Tuesday, June 27, 2017

I hit the road last week for Tuscaloosa, Alabama to attend my first Association for Gravestones Studies Conference. Unlike many of the archaeology conferences I attend, this one was a lot more diverse: cemetery conservators, historic preservationists, archaeologists, historians, genealogists, folk-lorists, political scientists, artists, and more. The week involved papers, tours and workshops, affectionately called "Cemetery Camp" by the conference veterans. When I got back this week, Robbie and I sat down to talk about my experience.

Robbie: What did you expect in attending the AGS 2017 conference?

Emily Jane:I don't know if I quite knew what to expect. I guess something akin to an archaeology conference - papers on a range of topics, some fun tours and a hands-on workshop in conservation. I was a little intimidated by the 9am-11pm scheduling every day! (The late night presentations turned out to be a lot of fun things and involved snacks. :) )

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

EJ: I hoped to learn more advanced techniques for cemetery preservation and network with other cemetery groups across the country. I presented on our own CRPT program and hoped to inspire others to do similar workshops back in their local communities.

R: What did you actually learn?

EJ: I learned that while there's a lot of variability throughout the cemeteries in the US (and beyond!) in terms of headstones, burial practices and cemetery styles, many places still face similar issues in terms of neglect and preservation issues. I was inspired to hear about work happening in cemeteries everywhere.

R: What was the hardest part of attending AGS?

EJ: The hardest part of this AGS was the weather. But the conference attendees were unwilling to let rain ruin our fun. I received the best conference swag ever: an umbrella! And we sure put them to use on cemetery tours, while walking across campus to various papers, and even when working on conservation.
Everyone made good use of their conference umbrellas!
R: What will you bring back from the conference to share with the public?

EJ: I learned a lot more about cemetery preservation and conservation that I'm excited to share with people in Florida. I got to reset headstones (both small ones by hand as well as stacked monuments using a tripod lifting system), reattach broken stones with epoxy and mortar, and even do some fill work with lime mortar. I learned a lot more about D2 and got some good perspective on cleaning stones - like how cleaning a stone qualifies as a treatment.
A fellow attendee and I worked on filling the back of this stone. Not too bad for our first time!
Resetting the large monument with setting compound.
Learning what not to do can sometimes be as useful as learning what to do.

R: What sessions and activities did you take part of?

EJ: I attended several tours including rural cemeteries in Tuscaloosa County and Birmingham as well as sat in on numerous papers about everything from Coon Dog Cemeteries to the best preventative treatments to help lessen damage from grafitti. My favorite session was the hands-on conservation training I just mentioned.

Comb grave markers, common to TN and AL, in a bare earth cemetery at Macedonia Methodist Church.
Touring the Knesseth-Israel Beth-El Cemetery in Birmingham.
R: Do you have plans for next year's conference?

EJ: I'd love to go! It will be in Danbury, CT, which is a state I've never been to. I had some conversations about holding a session on new technologies in cemetery research - things like photogrammetry, drones, virtual reality and more.

For more information on the Association for Gravestone Studies, check out their website.

Photos and text by Emily Jane Murray, FPAN Staff.

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