#SHA2014- Lessons Learned from the Conference at the European Village on the Planet Hoth

View from SHA2014 QuebecThe 2013–2014 Polar Vortex drastically altered the travel plans for dozens of attendees of the recent Society for Historical Archaeology conference (#SHA2014). Set in beautiful, friendly Quebec City, the reputation of this conference will be forever marked by memories of delays, unexpected hotel layovers, lost luggage, and icy streetscapes. I had a great time in Canada. Archaeos from Quebec are exemplary in their concern for highlighting and preserving in their own unique history. I learned a lot.

Quebec City is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is easy to believe while walking the streets of Vieux-Québec. The hoteliers where I stayed were helpful and friendly. My flight on Air Canada was unbelievably comfortable (I also witnessed an Air Canada representative willingly help a fellow conference-goer re-book her itinerary after one of her connection flights was cancelled! Good customer service from an airline for a ticket that was booked on a second-party website! Unbelievable).

For the first time in several years, I also soaked in the conference—staying at the venue from 9AM to 6PM most of the days (except, for the time I took to nurse a crippling hangover on Saturday morning. Am I getting too old to party like an archaeologist?). I also participated in a well-attended luncheon on teaching CRM in universities and joined a committee (the Academic and Professional Training Committee). Those are two things I’ve never done in the past.

To make a long story short, the conference was productive and had fun. But, why should that matter for you?

One of the topics discussed at SHA2014 was the recent Congressional threat to eliminate National Science Foundation funding for archaeology. Before I went to the conference, I thought this was just another obnoxious conservative threat. Being from Idaho and living in Arizona, I know that most of the time these conservative rants are little more than a couple windbags letting off a little steam because some wealthy constituent (usually a construction company or developer) doesn’t want to follow the law. But, the leadership at the SHA do nott view this as an empty threat. They see it as an opening salvo in an attempt to eliminate the NHPA and remove cultural resources from the NEPA process. The time to act to save our jobs is now.

9 Things I Learned at SHA 2014

1)      There is a lot of awesome historical archaeology going on around the world. My mind was blown at least once each day by some of the amazing things I saw other archaeologists doing around the world. I heard about great community outreach. I also learned that archaeology is bringing opportunity and hope to underprivileged children in Washington D.C. through the Urban Archaeology Corps (watch their YouTube channel to learn more) and wounded soldiers. The stories were truly inspirational.

2)      We need to let the general public and other archaeologists know about what we’re doing. People like archaeologists. They like hearing about the past. Like I mentioned above, many of us are doing extraordinary things and helping the whole world learn about the past. We just need to spread the word a little better. Fortunately, there are a bunch of other archaeologists that are doing just that. We just need to amplify the message.

3)      We need to act now in order to save cultural resource management. It was troubling to hear that our own government representatives are willing to eliminate the principal source of livelihood for thousands of educated archaeologists just to make some hyper-conservative cheapskates happy. That’s exactly what will happen if they get rid of Section 106 or cultural resources evaluations under the NEPA. We all need to take action today to save our careers and futures.

The SHA is partnering with the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA) to take a grassroots approach– advocating we reach out to local communities and clients that like our work. We need to ask these constituencies to tell local and national representatives that archaeology, history, preservation, and heritage are important. Our heritage is what makes us Americans. And, we would know a lot less about our past without historic preservation and archaeology.

4)      What are the “Questions that Count”? It always boggles my mind when I hear this in a presentation. Can somebody tell me what these questions are?

5)      Always carry-on your luggage. Always. The SHA is always in January. Most of the time it’s in a place that snows or you have to travel through a place where it snows. That means delays and other headaches. It’s best to go light and bring a carry-on that is of the official allowable size.

6)      No need to bring a suit anymore. It looks like most of the men that go to the SHA don’t dress up anymore. Jeans are commonplace these days and a suit jacket is a total hassle to bring. So, why bring one anymore?

7)      Archaeologists have a great understanding of the fact that universities need to fill the education gap between CRM and university training; they just don’t know how to fix it. I participated in an excellent luncheon that was arranged to discuss how universities can better prepare their students for careers in CRM. Pioneering CRM professors Mary and Adrian Praetzellis of Sonoma State University and the executive director of the SRI Foundation Terry Klein were all in attendance. We agreed that hands-on training and understanding of the regulations was essential, but many at the table stressed critical thinking as the most important thing CRMers need to know. They also acknowledged that knowing how to critically apply CRM regulations was probably not something that could be learned in college.

Nevertheless, our group could not think of a way to improve archaeology education in a way that would benefit the CRM industry. While it became readily apparent that CRM companies should get together and tell universities what they need, nobody had an actionable plan for achieving this goal. I think I’ll move ahead with my CRM MOOC and help them out a bit.

8)      Budding archaeologists still do not know how to get a job. Sad, but true. Most of the students I talked with had no plan for getting gainful employment after their graduation. I wonder when this will end.

9)      Whiteness might be the new black. I gave a well-attended talk on applying the racial concept of whiteness to our archaeological interpretations because taking white people into account is essential for understanding the archaeology of racialized groups in the United States. I was the only one at this conference that addressed this topic; although, it is a trending topic on several blogs and in archaeology discussions.

I say whiteness is the new black because I’ve seen an explosion in symposia on African American archaeology at the annual SHA conferences in the last 10 years. But, I’ve never seen any talks given on how whiteness has been developed as a racial construct and how that effects our interpretations. Most of the people I talked to after my speech were pretty much unaware of the fact that the way we view white people is central to our interpretations as archaeologists. I hope this changes.

This year’s conference was productive and I had a great time. This is the 9th SHA I’ve attended and, once again, it was memorable. I hope those of you that went to Quebec learned something useful and don’t remember it simply because it was the first archaeology conference in the Hoth System.

Hope you had fun at the conference too. Please tell me your story and experiences by writing a comment below or send me an email.


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