First Conference: Leicester Through New Eyes

On the eve of the Society for Historical Archaeology conference in 2013, having never attended the annual meeting before, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I remember sitting in my advisor’s office at the University of Idaho a few years back, him telling me, “You know, you should really think about going to the SHA conference. It’d be a really good opportunity if you’re thinking about studying historical archaeology.” I must admit, at the time I was a little skeptical.  Sure, I believed my advisor when he said it was a good way to network, see what type of work is being done, and not to mention travel to some interesting places, but was it really necessary to attend an international conference early in my undergraduate degree? I put off going to the conference that year and the next. The topic of the SHA conference kept popping up in conversations, and again at field school this past summer, when a fellow student raved about her experience in Baltimore last January. I finally decided to take their advice and in early January I found myself headed across the pond for Leicester, paper and presentation in hand. My impression after four whirling days of SHA 2013: I should have done this last year as well.

My first SHA conference was an incredible experience, and lived up to the reviews others had given me. It really was beneficial, and probably would have been equally beneficial earlier in my undergraduate as well. First of all, it was a fantastic networking opportunity.  I left the conference with a fist full of business cards for future contacts in possible future job opportunities, internships, and open offers to answer any future questions.  The research presented covered a wide variety of topics within historical archaeology, was a fantastic way to see all the different avenues one can pursue within the field, and, to top it all off, getting the opportunity to explore a new place and meet so many new people is quite a bit of fun.

For those students looking to attend their first SHA conference, I’d like to offer tips that were useful in my experience:

  • First, when considering which sessions to see, make a plan before hand. So much research is presented at the conference, it’s impossible to fit it all in, and choosing beforehand may make it easier to fit in more presentations. Also, I encourage you to attend sessions that lie outside your direct area of interest. As a student whose main interests are in underwater archaeology, I found myself tempted to only attend underwater and maritime sessions, as there were plenty of them to keep me perfectly occupied throughout the conference. Yet, when I did attend sessions on other topics, I found that some of the most interesting presentations were on subjects not related to my closest interests.
  • Mainly though, I encourage you to take advantage of sessions and receptions that are specifically for students. The Past Presidents’ Student Reception and the Student RAP Session, for example, were extremely beneficial. They provide an informal setting to talk to professionals already in the field, making them an excellent place for networking and getting more involved, both in SHA and the field itself.

All in all, I would encourage any undergraduate student considering a career in historical archaeology to attend the conference, even early in your undergraduate degree. Personally, I certainly see advantages in attending the conference regularly, and plan to continue attending in years to come.

I hope to see you all next year!

What strategies and tips do you have for first-time conference goers? Leave a comment below with your advice!


A Student’s Perspective on the 2013 SHA Conference

The SHA Conference in Leicester, England, was the experience of a lifetime! The idea of attending such an event as an undergraduate was exciting, but a bit intimidating. The reality of my experience was that the SHA is a community that truly welcomed students and provided arenas for us to network with archaeologists who have similar research interests and learn about current issues, ongoing research, and new technologies.  Immediately after arriving at the University of Leicester for the conference I met two senior archaeologists with distinct research interests. They were welcoming and sincere in their interest in who I was and what I was interested in. Only in the conference setting can you have the opportunity to meet so many professionals from around the world who are doing archaeology! Within a few minutes of my arrival at the conference I felt more like I was among peers than a lowly undergraduate and I commend the members of the SHA for this.

The presentations given at the conference covered a wide variety of topics. I enjoyed the breadth of topics as well as papers on sites close to home, which fit my own interests in colonialism, mining, and military history. I attended presentations on experimental archaeology in the re-creation of canons, talks on unfamiliar locations like Saint Eustatius in the Caribbean, fascinating underwater sites, Shakespearian theatre settings, and the presentation on vaginal douching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the student paper prize winner, Ashley Morton. There was certainly a topic to interest everyone!

The Conference presented opportunities to learn about contemporary issues for students in the field of historical archaeology. Thursday morning I attended a panel specifically for students, titled: Navigating the Field: Education and Employment in a Changing Job Market. The discussion was sobering at times, and I left a little discouraged, but after ruminating over the discussion, I found it to be very useful. The current job market is difficult, but I learned the importance of learning necessary job skills and the importance of making the most of your opportunities.

Another highlight of my conference experience was a symposium, titled: Reconsidering Archaeologies of Creativity, which was chaired by Dr. Scarlett. The discussant following the session was Dr. Krysta Ryzewski, of Wayne State University. The discussion format was unique and captivating because Dr. Ryzewski instead of presenting a paper synthesizing the work presented in the symposium she hosted a dialogue between her and the presenters that was excellent, and enlightening.

During the course of the conference I had many productive conversations. Some conversations resulted in possible opportunities for future work.  One discussion focused on a potential summer field project. Just one example of the opportunities that came from my conference attendance, this highlights one of the most important reasons for a student to attend a conference… networking!

