One of the traditional ways in which fresh archaeological information is brought to the public is through the conference. This may seem quaint in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Skype, but it expresses the need, indeed necessity, of direct contact and debate with colleagues (professional and voluntary) from the discipline. According to a Council for British Archaeology (CBA) report from 2010 the potential audience for this kind of activity is the more than 200,000 volunteer archaeologists who each year regularly take part in archaeology and visit archaeology and historic sites.1 The classic forms of debate, the networks and the discussions in the bar afterwards, all contribute to a greater understanding of current practice and the latest finds, as well of course as being fun (as long as it’s not taken too seriously). Yes, there can be the odd ego on display or the over enthusiastic delegate, but on the whole I have found conferences and day schools an enjoyable and educational experience over the last 30 years.
One of the distinctive features of British archaeology is the way in which the conference season is dominated by events organised by voluntary groups and societies, particularly in the Spring and the Autumn. North West England is no exception and this autumn there are plenty of events on offer. These include a day conference on the archaeology and history of Newton Hall (11 Oct at Dukinfield), CBA NW’s autumn conference on Industrial Archaeology (run with the support of the CBA North West Industrial Panel – 11 Nov in Wilmslow), the Greater Manchester Archaeology Day (24 Nov in Manchester), and the Society for Museum Archaeologists Annual conference (at Manchester Museum 28-29 Nov). Elsewhere other conferences to catch my eye included: ‘Metallurgy Research in Progress’ (Nov 6 at Newcastle University), ‘Digital Engagement in Archaeology’ (at UCL London 8 Nov) and ‘Archaeology in York 2012’ (10 Nov), run by, respectively, a university, a specialist society, and a local authority.
Of course, it’s not possible physically or financially to attend all of these events and the others on offer (see the websites for the CBA and Current Archaeology for the full variety of what’s on offer before Christmas).2 Yet these events often provide the first draft of what will become formal papers and publications. In the North West at least half a dozen conferences in the last decade have led to conference proceedings, many of these published through the voluntary organisation CBA North West as issues of their journal Archaeology North West. These volumes include issues on the archaeology of industrialisation, Roman salt making in Cheshire, medieval town archaeology, and two volumes on the regional research framework and strategy for the region. How long such publications will exist in a traditional paper form is a topic for another blog. In the meantime, I have a stack of these publications awaiting a spare moment, so it is lucky that it’s not long until Christmas.
1) Thomas, S. (2010) Community Archaeology in the UK: Recent Findings, York, Council for British Archaeology. Available to download from: www.britarch.ac.uk/research/community.