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!

 

Ten Take-Aways from SHA Public Day 2013

Every year on the last Saturday of the Society’s annual meeting we open our doors to the public, in one form or another.  Since the 1996 annual meeting in Cincinnati some Public Days have taken place at historical sites, museums, or ballroom of the conference venue.  For the 2013 Public Day the University of Leicester opened its student union, lecture hall, and common grounds for the benefit of the community.  And come they did!  Hundreds of people swarmed in the disco-turned-expo hall on two floors—people upstairs in period dress and info tables, activities for all ages celebrating all the senses down below—while others participated in a metal detector demonstration on the lawn, and others still attended lectures in the auditorium.

As SHA’s Public Education and Information Committee (PEIC) chair, I feel a duty to attend and support the local chairs. But let’s be honest, I also attend to beg/borrow/steal outreach ideas.  It was painful to narrow to a manageable amount, but here are my top ten take-aways:

  1.  Clanging of the coins.  The activity that demanded the most attention was the percussive minting of a Richard III coin.  I heard banging across the expo room and fought against the current to find the origin: people invited to pound etched stamps together using a sledge hammer and make their own Richard III coin.  Brilliant!  I often shy away from coins at outreach events, afraid I may inspire harmful habits to root out coins on archaeological sites.  But this activity focused instead on the symbolism of the coin.  It also satisfied one of the hardest customer wants, the desire of the public to take something home.  The aluminum blank inserted between the engraved steel plates was a 2013 artifact okay to take home.  They let me take home three!  I came home and did a bit of research.  If you want to adapt this activity to coinage found near you, get in touch with an engraver and have them design two steel plates for your event.
  2. Planview tiles.  I took two ideas from the English Heritage table.  First was the birdseye planview of Stonehenge affixed on square tiles.  The focus of the site shifted from the megalithic center to the pathways and greater landscape.  I can think of a whole host of sites in my area that can be adapted to this activity.
  3. Stereoscopes.  I’m no stranger to stereoscopes at historic sites, the difference at the English Heritage table was the scale of the scope.  The viewer was huge and the 3-dimensional image enlarged.  Like the companion tile activity, I can image the elevation view of the same sites being really useful.  I’m not sure where they ordered theirs from, but I found something similar, Geoscope Pro on the ASCS webpage.
  4. Touch tables.  Ten years ago we had artifacts on the table for the public to touch.  The pendulum has swung to the other extreme, for our events at least, where we rely on replicas and put original artifacts out in cases behind glass.  There was no end to the artifacts you could touch: Roman tiles, Stafforshire pottery sherds, lithics and animal bones.  While many artifacts require careful handling and are fragile, many are victims of lost provenience and can stand up to public affection.  I’m inspired to get more creative about packaging objexts the public can touch- it gives them that immediate, personal connection to the past.  A powerful tool too often ignored. 
  5. Music to my ears.  Throughout the day musicians played on the front stage.  The music spanned several different eras and types of instruments.  As archaeologists we often think of the past as something people can see or maybe touch, but it was delightful to my ears to hear music brought to life centuries later through living musicians today.
  6. Let them eat cake!  On a similar sensory theme, one table featured chronology of different foods the public could taste.  Health code in the states may not allow for such a station, but it was a great activity to connect food and foodways with the different cultures over time that consumed them. 
  7. Toys!  I never thought to invite toy merchants to an event, but it makes sense for the little ones that they would want an appropriate souvenir to take home.  These Play Mobile figures are inexpensive and allowed some to carry the magic home.
  8. Books!  Beyond merchandizing for kids, several tables offered books, posters, and resources for adults.  Too often I rely on a site’s gift shop or book store to provide economic opportunities to support the vendors.  I really liked the idea the if certain tables encouraged you to learn more, you could immediately act on that impulse and take a book home that very day.
  9. Dressing the part.  While some public days are specific to a certain time or site, in Leicester any time period was fair game: Roman, Plantagenets, Elizabethan, even up to WWII.  To visually survey the expo hall and see such a range of first person interpreters or re-enactors was also very inspiring.  There was a Richard III near the stage, a man in armor near the entrance, a whole corridor of WWII soldiers.  And it extended to the children’s area where they could play dress up across different time periods.  As an archaeologist at outreach events I feel living history is often far afield from what I’m trying to do.  But it was marvelous to see walking, talking representations of the time period and no doubt drew the audience further into the expo fray.  The hall of kids activities also featured a dress up station that was busy every time I walked by.
  10. Activities, Activities, Activities.  In talking with the organizers before the big day, one thing that seemed important to them was to make sure there was enough for little hands to do.  They accomplished this throughout the expo hall, but also had an entire hallway at the entrance full of hands-on activities.  Tables included making pottery, zooarch analysis, artifact drawing, the dress up station mentioned above.  One thing I’d heard of others doing but had yet to try was a metal detector demonstration.  The sound of it drew passerbyers over and added excitement I never considered in only reading about the demonstration on paper.  It sounded like trying to tune in distant radios from the other side of the world!  The crowd became instantly engaged when the youth hit a hot spot.

