during informal fieldwalking. This interest in material culture led to me studying archaeology, as well as a passion for beautiful and story-rich objects in museums and galleries. I have gained experience of handling objects through volunteering at the Ashmolean Museum and was a founding member of the Creatives Panel which sought to increase youth engagement with the museum. I also handled a range of fascinating object when I helped with cataloguing items brought in by the public to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. More recently, I have become interested in pursuing a career in the commercial art or antiquities world and have been exploring opportunities in this area. 

Since arriving in Oxford, I have become a member of the OxPods team, a society dedicated to creating a collection of accessible, conversational podcasts. I am planning to interview several Oxford professors on important contemporary topics, such as restitution, African art and gender archaeology. 

Having lived in Oxford my whole life, it was important to me to move to another city for my undergraduate degree. Cambridge was simultaneously completely new and, at the same time, surprisingly familiar. Despite loving my three years there, I was, however, always excited to return to Oxford in the holidays where I did work experience for various commercial archaeological practices including Oxford Archaeology. When I received offers from both Cambridge and Oxford to read African Studies it was a difficult decision to make but, ultimately, I decided that having both Oxford and Cambridge on my CV was a powerful combination! Furthermore, I was attracted by Oxford’s interdisciplinary focus and some of the stimulating areas of research which overlapped with my own interests. 

Being offered a Scholarship at St Cross led me to value the benefits of a postgraduate college and, since arriving, I have loved getting to know both the character of the place and the spread of perspectives of students who have come from around the world to study here.  

My St Cross Scholarship came as a complete surprise and was a validation of both my choice of masters subject and my dissertation proposal. I have often struggled with self-belief and so such a validation has been enormously important in enabling me to feel as if I belong here and has given me the impetus to perform at the highest level. The Scholarship has enabled me to have the confidence to press ahead with my original choice of dissertation subject. I don’t have any fixed plans where it will take me but, for the moment, I’m going to enjoy the intellectual security that the Scholarship has brought me.