Over this past weekend, I attended the annual Eastern States Archaeological Conference in Langehorne, Pennsylvania. This is probably my thirteenth ESAF conference since I was an undergraduate in 1997. I presented a paper titled, "Riding the Lightning: An examination of the Waynesburg and Blacksville
Street Railway Company in Green County, Pennsylvania." This was a summation of an archaeological survey that the company I work for performed over the summer.
While I have been an active conference goer for most of my archaeological career, I would like to point out the value of attending such conferences. I was lucky as an undergraduate, I had a professor who had the means and where-with-all to take a group of you adults to a meeting, sometimes states away, and have them actively participate in giving papers and networking with advocationalists and professionals in our trade. He also had the fortitude to put up with nights of partying with archaeologists, who like pirates, enjoy liquid refreshments of the alcoholic type.
One of the things I have noticed over the years is a lack of attendance of these national conferences both by professionals and students. Granted we've lost a few good women and men due to ravishes of time, but we also have ignored the costs to students and young professionals just starting their archaeological career. The costs of travel, memberships, registration, hotel, and board have skyrocketed. I know many will say, "but we have student discounts!" Sure and that is admirable. Some even have prizes and some colleges have travel grants. I know many archaeology/anthropology student who have to work a job or even two just to stay in school. Education is skyrocketing and conference attendance is down. How do we stop this?
While sitting and listening to papers I had an idea. I'm a bit of a technology guy, and I think technology can offer unparalleled access to those in need, and I'm not just talking about archaeology. Ted talks and podcasts are the rage right now as people live in small sound bites or lives that can be paused and resumed at will. I think this offers a unique opportunity for students and conference organizations.
My idea would be to POD cast the papers live and record them for Youtube or some other media outlet. Let students pay a small fee, or better yet, allow classes to pay a small fee so that archaeology professors can show these videos to their class on their own time. Conferences such as the Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF), Mid-Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAC), Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), plus others, could offer a digital membership to students or classes. These conferences could be integrated into lesson plans and used instead of physically attending the meetings. Students could watch them live, download them, and save the ones most relevant to their own research.
What do you think?