Recap of the ARCHON conference: Pathways to the Present
On 3 June 2022, ARCHON organized a national conference aiming to develop an agenda for more collaborative archaeological research in the Netherlands: academia, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, heritage institutions, professional archaeologists. As a first step, the ARCHON board defined ‘Pathways to the Present’ as a broad research theme reflecting the changing perspectives on the role of archaeological research in present-day society. How can archaeology assert and strengthen its position as a societally relevant discipline, one that is uniquely positioned to offer a long-term, global and transdisciplinary perspective on human society?
The conference focused on four major issues and discussed these in an explorative and reflective way, while also thinking about the next steps to take. For each theme, two ARCHON members were invited to act as keynote speakers providing input for focus group discussions in the afternoon.
- Social resilience
Much of archaeological research is focused on understanding how humans adapted to societal and environmental change, and for this, resilience is a core concept to be explored. But it remains an open question what resilience and sustainability mean from a long-term perspective and how this relates to present-day society. During the conference, it was concluded that more sophisticated theoretical frameworks are needed for this, especially for dealing with different temporalities. The importance of incorporating non-European perspectives was emphasized as well.
- Human impact
The interaction of human and non-human agents and the interplay between biotic and abiotic factors are important topics in current archaeological research. Yet, these aspects seem to be under-represented in the current societal debate on human impact, which is focusing on negative effects of human action and has difficulty incorporating the long and varied history of human-environmental interactions. The discussion during the conference showed that archaeology has much to offer in this respect, but is also struggling to find ways to have its voice heard. Interdisciplinary work is key to this, involving not just other disciplines, but societal stakeholders as well.
- Identity and belonging
The question of identity is one of the most debated in current society. Archaeologists have been studying this for a long time but have found it difficult to contribute to a debate that is focusing on the ‘problems’ of identity, rather than on finding productive ways to deal with issues such as migration and decolonization. For this, interdisciplinarity is seen as extremely important, but it is understood that this also means working on a shared language and shared definitions.
- Research infrastructure
In order to achieve the goal of collaborating more successfully across institutes and disciplines, archaeology in the Netherlands should pool resources and identify crucial research infrastructure for the longer term. This includes investments in lab facilities and capacity building of specialist staff, as well as building collaborations at the European level. In this way, Dutch archaeology should become a more attractive employer for skilled specialists.
While all present at the conference were in general agreement about the importance of the research theme and the positive effects of closer collaboration, it seems evident that archaeology in the Netherlands still has much work to do to strengthen its position in academia and beyond. For too long, institutes and researchers have been working in relative isolation, without sharing common research goals. ARCHON aims to improve this and also foster diversity in the research community, in particular by involving junior scholars more directly in discussions regarding research strategies. As a next step, we will organize a series of follow-up meetings with a more open format, where the ideas presented at the conference will be discussed in more detail. The final aim is to work to towards submitting a NWO Gravity proposal.
ARCHON would like to thank all participants for their contributions, and in particular the keynote speakers for preparing their introductions. Their presentations can be accessed here:
Prof. David Fontijn (UL)