22 September 2010

EAA - Den Haag

The 16th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists took place in the Netherlands during the first week of September 2010. The conference took place in Den Haag, but we also found time to visit Leiden (too briefly, alas) and Amsterdam.

The meeting was hosted by the University of Leiden – although the academic programme took place at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague. Delegates were not only treated to a virtuoso musical performance by students of the Conservatoire during the opening ceremony, but were accompanied between sessions by musical noises from the various practice rooms along the corridors. The picture below is not of the Conservertoire (a 1960s concrete building between roundabouts) but is instead the Binnenhof - the former parliament building in Den Haag and the centrepiece of this strange city of two halves.

A very well-provided drinks reception followed the opening ceremony, the musical theme continued with archaeological bands playing at the Friday night party on the pier at Scheveningen, and the conference concluded with an excellent dinner situated around an Egyptian temple in the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. The picture below shows contributors to the 'Urbanisation' session (see below) enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine in the temple.

There were three main sessions specifically concerning historical and post-medieval archaeology in Europe and elsewhere, all of which engendered lively debate and are likely to develop further at future conferences and in publication.

A session entitled ‘Re-animating Industrial Spaces’ was chaired by Hilary Orange (UCL) and Emily Glass (University of Bristol), and was a continuation of a TAG session which had taken place at Durham in 2009. The session began with a presentation by Emily Glass on her investigations of a 1950s concrete factory in Albania, touching on memory and the re-use of space in post-communist Europe. Similar themes were taken up by Paul Belford (Nexus Heritage), who described a community archaeology project in Shropshire and the ways in which archaeology acted as a springboard for memory for the former residents of a row of workers’ housing demolished in the 1960s.

Peter Oakley (UCL) presented a fascinating study of the archaeology and heritage of mining sites in Cornwall and Alaska, and delivered a penetrating critique of visitor experience and heritage management. After the coffee break, Gabriel Moshenska (UCL) examined the complex and often counter-intuitive relationships that children have with warfare, focussing on gas masks and gas training in London during the Second World War. This was followed by a chilling and thought-provoking analysis of a cellar in a 1930s financial building in Athens by Katerina Chatzikonstantinou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece). The cellar – originally designed as a safe refuge from bombing – had been commandeered by the Nazis and used as a prison and punishment centre; the presentation looked both at the material evidence for this, and discussed the ways in which this aspect of heritage has been presented to the public.

The session ended with two papers which further addressed the theme of mining landscapes. Hilary Orange (UCL) used a series of walks with local people to explore their understanding of the post-industrial use of mining landscapes in Cornwall, including reactions to contentious ‘hippy’ camps and pretentious artistic installations. Finally Jon Humble (English Heritage) provided a sweeping overview of how coal mining heritage – both material and intangible – had been dealt with over many years in the UK, and the relationship of an often difficult past with politics today.

Post-medieval colonialism was addressed in a session chaired by Krish Seetah (University of Central Lancashire) entitled ‘Ever increasing circles: European ripples in wider seas’. Again this session was part of a series, following on from the very successful ‘Islands’ session chaired by Krish and Aleks Pluskowski (University of Reading) at the 2008 EAA conference in Malta.

The session opened with a fascinating paper by Chris Evans (University of Cambridge) on fieldwork in Cape Verde, a Portuguese settlement off the coast of Africa which was established in the 15th century. After an overview of the role of Cape Verde in the early slave trade, and the contestations of the past; Chris then explored the roles of different elements of intangible and material heritage in the present – and in particular the negative impact on archaeology which has resulted from the recent inscription on the UNESCO list of World Heritage. Similar themes were investigated by two papers on Mauritius. Krish Seetah discussed a range of fieldwork projects relating both to slavery and to the use of indentured labour, and examined the issues involved in doing archaeology in a post-colonial context. Fieldwork on a cemetery supposed by historians to be Malagassian in fact determined that it was not; work elsewhere continues to challenge the dominant discourse of historians. Saša Čaval (Zrc Sazu, Slovenia) provided an anthropological analysis of religion on Mauritius, looking at the tensions between Christianity and the religions imported with various groups – the Hindus and Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, and Buddhism and other religions from China.

