At the start of 2018, I announced that the Theoretical Archaeology Group‘s 40th annual conference would be coming to the University of Chester and hosted by the Department of History and Archaeology for the first time!
I’ve deliberately kept quiet about the conference on the Archaeodeath blog in the meantime, but my colleagues, student volunteers and I have been very busy promoting and organising the conference through months of hard work. It all took place between Monday 17th and Wednesday 19th December 2018.
Key details are as follows:
- The TAG Deva conference website;
- The full academic programme of sessions and exhibitions;
- The keynote ‘Antiquity Lecture’ by Professor Cornelius Holtorf;
- The Social Programme;
- A Twitter Moment with feedback from delegates.
Results and Thanks
There were at least 427 delegates from over 180 institutions and organisations represented, delivering c. 250 presentations spread over 35 sessions and exhibitions.
Introduced by TAG Trustee Professor Timothy Darvill, the Antiquity Lecture was by Professor Cornelius Holtorf (UNESCO Professor of Heritage Futures at Linnaeus University, Sweden).
The drinks reception at Brewhouse and Kitchen, and the 40th TAG birthday party at the CSU, were both great successes.
The academic programme comprised of 1 sound exhibition, 1 art exhibition, 1 comic display, 1 digital session, 3 round tables, 1 debate session, 1 short talk/round table/workshop, 1 short talk session, and 25 further academic sessions. We felt the range and rigour of the academic content set a new standard, with many of the exceptional papers by undergraduates, postgraduates and early career researchers as well as those from the commercial and heritage sectors as well as academia. I was particularly pleased that there was a strand of 3 death sessions, a strand of 7-8 sessions on archaeology in the contemporary world, including public and community archaeology, and a series of sessions on frontiers and borderlands.
The Exhibition Hall served as the hub for the conference, where there was tea, coffee and biscuits available mid-morning and mid-afternoon, as well as stalls for a range of book-sellers and exhibitors, including displays of art.
This event really put archaeology at Chester on the map, with delegates from Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, USA, and from across Scotland, Wales and England.
Caroline and I wish to thank the organising committee and many other colleagues – staff and student volunteers – who made the conference a huge success. The session organisers and presenters (those attending and those offering digital talks) brought together a rich programme. Also, there were many vibrant debates involving the audiences of sessions and discussions during breaks and in various restaurants and pubs.
Thanks also to exhibitors and sponsors, as well as to Doug Rocks-McQueen and his Landward volunteers helped to record all the sessions for us. Further gratitude is extended to our colleagues in Facilities, AV and the Conference Office for the smooth running of this large academic event.
The TAG Deva committee, and the lead organisers – Dr Caroline Pudney and myself – benefited from guidelines and support from the National Committee as well as the most recent previous TAG conference organisers from Bradford, Southampton and Cardiff.
Special thanks must go to the 3 postgraduate archaeology students currently at the University of Chester and who presented at TAG Deva: Brian Costello, Reanna Phillips and Abigail Downer.
We therefore retained and developed upon the established format and best practices and traditions of TAG conferences in encouraging students and independents, as well as heritage professionals and academic researchers to present. We accepted a wide range of sessions on cross-period themes, as well as a few with geographical and period-specific foci. However, we adapted and enhanced on previous conferences in a number of regards. Here I’d like to present my personal reflections on our initiatives in co-organising (for the second time) a TAG conference. Some are things already familiar to TAG but we did more of them. Others are initiatives enacted for the first time at TAG (to our knowledge).
Advised by various stakeholders, including British Women Archaeologists and the Inclusive Archaeology Project, we crafted (for the first time) some Guidelines of Session Organisers, outlining best practices for session proposers to ensure inclusivity and equality. While inevitably there were gaps in what we could achieve, we hope these guidelines provide the basis upon which future TAG conferences can build.
We worked hard to foster and deliver a range of session formats to allow a rich variety of ways in which contributions were incorporated.
Note: while previous TAGs allowed day-long sessions, we insisted on half-day sessions to ensure parallel sessions did not proliferate beyond 7.
We are the first TAG to have actively cultivated a social media presence from start to finish. On Facebook, we disseminated key messages. On Twitter, we cultivated over 1,100 followers and discussed key issues and concerns, as well as communicating important information to delegates and interested parties, in the run up to the conference. Significantly for future conferences, we are transferring management of these accounts to our successors at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, so that they don’t have to start from scratch in organising the 41st TAG conference, 16th-18th December 2019. At time of writing, the TAG Deva Twitter account is in the process of morphing. Therefore, TAG has a prominent social media presence moving forward.
In addition, we prominently identified easy-to-use hashtags for each session to facilitate live-Tweeting by delegates if they so wished: numbered to reflect which slot that related to, for Monday pm (#tag1xx), Tuesday am (#tag2xx), Tuesday pm (#tag3xx), Wednesday am (#tag4xx) and Wednesday pm (#tag5xx).
Inspired by the precedent and lead of Dr Lorna Richardson’s Public Archaeology Twitter Conferences, we decided to open TAG Deva to the digital delivery of Twitter papers. Digital presenters were not charged for attending. This initiative resulted from a desire to facilitate inclusion from those unable to attend, and to rectify our dissatisfaction with the use of ‘poster sessions’ and ‘Skype presentations’, sometimes offered as alternatives to attendance and used in previous conferences to facilitate access to the programme by those unable to come to the conference in person (and those too late or not fully tailored to join sessions). In addition to one digital session delivered by Twitter – #SilentNightScience, there were additional Twitter papers in:
- #tag106 Rethinking Transitions,
- #tag202 Archaeological Movements in Theory and Practice;
- #tag205 Queer Frontier: LGBTQ Research and Experiences in Archaeology
- #tag304 Archaeology for Change
- #tag401 Curating the Dead: Manipulating the Body and its Memory
- #tag506 “Britain has had enough of experts”
Overall, take-up was relatively modest, and there is clearly continued resistance to digital delivery as an alternative to presenting in person by both session organisers and speakers. Still, we feel we’ve set a valid presentation that has merit in terms of inclusivity and variety.
To foster connections between archaeological companies and publishers and specific themes of the academic sessions, and as an additional source of conference income, we fostered the identification of session sponsors. This has been attempted before at previous TAG conferences, but we took this to a new level.
Hence, we had the Antiquity Lecture sponsored by the academic journal Antiquity. Furthermore, there was a special strand of 5 sessions supported by Big Heritage on the theme of Applying Archaeological Theory. These comprised:
- #tag108 Femimist Archaeologies: Intersectionality, Interpretation, Inclusivity
- #tag206 Opening Pandora’s Box: Europe and its Colonial Ruins
- #tag304 Archaeology for Change
- #tag307 Creative Frontiers
- #tag405 Public Heritage: Negotiating Best Practice
The following sessions were also sponsored:
- #tag101 #SilentNightSilence – sponsored by Oxbow Books
- #tag306 Location, Location, Location: Constructing Frontier Identity – sponsored by the Chester Archaeological Society
- #tag502 Crossing Borders: Approaching Liminal Landscapes – sponsored by Archaeopress.
Here is the final timetable of sessions for TAG Deva, and as you can see, it reflects the diversity of perspectives and many of the key topics for present and future archaeological research.