My take on CIfA conference 2017: A lot to do about cheese!

From 19-21 April I was given the opportunity to visit CIfA conference in Newcastle. Now I did visit once before, last year in Leicester, but this year I was actually going to speak. Me! Making a point. At CIfA. In the session ‘How are we making archaeology accessible to all and are we doing it well enough?’. About diversity and archaeology. And cheese … Cheese? Yes, and this why … As I said, I had already visited the conference last year and found out that this beautiful archaeological association has its own ‘Equality & Diversity’ group. It was a complete eye opener for me that this could even exist in the field of archaeology. And that was when I first started wondering why we do not have such a group in the Netherlands. We are very good in uniting ourselves in all kinds of small specialty groups (not so much in uniting ourselves as a branch though…), so why not a diversity group? The possibilities and opportunities I discovered at the conference and within this group made me think of the social importance of archaeology. These possibilities are often untapped in the Netherlands, where community archaeology is still in its infancy. I began to wonder if we are lagging behind in the Netherlands or if something else might be going on. Since I had met Therese O’Mahony (Enabled Archaeology) at the conference and we seemed to be on the same page in giving everyone a chance in life, we kept in touch. Then a question came from Enabled Archaeology: they were given the opportunity to organise a session during the next CIfA conference, under the flag of the Equality and Diversity group. They were looking for abstracts. So, I figured: ‘Oh well, it’s not like I will be chosen to speak, so I might as well offer the support by handing in an abstract to show that there are people in the Netherlands thinking about some change in accessibility’. I decided to present an abstract from the globalization point of view, from the Dutch perspective, and I decided to include the questions that were still in my mind: Why is there an Equality and Diversity Group within British archaeology, but not in for instance the Netherlands? Is there a necessity for an ‘Equality & Diversity Group’ within British archaeology because there are more problems in the UK with equality in archaeology? Or might there be a group like this within the UK because Britain has raised more awareness around diversity issues? What are archaeologists doing abroad to make archaeology accessible for everyone, if anything?

About One and a half months later, I received an email: I was one of the ‘chosen ones’! Ehr…, yes, great! But that was not part of the plan! Now I had to actually find the answers to my questions …. How to go about doing that?! I decided to interview people who have been dealing with this subject far longer than me. Not only archaeologists, but also others in the heritage world. And that was so much fun! I had such open, honest, and inspiring conversations. And fortunately, somewhere during these interviews, things were starting to make some sort of sense. I was able to draw some conclusions and I was growing very curious how UK archaeologists would respond to these conclusions.

Dr van der Sommen Speaking at CIfA 2017

Marloes speaking about social roles and the interviews she conducted.

So, I was working towards the 20th of April, D-day, and I discovered my presentation would be the one just after the unmatched Therese O’Mahony, who speaks with so much passion about accessibility and inclusiveness. That meant I had to come up with something unique, something that would stick, that could hold a candle to the fiery presentation of Theresa… and then, in the middle of the night, it came to me: cheese…. I had to have actual cheese. I of course am a Dutch Cheese Girl!

Image of Theresa O'Mahony Speaking at CIfA 2017

Image of Theresa Speaking at CIfA 2017

I’m not quite sure how I got so lucky, but someone started a discussion on twitter on the 19th of April, the lack of cheese tasting during a presentation being the topic…and just like that: the rumour of cheese started buzzing around.

So, before I started my presentation, I introduced my cheese platter, since we Dutch love our cheeses! I had a great Danish Blue, a lovely French Brie, of course a sturdy English Cheddar, and last but not least a Dutch Gouda, and asked the audience to keep them in mind. I could not have asked for a better and more involved audience, so I could make my chain of thoughts quite clear during the presentation. I told the story of choosing my topic for my thesis (sadly not combining women studies and archaeology), the first research steps in discovering the range of diversity in Dutch archaeology (which is lacking, but can easily be dismissed apparently…), and the common denominators in the interviews (we’re not doing enough, we’re not even close to being diverse in Dutch archaeology, people from different target groups in the community do not recognise themselves in the stories we bring to the public). We are running behind in these matters, in comparison with other European countries. Diversity has so much to offer in for instance interpreting our data, we are actually selling science short by not including all these diverse people, all these ‘minority’ groups, these different perspectives. I painted the picture of the differences in background and culture between the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany.

In conclusion, I debated that in the Netherlands we are not getting everyone involved. Not because we don’t want to, we’re simply not aware of the phenomenon diversity. Awareness seems to be a cultural phenomenon which the Dutch at this point seem to lack culture and background for. But all is not lost: in the Netherlands a revenue model might be the answer to making diversity an urgent necessity. The big question though: Can we benefit from exchange of knowledge? I think we should acknowledge that every country, every culture has to analyse where they stand in raising awareness. Solutions are as diverse as the people involved. We can exchange knowledge, but we need to be aware it needs a customized approach. There has to be a matrix to begin with, or you don’t have a place to anchor that knowledge. Back to my cheese platter: the common denominator here is that everything on the platter is cheese, but as in raising awareness, the cheeses have to be cultivated in different ways to fit the taste of particular groups of people. They all taste great in their own way. But if you treat them wrong…they will stink!

Marloes concluding with her cheese board at CIfA 2017

Dr van der Sommen sums up her findings with her wonderful cheeseboard at CIfA 2017

This presentation is of course not the end of my journey: I did speak (both in person and on twitter) with some of you and I want to keep the lines of communication wide open to exchange ideas. I also spoke to some colleagues and students in the Netherlands after the conference and we all seem to agree: time for change has arrived! We are aware that some of us don’t feel safe within our working environment and we have to raise more awareness. My next step will be: writing an article for a website on heritage in the Netherlands, a social call to get everyone involved in collecting ideas on making the workplace save for everyone. Awareness will be the number one goal at this stage and in my point of view diverse people working in archaeology and diverse target groups in public archaeology are communicating vessels.

I am still convinced: If we, as archaeologists, do not take responsibility in involvement, we will not only lose these target groups for public archaeology, we will lose all relevance within society!

Link to paper: Please Click Here

Drs. M.P.H. van der Sommen, The Netherlands,

twitter: @MarloesvdSommen

Instagram: @mph.van.der.sommen  


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