Post-EAA report - Istanbul 2014

During the 'round table' at the 20th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Istambul
During the 20th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Istanbul, the Working Group in Pubic Archaeology held its second round table and meeting. The topic was ethics, as agreed the previous year, and a priori acceptance was great with 17 proposals of which 14 made it to the final schedule of the session.

This year we have complained a lot about the organization of the meeting, with a chaotic system that messed up proposals, and absurd requirements like having to send a paper to get time for introduction and debate of the session. This is why we could not wait more for substantial changes in organization.

Sometimes our wishes come true, but not in the way we expect. We had a productive round table with around two hours of debate, but not because we could schedule more time, but because 50% of the scheduled speakers did not show up.
Some had good reasons, but others did not even notify us. Moreover, out of the five public archaeology-related sessions of interest for the Working Group during the entire conference, two overlapped on Thursday and another two on Friday, making it impossible to attend half of the relevant sessions. If this report of the meeting is not talking about the ethical side of public archaeology, then we have to conclude that the meeting has been a failure, and we need to rethink.

This is why the Working Group has made three proposals to the EAA board (written as we did not have the opportunity to speak in the Annual Business Meeting, nor to report, or ask in the final questions).

  1.     Overlapping Sessions. The Committees and Working Groups do not only debate their interests during the meeting, but also work in the interest of their members. This is why we should have a say in the scheduling of sessions to avoid overlapping. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid it, but we can at least help to minimize the damage.
  2.          Round Tables. A round table is synonym for debate. A traditional session with a different name is not a round table. This is why we propose in future we hold real round tables in a format in which we get 2-3 hours to debate. People can send their proposals to participate too, but in a format in which the schedule is not tight and we can actually do a round table, with a maximum of 5-7 speakers and the participation of the public.
  3.      Introduction and Debate. Sessions need to be introduced and debate should be compulsory. This is why 15 minutes for introduction and 30 minutes for debate should be scheduled in every session. If we do not encourage that and limit the session to polite questions after a talk, we miss our goal to foster and support open discussion, at least from our point of view.

As the Working Group needs to have a chair and a secretary to head the organization of sessions and communicate with the EAA board, next year there will be elections, and all of you are more than welcome to participate. Decisions on any matter that affects the group will be still taken as an assembly and communication will flow as it has done to date, but the role Lorna and Jaime have been playing these two years needs to be continued, and elections are essential for that.

Going back to the session on ethics and public archaeology, the session was still productive and some interesting topics arose. It was made clear that there is a need for commitment as professionals, as we do good archaeology, we need to do good public archaeology too. This is not an easy duty, but worth undertaking, and that is why planning and management are core elements in the implementation of any public archaeology project.

Timing and funding were raised as the biggest challenges for our future, and the ethical practice of public archaeology. Philanthropy is the new funding scheme and it needs to be considered how this might be prejudicial for a project and its sustainability, a recurrent word that is central for the success of any public archaeology project. This is why archaeological teams have to engage in the long term for public archaeology projects, and planning must be clear and reasonable to be able to cover properly all the goals and timetable. In order to achieve the professionalization of public archaeology, commitment cannot be the only heart of a project and only through working with people and governments can we address this issue.

The political side of our practice in terms of agenda is crucial for the set of clear roles and the stability of teams and projects. So, the public is not only a traditional community but also a complex audience within which we can find politicians, but also other archaeologists, minority populations or other special interest groups, which may sometimes lead to conflict. Awareness of all of them is essential. The consequences of our work can be important, and this is why we need to evaluate them carefully. An activist approach is crucial for the successful impact of archaeology and public archaeology, however difficult it can be to position oneself, especially in the private sector. Public archaeology goes far beyond the remit of what we understand to be archaeological practice, into the daily lives of people, and if our work is not going to make a real difference, we need to rethink our strategies.

Of course, every situation is different and we cannot apply the same strategy to all of them. We just need to be sure what we are doing is not going to cause damage either to heritage or, more importantly, to people.

This long report sums up in some way the main ideas we debated during the session, and suggests a series of reasonable steps for next year – perhaps the EAAWG on Public Archaeology session for Glasgow 2015 could be the political role of public archaeology?