Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Society for American Archaeology annual meeting, and on being a discussant

This year's SAA conference was a lot of fun. My department at FAU boasted a large contingent of current and former graduate students, many of whom presented on their own research, including Kendra Philmon, Kelin Flanagan, Brittany Reneau, April Watson, and Laura Van Voorhies. Tim Guyah and Tom DiVito, recent graduates of our program, also attended the meetings. One of my departmental colleagues, Valentina Martinez, presented on her research in Ecuador.

I was involved in two symposia, one on recent research in Nicaragua and the other on multi-scalar approaches to archaeological interpretation. Both were very interesting. In the Nicaragua session, I presented a brief summary of work to date in the Department of Chinandega and Kendra Philmon outlined our work on the collection from Cursirisna Cave in Boaco. In the multi-scalar session, which included some research involving fractals, Kelin Flanagan presented her work on the fractality and lacunarity of archaeological site distributions. I served as a discussant at that symposium. 

It was my first experience as a discussant, and it was interesting for me. I read all the papers that had been submitted in advance, which seemed a lot like actual work. Then I thought about the remarks I had heard discussants offer in other sessions. They seemed to me to fall into two categories: those that critiqued the papers individually and those that offered thoughts on the theme of the symposium. While the former are probably more common, I though the latter were potentially more interesting. I still remember lucidly the comments that David Pendergast made at a symposium on Maya cave archaeology many years ago. They were of the second type, general observations on cave archaeology. I found his remarks more inspiring and affecting than any of the papers that had been given in the session. With that in mind, I tried to emulate that model of being a discussant. So the night before the session (which captured the enviable Sunday morning time slot), I created a brief presentation on the polyvalent meanings of scale in archaeology. I, at least, thought the comments were interesting, and it of course saved me from summarizing and reviewing everyone else's talks, with the concomitant potential for misinterpretation, omission, and offense.

I would be very interested in hearing about others' experiences as a discussant or your opinions about what kind of comments are most interesting and influential.

Thanks to those who organized our symposia and were kind enough to invite me and my students: Geoffrey McCafferty, Larry Steinbrenner, and James Stemp.

1 comment:

  1. I think yours is a valid observation. Oftentimes, even outside realm of archeology, being part of the discussion or just interacting with those presenting work can be interesting to say the least. s
    Sometimes reflecting on the event or variety of papers as whole could be useful as a way to find common ground between them.

    Congrats to your grad students who presented. I've met several of them and I bet they felt great to be recognized for their contribution to the field.