After the coffee break Ruud Stelten (University of Leiden, Netherlands) discussed anchors and cannons in St. Eustatius, a former Dutch colony in the Caribbean. This very welcome addition from the field of maritime archaeology reminded us how an examination of the origins and distribution of these particular artefact types can increase our understanding of trade and social relations. A kind of ‘internal’ European colonialism was highlighted by Jonas Nordin (Museum of National Antiquities, Sweden) who discussed the role of silver in 17th century Europe, and the creation of a ‘Swedish West Indies’ in the frozen mountains of Lapland. This colonial enterprise displaced the indigenous people and created a planned town in the wilderness; short-lived and ultimately unsustainable, this project echoed other New World adventures. Finally, the session was concluded with a paper by Paul Belford (Nexus Heritage) which explored the impact of European contact on Europe itself – including influences on the Reformation, science and art, and concluding that European explorations in the New World were key to reshaping the old world. Discussion was lively and engaging.

‘Later historical European urbanisation’ was a session which did exactly what it said, looking at a range of urban experiences from late Antiquity to the 19th century. Organised by Paul Belford (Nexus Heritage) and Jeroen Boowmeester (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, Netherlands), this session looked mainly at north-western Europe and Scandinavia.

Jeroen Boowmeester began by examining three towns in the Netherlands which had followed very different trajectories in the later historical period. Some towns had declined, some had seen their growth restricted by the ‘corset’ of fortification, others had expanded enormously with industrialisation. The subject of de-urbanisation and landscape change was rigorously investigated by Kate Page-Smith (Nexus Heritage), who looked at so-called ‘Deserted Medieval Villages’ and concluded that most had in fact been deserted in the post-medieval period. Kate discussed several ‘new’ deserted settlements which she had discovered in the course of developer-funded projects, and examined in detail the various causes of their abandonment.

A microcosm of urban archaeology was provided by Mark Spanjer (ARCADIS, Netherlands), who described ‘the little history of a street’ in Dordrecht. The ‘s-Heerboeijenstraat emerged in the 14th century and remained in use until its redevelopment in the 1970s; the fascinating archaeology revealed how the inhabitants dealt with subsidence and immigration over centuries. A broader picture of social stratification was provided after tea by Göran Tagesson (Riksantikvarieämbetet, Sweden), who looked at the ways in which several Swedish towns had been re-organised and re-planned in the 17th century. Looking at these ambitious – and sometimes unrealised – schemes in the context of enlightenment and modernity, Göran used archaeology to assess social hierarchies.

Roger White (University of Birmingham) discussed the relationships between cities in Antiquity and post-medieval cities, noting many similarities of structure and organisation and suggesting fruitful ways in which Roman and later historical archaeologists might co-operate. The session was concluded with a summary by Paul Belford (Nexus Heritage), who explored the role of industrialisation in creating the post-medieval city, and asked how an archaeological understanding of the historic city can improve the development of cities in the future.

Several other sessions contained papers which touched on aspects of historical archaeology – both from a ‘pure research’ point of view, and in the context of heritage management. Some of the highlights included the investigation and conservation of a 17th century fur traders’ house in New Jersey by Charles Bello (FEMA, USA) and colleagues in a session on in-situ preservation; a discussion of Warsaw’s post-medieval water supply by Wlodzimierz Pela (Historical Museum of Warsaw, Poland) in a session on water; an analysis of the spatial organisation of 17th century merchant ships by Niklas Eriksson (Södertörn University, Sweden) in a remarkably wide-ranging session on architecture and space organised by Hanna Stoeger (University of Leiden); and, in a session on housing, papers on Irish tower-houses and Scandinavian middle-class housing of the 16th century by Vicky McAlister (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland) and Joakim Thomasson (Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark) respectively.

On the Sunday, we went on an unofficial tour of historical Amsterdam, led by Mark Spanjer and looking at the development of the waterfront, the Jewish quarter and other aspects - finishing with a few beers and a lovely meal! On the whole an excellent, if somewhat exhausting adventure... and we are already looking forward to Oslo next year.

Now, back to work!

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