The benefits of attending extended beyond my time in Leicester. In reviewing my notes from the conference, I found several notations referring to different archaeological theories. Seeing the use of theory in presentations and experiencing the ensuing discussions sparked a fascination with archaeological theory, which was something I had only a rudimentary understanding of beforehand. I now find myself using every spare minute to study different theoretical subjects.

I strongly recommend that any student attending a conference attend as many student events as possible. I personally wish that I had attended more than I did. The people that you meet at these events are your future colleagues, and the relationships you create at the conference can lead to collaboration in the future. I was able to meet some great people at the Past Presidents’ reception, and I have maintained contact with several of them. I also spent much of the rest of the conference with two of the students I met that evening, and we had some great conversations in which I learned a lot about what a Master’s Program is all about.

Another tip I recommend students take advantage of is to visit the Technology Room. I spoke with Tim Goddard. We talked about how the Technology Room is designed to be an accessible place for people to learn from fellow archaeologists about the latest technologies, and their strengths and weaknesses. During my visit to the technology room I found that this was the case, the people manning the tables were accessible, and excited about the technologies on display.

A few more tips that I learned about the conference are: to bring business cards, plan to attend the talks that interest you as well as those on subjects you don’t know much about, and take good notes. Business cards are handy to hand out to different people that you meet even if you have to make your own. Going to papers on subjects you don’t know much about will expand your knowledge and possibly interests. For example, if you are interested in historical archaeology in the American West, attend some presentations on underwater archaeology, or European archaeology, you may find  that you learn more from the different perspectives given in these talks than on presentations on subjects that follow your personal interests. While there your brain will be swimming with information by the end of the conference, by taking good notes you can sort things out after the conference.

Personally, attending the SHA conference opened doors I never imagined possible. During the conference, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Doug Scott, who recently retired from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He gave a talk on a project he had completed at Pecos Pueblo, an area in which I have a lot of interest. When I returned home from the conference and was considering which institutions I would like to attend for graduate school, I decided to look at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The program seemed to fit my interests perfectly, so I chose to apply. I was accepted and will be attending their program in the fall. I was grateful to have Dr. Scott’s honest opinion of the University and I am appreciative of the time he took to discuss the graduate school process with me. These types of opportunities really make the whole conference experience invaluable.

My attendance at the conference would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Crowther at ASU who provided the financial assistance necessary to make the trip to England possible. I also have the deepest appreciation to Dr. Dick Goddard, and Tim Goddard for presenting the idea of attending the conference, putting me up in Leicester, and being amazing friends, teachers, and mentors. This has led me to some questions: for those of you who attended the conference in Leicester, did you receive any assistance to help you to participate in the conference? What are some resources out there to help with expenses?  What were some of your conference experiences? How can we encourage more students to attend, and participate, in future conferences?


Support for students at the 2014 Conference


The online abstract submission process will be opening on May 1. This JUST leaves you enough time to download the SHA Québec 2014 poster from the conference web site to inform you colleagues, friends and, of particular interest to this blog posting, your students of the upcoming conference. So, if you are a student, it’s time to start planning your participation in the 2014 conference. The conference theme, Questions that Count, is of particular interest to you as you will be living and working through these questions. It’s an excellent opportunity to participate in the definition of your future!

The Society for Historical Archaeology and the Advisory Council for Underwater Archaeology can help you to participate in the conference. Start preparing your request for financial support through one of the many programs available from the. Full information, including application forms, is available on the conference web page.

The ACUA offers a Travel Award for students coming from outside the conference country. SHA past-president Ed Jelks and his wife have very generously created the Ed and Judy Jelks Student Travel Awards, two amounts of $500 that will surely go a long way to bring you a long way.

Et si vous êtes un étudiant francophone, ne manquez pas l’opportunité que vous offre la Bourse de Québec car la SHA souhaite encourager la participation d’étudiants ou d’étudiantes faisant leurs études en français.

Though not a travel award, the SHA Student Paper Prize is a very prestigious honor. The prize will be awarded to a student, or students, whose written version of a conference paper is judged superior in the areas of originality, research merit, clarity of presentation, professionalism, and of potential relevance to a considerable segment of the archaeological community. One prize will be awarded: The winning author will receive a book prize consisting of titles donated by the many presses and organizations exhibiting in the SHA Conference Book Room (totaling almost $1,500 worth of items in 2013) and a letter of recognition from the SHA President. The winning author will be encouraged to submit his or her paper to be reviewed for possible publication in Historical Archaeology. The results of the competition will be communicated to the entrants prior to the meeting and the winner will be announced at the annual business meeting.

Keep abreast of new opportunities and information concerning volunteer opportunities throughout the year on our website. The Student Subcommittee of the Academic and Professional Training Committee will certainly have further information on other activities organized by and for students. Follow their blog posts as well!