SHA Washington, 6-9th January 2016

This year I was happy to attend the Society for Historical Archaeology’s annual conference in Washington D.C., having been invited to give a paper at a session called ‘Historical and Contemporary Archaeologies of the City: opportunities and challenges’, organised by two of Historical Archaeology’s brilliant voices, Krysta Ryzewski and Laura McAtackney. See the conference programme here

The session itself was thought-provoking for many reasons, not least the diversity of work presented from across the USA, New Zealand, Chile, Sweden, Northern Ireland and the UK. We heard about Detroit’s jazz scene, the success of a public archaeology programme in downtown (as in, central, lifting-up-original-paving-stones downtown) Boston; parochialism and its role in creating ‘home’ and the problematic lines between ‘heritage’ and ‘blight’ in the urban landscape. Links between light, heritage, tourism and archaeology were unpacked in a highly original paper from Hilary Orange; Roma narratives countered those more familiar historical perspectives on Swedish life in the early 20th century and any prejudices people might have held about the Appalachian region (interesting news to me was that it is pronounced ‘appalATCHAn’ rather than ‘appalAYSHAn’) were confronted head-on through a fascinating paper by Zada Komara. Aside from these observations, as Krysta said, it was great to see how seamlessly historical archaeology and contemporary archaeology blended together in one session in a way that would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago. Are we starting to chip away at the the erroneous use of (historicist, Eurocentric) periodisation at last perhaps?

I was excited to see that a theme common across our diverse papers was that of using archaeology and heritage to improve social cohesion and further tolerance and understanding of other ways to be ‘in the city’.Whether through organising a public archaeology project that intends to involve local people in exploring and developing narratives of places they call ‘home’ or helping to navigate the voices of competing stakeholders in telling stories about our shared past in inclusive ways. The rich papers in this session, refreshingly dominated by female scholars, demonstrated clearly that archaeology and heritage are instrumental in bringing people together all over the world – and that work in our sector continues to powerfully challenge perjorative myths about peoples who (and places which) have commonly been misunderstood and misrepresented.

If you would like to see my contribution to the session my PowerPoint is here Kiddey_At Home in the City_SHA2016

ps: thank you very much SHA for awarding me 2nd place in the GMAC Mark E. Mack Community Engagement Award 2016

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by Rachael Kiddey