The day was a success, both from the quantitative measure of public served (2,000+ estimated) and from a professional development measure.  In fact, we already “stole” the seed activity and put it to practice at a recent science activity day in northeast Florida!  Congratulations to the Public Chairs and local committee.  And thank you to the University of Leicester that did an excellent job in cross promoting the conference and public day to visitors of all walks.

For more pictures and comments from the actual day, check out the Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/403052999760928/

If You’re a Student in Leicester!

Every SHA annual conference has programming of interest to and specifically geared towards students. Leicester will be no different. Here are some of the coming conference offerings students might want to highlight.

Globalisation, Immigration, Transformation: the 2013 Plenary Session
(Wednesday January 9th 6-8pm)

Students arriving in Leicester for the opening day of the conference will find the Plenary Session a place where SHA membership comes together across research interests and affiliations. The session panel will focus on case studies and moderators will facilitate a broad exploration of the conference themes.

Navigating the Field: Education and Employment in a Changing Job Market
(Thursday January 10th 8:30-10:30)

Cosponsored by the APTC Student Subcommittee and ACUA, this session is Part I of II and will focus specifically on student concerns. Panelists from both underwater and terrestrial backgrounds will address what is arguably the most pressing issue on many students’ minds—jobs.  Whether you seek a job in the United States, Europe or elsewhere, panelists will offer their perspective on how education matches up with the changing job market.

Past Presidents’ Student Reception
(Thursday, January 10th, 4:30pm- 6:00pm)

Students are invited to join SHA past presidents for an informal reception. This is a great opportunity to connect with leaders in the organization. A free drink and snacks will be provided.

Equity (Issues) for All, Historical Archaeology as a Profession in the 21st Century
(Friday January 11th 9-12:30)

Part II of these sessions on professional issues, this symposium will address concerns of gumptious academic and cultural resource management archaeologists. Senior managers and tenured professors from across the US and UK comprise the panel.  This will be an opportunity to engage upper management and tenured faculty in discussions of how to address current equity issues in the workplace, the barriers they faced rising in the ranks, and how they got to where they are today.

SHA Business Meeting
(Friday January 11th 5-6pm)

The SHA Business Meeting will be open to all members, students included. The organization welcomes and encourages student participation.

Academic and Professional Training Committee (APTC) Student Subcommittee (SSC) Meeting
(Saturday January 12th 12:30-1:30)

The Academic and Professional Training Committee’s Student Subcommittee is run by and focused on SHA student members. As a formal platform for the interests and voices of students, it is a great way for them to contribute, develop professional skills and increase visibility. The SSC provides opportunities for students to participate in the organization at a variety of commitment levels.  Committee members organize sessions, are student liaisons to other committees, and contribute to the blog and newsletter. During the meeting, students will learn about ongoing  activities and have the chance to get involved.  Students participating in the SSC drive activities for the upcoming year and develop new projects. (Please note the midday time slot.)

Rap Session for Student Members
(Saturday January 12 1:30-5pm)

Sponsored by the Student Subcommittee, the informal format of the RAP session will allow students to hang out and discuss issues of import to them. Panelists are archaeologists at all stages in their career, both underwater and terrestrial. The popularity of this session grows each year and will be a great way to sum up any conference experience.

If you are a student attending the annual meeting in Leicester, please email the SSC chair, Jenna Coplin. If you cannot attend the committee meeting, but are interested in learning more about the SSC or keeping up with SSC goings-on throughout the year, email Jenna to be added to the student list serv. Also, be sure to follow the hashtag #SSC on Twitter throughout the conference (along with the #SHA2013 tag!) for student-specific tweets and messages!

In addition to these sessions, check out Emma Dwyer’s blog post about trips and tours of Leicester offered through the SHA.