Last week our Visible Diggers research project culminated in our presentation in Doug Rocks-McQueen and Cara Jones’ session ‘the Future of Engagement’ at the CIfA 2015 conference in Cardiff. Fellow students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh and myself put together a powerpoint presentation and an accompanying narrative of the results of our survey and had been practising for several weeks. The nerves definitely started to kick in when we arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held. One last practice in the hotel room and it was time to join the session in which we were speaking, The session had a range of interesting speakers each giving differing views on the future of public engagement with archaeology. The main point that came from many of the papers was that the archaeological profession is currently divided into several different and often idiosyncratic sectors – commercial, academic, community etc. and the lack of communication between them should be addressed before better and more universal public engagement strategies are to be implemented. However, several speakers such as Viviana Culshaw of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological trust, Angharad Williams and Victoria Reid from Access to Archaeology presented some fun and successful public outreach projects. David Connolly of BAJR gave a concluding presentation about how these boundaries between sectors should be broken down and archaeologists from ifferent backgrounds should work more closely together and tell more stories!
One guy in the audience complained that universities ‘cherry-pick’ the best archaeological sites for untrained students to work. He suggested they should really be getting excavated by members of the commercial sector who have much more knowledge and experience. I think he’d forgotten where archaeologists with experience come from! I was starting to worry how well our paper would go down by the time it came to our slot, to an audience seemingly made up of mostly commercial archaeology management types! I made a point to state before I started that its possible to be a community archaeologist, student, and member of the community at the same time and these ‘labels’ that had been flying around in the session were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our presentation was well-received and we had some great questions from the crowd. Issues about male and female students receiving information differently and students being unsure whether they had made interpretive acts during their fieldwork were of particular interest to the audience and we had lots of people congratulating us and wanting to know more afterwards which was great!
We even managed to secure a slot to display out poster in the foyer, and we made some great new connections with people at the conference. I had a chance to meet Raksha Dave from time team who was telling us about the possibility of archaeologists being able to become individually chartered, in a similar way to many other EU countries and what this might mean for community archaeology and people already working in the commercial sector – interesting stuff! I feel i totally made the right outfit choice too – my blue velvet blazer was a hit!
The experience on a whole was absolutely amazing and I feel a great sense of empowerment that even though the three of us are still undergraduates, we can still make a difference and a contribution to the archaeological community. Having some experience in public speaking has definitely been beneficial too (way to be thrown in at the deep end, right?). We’re now currently trying to organise a short piece for ‘the Archaeologist’ journal, where we’ll publish a more complete version of our results. Stay tuned!