Yes, this post is a little late (ok, very late); apologies! But here is an account of the 2013 IfA conference held in Birmingham’s Aston University from the 17th to 19th April.
A very early morning on the 17th April saw me getting to Talgarth, getting a lift to Abergavenny train station and boarding a train to Birmingham. As I sat on the train I struggled to stay awake (it was absurdly early) so that I didn’t miss my change-over at Hereford.
Luckily I didn’t fall asleep, I hopped on what turned out to the correct train to Birmingham and spent the next two hours leaning on my hand with my elbow wedged against the window surround and probably annoying all the (many) commuters who were packed into the train by sporadically snoring. Likely loudly.
But I made it! We rolled into New Street Station dead on time. First port of call was, naturally, somewhere that sold coffee.
I walked in what seemed to be the correct direction for Aston University and stumbled across a bacon roll cooking coffee selling stand with street site sitting and a gazebo to keep off the drizzle. Needless to say, I purchased a coffee and a bacon roll and sat under the gazebo watching the world (ok, not the world; Birmingham) go by.
After my bacon, my coffee and a little drama – the gazebo fell on top of me – I continued in the general direction of Aston University, past the Bullring, round a bend (and so on) until I reached the venue, dumped my suitcase in the luggage room and collapsed on a chair with a cup of coffee in hand.
I had arrived quite early, really, so there weren’t that many people around with whom to mingle to begin with. After a while however I spotted some people I knew from various projects I’d volunteered with and we got chatting. Before I knew it everyone seemed to have arrived and it was about time for the first sessions to begin.
The first session I attended was ‘Paying Dividends: securing the impact of development-led archaeological work’; how do the public benefit from the archaeology undertaken during development? Are evaluations of development led excavations written, published (obscurely) and then put away in a box in some inaccessible archive?
All papers presented during this session discussed different development led projects which included some form of angle on public engagement. From The London Crossrail Project discussed their series of public exhibitions to a UCL Advances funded evaluation of public engagement within the commercial sector to the analysis of decades of information extracted from the upper Thames Valley. The reassessment of landscape and settlement archaeology of mid to late Anglo-Saxon England by combining known knowns and information lost in the depths of grey literature and an investigation into the rural settlements of Roman Britain brought the session to a close with some interesting era-based projects.
Throughout this session I drank coffee. Lots of it.
Wednesday came to a close with a wine reception at the lovely Hotel du Vin (apt I think!) and those of us who did not book in for the conference meal headed out to the infamous Wellington pub to sample their vast selection of real ales. Feeling a little worse for wear after such an unearthly early morning I decided to head back to the hotel after only a little socialising and beer tasting and indulged in a long night’s sleep!
Thursday morning came around and it was still a little grey and gloomy. I got up and ready and head off to Aston University (cup of coffee in hand) to get to the morning’s ‘The social benefit of archaeology’ session which was designed to discuss and demonstrate the impact of community archaeology projects across the UK. We had accounts of fantastic projects from Cadw’s MORTARIA which aims to use archaeology to motivate offender rehabilitation in prisons, Worcester Archive’s drive to make archaeology accessible to people who are partially sighted or blind and Glamorgan Gwent’s focus on youth engagement. After a question and answer session it was coffee break time which provided a chance to meet and chat to other archaeologists!
Between coffee break and lunch I joined the social media workshop to discuss the dos and don’ts of social media in the dissemination of archaeological information. As this is a personal interest of mine (you might be able to tell that…) I thought it would be good to see what other people thought about the various tools available for social media-ing in the modern internet-crazy world. I learned about some methods and I shared some information about others!
Then came lunch, more coffee and some networking followed by an afternoon tour of Birmingham’s famous jewellery quarter ahead of the conference social in the lovely (and lively) Rose Villa Tavern after which I and some other conference-goers headed out to Bacchus (a fantastically cheesy but fun bar themed on various historical eras) followed by a dance venue of some description which was very busy and had a sticky floor. All fun, none the less, and great for networking!
Friday morning rolls in and I roll out of bed, get ready for the day and head down to breakfast with my packed suitcase. Running a little late I grab a takeaway coffee and bacon sandwich and head from the hotel to Aston University. Dumping my luggage in the room provided I grabbed (another) coffee and head over to the ‘Impact of the Big Society’ session which discussed the impact on British archaeology of the Coalition’s ideas on decentralisation and devolvement.
My view is that the big society and community archaeology go hand in hand – Involving people with projects being undertaken in their locality, imparting important information and teaching transferable skills form an important part of this self-sufficient Big Society view. Discussed were projects being undertaken in different parts of the UK; from a West Yorkshire based exploration and valuation of local heritage to the Lottery funded Inclusive Archaeology Education Project to English Heritage’s ‘Sustainable Futures for Historic Places of Worship’.
After a tea break (cue more caffeine) this session continued with further discussion on ‘The Big Society, localism and community engagement’ by the University of York followed by an investigation into the real-time sustainability of the ‘Big Society’ in relation to the South Pennines.
Following this I attended part of the discussion held by the New Generation Special Interest Group; what do people new to the archaeological profession need to help them work their way up the career ladder? What advice could help us on our journey? Many great ideas were thrown into the pool and the New Generation group is planning to take this forward to develop career advice plans and partnerships in order to creat a firm base for ‘new’ archaeologists!
After lunch and the New Generation AGM came coffee and an opportunity to discuss pay and conditions in archaeology – there was indeed a great deal to be considered! From low pay to the limited number of archaeology jobs for graduates we delved into the problems that face the profession; why would people pursue a job in archaeology if there was no opportunity for career development? Why would anyone consider an archaeology degree if there was no ladder for them to climb once they have the qualification? There were plenty of thoughts for the IfA to consider!
It was time to say goodbye to people; friends both old and new were heading off to all parts of the UK (and some to Europe). Off to catch the train, find my seat and fall asleep (caffeine to blood levels allowing).
As Bob would say; ‘One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go.’ Back home to the lush green, grey weathered Towy Valley!
For a list of all sessions and papers, their abstracts and contributors please click here.