Archaeology brown-bag workshops unearth research
It’s 5:00 on a Thursday afternoon, not the time of day when most people are looking forward to yet another meeting. But for the folks who do archaeology in and around U.Va., the every-other-Thursday Archaeology Brown-Bag Workshop is a gathering they’re eager to attend.
“We’ve gotten quite dedicated to it,” said Adria LaViolette, associate professor of anthropology and one of three faculty coordinators of the friendly and informative forum.
While most of the work of archaeology at U.Va. takes place within the department of anthropology, it is an interdisciplinary field of study with classical archaeologists in the art history department and other associations with the folks who dig into history at Monticello.
The brown-bag workshops were created as a way to bring colleagues from the various disciplines together to share research and ideas and to get to know each other better.
“I like the opportunity to hear what others are up to,” said Fraser Neiman, Director of Archaeology at Monticello, adjunct professor at the University, and another of the forum’s coordinators. Brown-bag discussions, Neiman said, benefit everyone’s research.
In the archaeology lab in the basement of Brooks Hall, where the corners are crowded with boxes of artifacts and computers, 10 to 20 participants, mostly faculty members and graduate students, gather around a conference table. They come to hear speakers such as Ann Stahl, a visiting professor from SUNY, Binghamton, who was brought in to teach a formal lecture the following day, give an introspective talk about how unexpected opportunities have affected her research in West Africa.
Last semester, graduate student Sevil Baltali presented a discussion of preliminary field study work she did in eastern Turkey. She wanted feedback on her ideas to see how feasible they might be for dissertation work. Other grad students have used the forum to critique a presentation they intended to use during a job interview or for a paper they would present at a professional meeting.
“We’re also open to other disciplines,” LaViolette explained. “We’re always interested in how material culture shapes events and ideas.”
Dan Druckenbrod, a graduate student in environmental sciences, presented “A Wild and Romantic Country,” in which he discussed his work on forest history and land use at Montpelier. From the point of view of archaeologists, the value of this research is in its description of human interaction with the environment. Druckenbrod found that signs of disturbance in the 300-year-old forest coincided with land use changes, increased activity or changes in ownership.
“This was a great opportunity to see what people from a different view point think of my research,” Druckenbrod asserted. “It’s good to know that [archaeologists] are interested in this method of figuring out past conditions.”
“One of the things the brown-bag workshops have done is get these very active archaeology department professionals and research archaeologists together,” LaViolette said. “It’s definitely fostered more commitment to each other.”
“And,” Neiman added, “It’s fun.”