A personal view of CIfA 2016 day one
As someone who takes a ridiculous amount of pride in sporting the white rose, I spent a considerable amount of the southbound journey pondering the extent to which the city of Leicester may or may not be still caught up in King Richard Fever. Sure enough, the opening address of the conference name-checked not only the civic pride of the Greyfriars excavations, but also the recent exploits of Leicester City: a statistical long-shot not too far removed from rediscovering a hastily buried 15th century monarch beneath a car park. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m relieved the conference was held before Mark Selby, the ‘Jester from Leicester’, lifted his second Snooker World Championship, or there would have been little room left for discussion of archaeology.
”Anticipation was high”
My personal level of anticipation for the conference was high. I had gone to the Cardiff conference in 2015 with few specific expectations beyond the fact that I was travelling there on my own, as a self-employed archaeologist and with the knowledge that most of my good friends in the world of archaeology had pulled out from attending due to various other commitments. I left Cardiff with a raft of new friends and enthused to a degree I’ve not experienced since my university days (not too distant but long enough ago to make me feel like a jaded old lag on occasion). A number of my fellow committee members have highlighted the importance of the Glass Ceilings session in 2015, so I won’t go into detail again here. It is worth repeating, however, that the atmosphere in that session was electric; the papers were by turn emotional, inspirational, moving, shocking. I sat in the session and listened, rapt, to the speakers, two of whom are now fellow Equality and Diversity Group committee members. I went to the pub, and it seemed all we wanted to, or indeed could talk about was that session. It felt like both a watershed and a springboard, and now I found myself in Leicester knowing there were a lot of people who felt the same way. Anticipation was high, and as Hannah has already described in her eloquent blog post, so was the pressure we felt as a group.
Those of you who came to see us on our stand during breaks will have hopefully taken note of our rather splendid banner (picture in an earlier post). Although it did partially conceal our table, its vibrancy seemed to be a useful first point of engagement for the early attendees who came and said hello. With few preconceptions about what to expect, my main impression of being on the stand, with our treasurer Sarah on the first morning, was the friendliness and interest of those who stopped by. In amongst the general browsers, (many of whom seemed to be checking out the quality of free sweets!) we had people come and sign up as new group members, old friends who had not yet heard of the group and wanted to know more, and also a couple of people who came to us to discuss specific issues and how we might be able to help. This last was both gratifying and humbling.
Away from chatting to people at the stand, my main interest for the day was in the Future of Community Archaeology session run by Rob Hedge and Aisling Nash from Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. Rob was one of the wonderful people who took pity on a friendless archaeologist in Cardiff and welcomed me into the jolly band of which he was a part. He should be well known to any of you who spend time in the archaeology blogosphere as The Incurable Archaeologist, and the session which he and Aisling led was the first of three at the conference exploring different aspects of community and public archaeology. It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into the detail of the session and the ensuing (fiery) discussion, but a key thing that stood out for me was the fact that issues of inclusivity, equality and diversity kept being raised.
The ethics of heritage and archaeology is a vast and nuanced subject that deserves better than a slightly fatuous blog post, but the themes of embedding public benefit in what we do, revisited time and again during the three days of the conference, often returned to a discussion about those who are most marginalised. I have, personally speaking, been guilty in the past of compartmentalising in my mind some of the issues of equality and diversity in archaeology; discussion of a specific area evokes a particular picture and association: sexual harassment focused on young women on a student dig or building site; under-representation of women within senior management in the ‘commercial’ archaeology sector; discrimination against disabled archaeologists being purely based on a lack of access to sites. Whilst images such as these can sometimes be the most readily comprehensible examples, they fundamentally fail to engage with the nuance of the problem or the ways in which such issues saturate all aspects of our discipline, our industry and our daily lives. It may take some time, but from here on I shall always try to look further than the obvious.
”from here on I shall always try to look further than the obvious”
This being an archaeology conference, the day’s excitements, debates and (generally) cordial disagreements spilled from the lecture theatres and seminar rooms onto the streets and into the pubs of Leicester. After a short while wandering with a good friend of mine, we happened upon the pub where Rob seemed to be holding a raucous post-match analysis of the Future of Community Archaeology session. Wedging myself in next to two people I had not met before, we got chatting. They were representatives of Digger’s Forum, and they asked if I was delivering a paper at the conference this year. I said I wasn’t, but that I was on the committee of the new Equality and Diversity Group and would be helping out at the workshop on the Friday. ‘We’re really looking forward to that’ they replied, before the conversation blossomed into a free-wheeling discussion of the many equality and diversity issues that need addressing. It was fantastic, and it was only curtailed by the unexpected last orders bell.
On my way home, enthused but slightly fuzzy of mind, I paused by a metal gate. Glancing up I read the sign: Greyfriars Priory. I tipped my imaginary hat to the last legitimate English monarch and headed to bed.
Jim Brightman, committee member.