Friday, December 13, 2013

We're starting a new series, "Conversations about Conferences" in an effort to share why attending conferences is so important and what we get out of it as professionals.  We hope these conversations give you a better idea of what we're up to when we're out of town and encourage YOU to attend and participate!

Recently we attended the Southeastern Archaeological Conference annual meeting in Tampa.  Let's listen in to a conversation that transpired our first day back....

Sarah:  Thanks Ryan for agreeing to be first up in our Conversations about Conferences series!  

Question number one: what did you expect in attending SEAC?

Ryan:  I expected to see a lot of familiar faces of faculty, students, private contract archaeologists that I had worked with or had a relationship with in the past, both in Florida and outside the state.  Having been to several SEACs I knew the structure and what to expect as far as papers were concerned.  I did expect to see some friendly rivalries among the most noted archaeologists in research niches, and that certainly came to pass.

Sarah: What did you hope to get out of it?

Ryan: I hoped to learn more about my particular field of interest, my research that I enjoy.  Which was great because I was working in the Shell Midden session.  And to just be able to talk and meet with people who I've read their work but I had never actually introduced myself.  And it's always cool to meet new grad students that are just starting off, who are charged up and excited about their research and talking with people.

Sarah: What did you actually learn?

Ryan: I learned all of the different technologies that people are now using to analyze shell middens. Also, just how black and white interpretations can be-  How two or more archaeologists can look at the same archaeological record and have two entirely different interpretations.  You always know that, and its in the back of your mind when you're going through school, but to really see those people who wrote those articles get up and speak about it, makes it more real.

When you go to a SEAC you learn the great variety that archaeologists are doing, or under the guise of archaeology that you wouldn't necessarily think was archaeology, like in the traditional sense.  Like Joe Evans for example, doing techno archaeology.  Not archaeology in the traditional sense but using technology to bring it to the public, to bring it to any interested party.

Sarah: What was the hardest part of attending SEAC?

Ryan: Most difficult part of the conference is navigating the entire experience, deciding when and where you want to be at what time-who do you chose to interact with while you're there?  If you're talking or associating with a person.. does that have a positive or negative impact on others?  It's still a tight knit group of people, who for historic reasons one way or another have strong opinions about their peers.  It's all about relationships.  Navigating those relationships is always something that's in the back of my mind.

Also, balancing your time.  Choosing what talks you see- your friends to provide to support versus research you may be more interested in.

Sarah: So we attend a lot of conferences in a year- what from this SEAC will you bring back to the public for their benefit?

Ryan: You learn new things when you're sitting there listening to the presentations and the archaeologists; it never gets old; you're never too good or above the research you're seeing. You see the humanness and the different interpretations.  That's one of the coolest things to bring home when you're doing public archaeology- to convey what it is we do, but also conveying that a lot of time we don't know have the answer, that there's a variety of interpretations.  You learn the new technologies, the new sorts of research being done so the next time you're giving a talk or talking to a school group, you can bring it up as part of what you're doing.  You can talk about the work archaeologists are doing currently; its not all just digging and looking at things.

Sarah: What direct activities did you do?

Ryan:  Wednesday- I volunteered at the registration desk and helped direct folks who had poster and book displays where they were going and what they were doing.  Thursday- I was free from direct volunteer obligations so I wandered around all day  going to talks of my choice, mostly, and live tweeted several.  Friday 8-noon I helped set up for the shell midden symposium and was time keeper for that.  I live tweeted a hand full of those talks as well.  After lunch I came back and split my time between the shell midden symposium and being at the FPAN display table.

[Ryan forgot to mention Friday night he was part of a group award at the SEAC dance for the Tacky Tourist costume competition- way to represent!]

Saturday: Got up first thing and went to volunteer with the public archaeology day in Ybor.  Helped set up and was at the shell tool station.  Was there until 2 and then after I went on the Ybor walking tour which was 2 hours, until 4.

Sarah: Anything that surprised you?

Ryan:  I was kind of surprised when they were flat out arguing with each other in the discussion session.  They were arguing over natural, ecological interpretations of shell middens, they were eating food and chucking on the ground, the end.  And then other researchers saying that no, we do have distinct patterning like shell rings, deposits where there was a purpose (ceremonial or spiritual).  Something deeper going on than just discarding trash.

Sarah: So what side are you on?

Ryan:  I think it's just case by case.  In my research and while excavating at my research site, I certainly never saw any patterning or things like that, just scattered trash and big piles.  But that's not to say a lot of researchers working in other places didn't find rings.  I wasn't there, I didn't see it.  Its the same thing over and over, processual and post-processual at the root of it.  Researchers arguing whether it's okay to go beyond the processual interpretation, and whether or not should we always be striving to do that.

Sarah:  Got plans for SEAC 2014?

Ryan: Next year it's in Greenville, SC.  I know I want to present something...  (breaks into cackles)
Either something FPAN related and/or something related to my own research.

For more about Southeastern Archaeological Conference visit their website, or on Facebook check out SEAC's Student Affairs Committee which actively posts archaeology articles from around the southeast.  If you went, what did YOU get out of #SEAC2013?

Supporting Florida archaeologists in the poster and book room, top: left MisCha Johns, right Kevin Gidusko with Lareyene Ellebracht; bottom: left Sarah Bennett, right Sarah Nohe.

Text and Images: Sarah Miller and Ryan Harke, FPAN staff

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