I just got back from an exhilarating two days at the Joukowsky Institute’s “State of the Field” of Mediterranean archaeology workshop, which was entitled “Archaeologies of the Mediterranean.” I served as the discussant, which I was a little worried about, because (a) my work is pretty strongly centered on Greece and I don’t have much expertise when it comes to big parts of Mediterranean archaeology and (b) I’ve never considered myself especially good at coming up with intelligent things in the moment; I’m the person who thinks of smart things that I could have said after the seminar’s over. Nevertheless, I did come up with some observations in the moment that I think were useful to the other participants in the workshop that reflected some of the common critical concerns of the talks; I tried especially to tie together the main points of the keynote lectures by Lin Foxhall and Lisa Fentress on the afternoon of the first day with the other lectures on the second day.
- Language: Fentress emphasized the importance of knowing (modern) languages and what it means for scholarly exchange and collaboration and (especially) friendship. If we don’t speak each other languages, then we have a kind of disconnectivity of the archaeologies of the Mediterranean, and the continuation of colonial practices, where foreign projects are unintegrated into the archaeological discourses and traditions of the host country. I was reminded of the fact that when the Journal of Greek Archaeology was founded in 2015, it announced that it would allow articles in English, French, German and Italian, but not in Greek. Many of us got extremely angry, and the policy was changed: to English-language only! One major topic of conversation was the problem of the domineering position of English in the field, especially among English speakers.
- Representation: One recurring issue was that of representation. I discussed briefly the results of a study (which I co-authored with Laura Heath-Stout and Grace Erny) about the demographics of publication in the American Journal of Archaeology, which showed that our field was not only extremely white, but also educationally (and thus probably socioeconomically) elite. Several authors had discussed the role of journals in encouraging a more diverse set of viewpoints, and those programs are wonderful, but they cannot address the leaky pipeline that drives people out of the field before they are in a position to submit their work to journals. Here I should have also mentioned continuing issues of gender equity in the field; in some ways archaeology hasn’t changed much since Joan Gero began writing about these issues in the 1980s.
- Practices: Foxhall rightly emphasized the transformational impact that archaeological survey (and associated approaches and practices) had on the field of Mediterranean archaeology: it fundamentally changed the way that we think about place and time, and opened up study to periods that had been terribly ignored in the old-school Classical archaeology that dominated the field when Foxhall was educated. That got me thinking about what kinds of practices and approaches had similar impacts in the present (or could have in the future). What immediately came to mind was the archaeology of the contemporary world and the way that it has changed the way we define the aims of the field and our ethical engagements with the present.
- Categories: Many of the talks emphasized their struggles with basic categories such as periodization and cultural categories. This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, too, and we seem to be on the cusp of overthrowing many of these basic categories that have driven and shaped our work for the entirety of the 20th century.
- Narrative and data: Many of the talks seemed frustrated by the lack of major narrative shifts in the face of massive changes in our dataset. Foxhall expressed frustration at the way that the Mediterranean has been synthesized (while also noting that all of the syntheses were written by men); I have long been frustrated by the fact that in Greece we keep jamming our data into the same basic narratives that emerged in the 1950s, when our empirical understanding of so many issues was in its infancy. Many of the talks took critical steps towards new types of narratives and approaches that unlock the massive build-up of evidence that we have unearthed.
- Collaboration: I was struck by how many papers were the products of new kinds of collaboration and authorship that are non-hierarchical and collective in orientation. This was especially on my mind because on the way to and from the workshop I was reading the excellent Archaeological Theory in Dialogue (2021), which is a mix of dialogue and edited volume by a small group of scholars. We have long known that archaeology is a collective endeavor, a far cry from the “heroic archaeology” that characterized earlier work, but our publications have often taken the form of traditional single-authored books and articles (even when they are multi-authored, they have the look and feel of a single-authored work). It was inspiring to see new forms of collaboration and publication. As was pointed out to me afterward, however, it is difficult for junior scholars to adopt such innovative methods of publication, since the standard for tenure and promotion remains traditional monographs and articles; this is something that we need to try to address.
- Institutions: Fentress observed that “big digs” are a problem in Mediterranean archaeology: they tend to be top-down, hierarchical, text-based, urban, and they are often intellectual prisons: ideas do not go out and do not come in. I added that the same is true of other big institutions in Mediterranean archaeology: like the big digs, they are the product of colonial dynamics and often continue to operate as such. As Yannis Hamilakis has noted, they are often the most conservative organizations in the field. Since we all agreed that what we need are not just more conferences talking about the state of the field but transformative actions, I asked the group what we should do about these institutions. How do we change them so that they respond to 21st-century realities? The obvious answer is to make small changes from the inside, small tweaks in the short term that produce long-term improvements to their operation — what I called the “It’s getting better all the time” model. Or do we burn it all down and start all over again?