I’ve attended the MCA conference in Bristol almost every year since arriving in the UK in 2010, and this year I finally managed to present a paper.
I keep turning up due to the depth and variety of the presentations which look at unexpected facets of the archaeology of modern conflict. Presentations from other disciplines are often included. Looking at modern conflict through the lens of other academic disciplines helps me to clarify what I can do with archaeology and also what I should strive for in terms of creative approaches to the material culture and its cultural context.
The abstracts and speaker information are available on the MCA 2016 website; several attendees (myself included) also had a go at live-tweeting the talks (which is much harder than it looks, considering that people just kept on sayng really interesting things!). So, I shan’t summarise what has already been made available online but will just share a few thoughts.
The not-immediately-archaeological talks were the ones which stayed with me the most, for the new perspectives they offered on material culture, commemoration, materiality, the imagination.I’ll only comment on two here due to time restrictions (I have a chapter to write, after all).
Stephen Hurst’s talk on the use of “armoured virgins” in recruiting and memorial imagery in the early 20th century was fascinating and his choice to use only his sketches of the monuments rather than photographs has stayed with me. I’ve been seeing armoured virgins everywhere since – I hadn’t realised how common they were in the landscape where I live. He paraphrased Ruskin, how drawing is a way of seeing; it’s the same for landscape archaeologists planning a monument in order to understand its development. I spoke a little with Stephen and Sylvie (his wife) during lunch and he told me he started out doing sketches in the armed forces (a career which, apparently, didn’t long survive the invention of the long-range sniper rifle); I learned later that he is a renowned artist and sculptor.
Bea Crayford’s presentation on the short stories of Elizabeth Bowen, and how the author used story elements originating from Gothic fiction to describe the blasted interiors of domestic spaces shattered by bombing during London’s Blitz, was an evocative look at a genre of fiction I never knew existed. I’d never considered looking at fiction as an angle into historical archaeology but of course even if the author takes liberties with the facts they may more accurately express the emotional impact of an event than the most accurate list of details. I think I’ll look up more of Bowen’s work, when I have the time.
Although I’ve attended several MCA conferences already, this was my first as a student. I hope my own presentation was of interest to the group – I tend to be the odd one out in terms of conference presentation topics due to working on an active training landscape using an archaeological resource management approach. At lunch I was happy to meet several archaeologists working in that very field, including some people whose books I had gone over several times in my literature review. I was happily chatting away before remembering to ask their name, then I confess I got a bit star struck… (Clearly, I need to pay more attention to author photographs).
Anyway – that’s my blogging time limit done! To sum up, I’ll say that the MCA was another excellent conference with a good cross-section of the great variety of work being done in modern conflict archaeology today. There are several projects I intend to keep an eye on, because they’re just so darn cool (battlefield tour reports! Spanish civil war trenches! Post-soviet monument reuse!), and I really enjoyed the chance to meet fellow students and other archaeologists. See you again next year, MCA.