On 28th August, the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) will be electing their new, incoming President, and I wanted to take some time now to discuss some of the details laid out in my election statement. In particular, I want to elaborate on the need to evolve and enhance what the organisation offers, and has always offered so well, so that it can flourish and be sustainable in the modern climate and for generations to come.
For many, this month will include a summer holiday of sorts. With any luck, you may be reading this in your garden, a sunny park or perhaps on an appropriately spacious beach. Either way, I hope it finds you enjoying a little respite from the challenging year so far. Travel in 2020 looks very different to the way it did this time last year. While we may be discovering the beauties of holiday destinations a little closer to home, many of us will be missing the opportunity to travel with relative ease to destinations around the world - discovering new cultures and making friends both old and new.
For the EAA, this year and the impact that it has had on travel, has been particularly pivotal. For many of us, the Annual Meeting, which was set to be in Budapest this August, is the highlight of the year. It is the main reason many join the EAA and pay their membership (given that only members can attend). Naturally, in light of events, the physical conference has been cancelled. However, the current President, Professor Felipe Criado-Boado, and his Board, have done a spectacular job of translating it into a virtual alternative. In doing so, they have offered to refund the membership fees and attendance fees of all who had signed up, but we have all been at liberty to donate the money in order to contribute to the ongoing running of the organisation. To my mind, it still promises to be a rewarding event, and one I am very much looking forward to.
Nonetheless, part of the appeal for the event each year lies in the opportunity to travel, to congregate, to meet friends old and new, to discuss ideas over a coffee against a beautiful backdrop and to delight in the traditions and entertainments of different regions around the world. It is inspired by the glory of travel and the joy of socialising that new friendships flourish, old friendships develop and projects are born, evolve and result in things that we can all benefit from. While I am looking forward to the virtual conference, no number of Zoom background themes is going to result in quite the same experience.
While the EAA is a not for profit organisation, like all things, it does need funds in order to continue its work, and the financial impact of this year’s changes (the details of which are yet to be fully understood), will directly impact what is possible in the future. We have no idea when a vaccine for Covid-19 will be available, the long term impact on travel, and indeed whether this type of global event is something we will need to accept as an ongoing part of our lives moving forward. So we must consider how to evolve and adapt so that what we offer has greater flexibility.
The work the EAA does is unlike any other organisation within European archaeology. It is a meeting of minds, and a community that no other institution can offer its members. When it was formed in 1994, it was founded on principals of social democracy, equal opportunities and a passion for knowledge, communication and networking for the progression of ideas. That spirit has been the thread that has run through it ever since, keeping the proverbial ship on course through both triumph and periods of enormous challenge as well. It is an uncompromisable characteristic of the EAA, ensuring that members from all backgrounds are welcomed and encouraged.
So, the challenge stands to make the EAA a more sustainable organisation so that we do not risk losing it through a lack of resource. We need to make that community we all value and that convivial atmosphere where knowledge and friendship can thrive, more accessible and in a variety of ways, so as to continue inspiring new members. However, we need to do that without compromising on quality, experience or undermining the organisation’s core principles by raising membership fees.
Each President who has gone before has brought their own qualities and character to the role, and Felipe Criado-Boado has been no exception. His energy and enthusiasm as well as his academic credentials have been exactly what we have needed in recent years, and he and the Board have worked no small miracle in turning this year’s conference into a digital occasion. However, it has, out of necessity, been a rapid response. So rather than considering it a one time alternative to an unimaginable set of circumstances, we need to think of it as an embryonic version of some of the virtual opportunities we should consider incorporating moving forward, alongside our much loved physical events. It is something which I believe we can do in creative and exciting ways, and very much in keeping with the traditions and values of the EAA.
For everyone, in all sectors around the world, this year has presented questions that will shape and challenge the way things are done, irreversibly. However, having worked in and for businesses and not for profit organisations including the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), the Institute of Conservation (Icon) and the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers (FAME), both directly and through my own company, I am familiar with the need to find for a sustainable way of operating alongside a principled one.
It is therefore my belief, that if we are business minded and community spirited we will be able to take the lessons of this year and use them to create an organisation that will appeal to, work for and bring value to those working in and studying archaeology today as well as in the future. That is a challenge and an opportunity that I would very much like to be a part of turning into a reality.
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