A newsletter is a newsletter is a …

by Alexander Gramsch (alexander.gramsch@dainst.de), with contributions by Lidia Żuk, TEA editors from 2010–2015

As part of the “EAA at 25 years” celebration, Katharina and Roderick invited me to contribute some retrospective thoughts on my period as their predecessor as TEA editor. As I did then I did now, and consulted Lidka Żuk, then Assistant TEA Editor, and her suggestions and thoughts are melded into this text.

When I was asked in 2010 if I’d be willing and happy to follow Michael Potterton as editor of TEA – an honorary post with scope for design and a lot of work – I actually had no idea what a European newsletter should look like. Are there certain specifications, guidelines, standards? One of my first – and best – ideas was to ask if an Assistant TEA Editor could join the EAA team, knowing from previous editorial work that I prefer to exchange thoughts and develop their implementation in a tandem. Fortunately Lidka was crazy enough to say yes, and we were a good team for the following five years. TEA at that time already had been published in 32 issues, and in the first issues edited by us we pretty much followed their example, but soon started to develop TEA further, parallel to the overall development of EAA.

At that time I already had a career of some kind in EAA. When I was studying at Cambridge University, Ian Hodder informed me in 1993 about plans to found a new archaeological association, and encouraged me to participate in upcoming meetings. So I became one of the first few hundred members of the EAA and a participant at its First Annual Meeting in Santiago de Compostela (Spain, 20-24 September 1995). This was my first international conference, where I presented my first paper (and I am still grateful for the gentle and considerate reception by older, more experienced colleagues!). This was the beginning of a very long relationship. Not only did I try to attend every meeting (I did not fully succeed), but I also joined the EAA editorial team as Assistant Reviews Editor for EJA, supporting Peter Biehl in this task (1999–2004). So with the appointment as new TEA Editor in 2010, I was kind of recycled for the EAA team. Lidka and I took over the production of TEA with issue 33, Summer 2010, and produced altogether twelve issues.

We were happy to put thoughts and energy into producing the newsletter – although we never really sorted out what the ‘ideal newsletter’ is. But we still consider that such a newsletter is an important type of publication, filling a gap in academic communication – enhancing scholarly exchange on a level between scientific publications and personal exchange. As a quick, non-peer reviewed kind of journal it both comprises open formats and well-structured rubrics, and it gives membership a voice and offers a way of communication between EAA offices and EAA members, as well as from members to members.

EAA was developing tremendously in the years we were responsible for TEA, for example with the establishment of the Oscar Montelius Foundation (OMF), the implementation of the EAA publication series “Themes in Contemporary Archaeology”, MERC joining our Annual Meetings, and the steadily increasing numbers of members and meeting participants. We aimed at reflecting these developments and grasping the growing complexity of EAA by including more diverse rubrics in TEA and inviting more contributions from our membership. One of these new headings was From our correspondents. We appointed a dozen of (usually, but not exclusively younger) colleagues from Iberia, Central Europe, Northern Europe, the Alpine region, the Balkans etc. asking them to report news and summarize developments in archaeological research and heritage management in these regions.

Other sections comprised shorter and down-to-earth contributions, e.g. the Short cuts with brief summaries of research results, usually those that recently gained greater public attention through the media (mainly online journals and newspapers, but also blogs – in these years, social media such as Facebook or Instagram still played a marginal role in the dissemination of scholarly knowledge). And mainly entertaining while nevertheless rousing was the last page: Show room showed the material culture of locations “Where archaeology is made” – i.e. one photograph per issue of an office of our fellow European archaeologists.

Another step was the move from two to three or four issues per year in 2014, as the number of contributions kept rising – EAA Matters, EAA Session Reports, Debate papers, Conference Announcements etc. – and some of the information needed to be circulated quickly. Over the years, the number of pages per year had grown from c. 70–80 to 260, and thus we spread the contributions that were accumulating over more issues which then appeared speedier. Willem Willems even suggested to produce six issues per year, but imagine receiving a new issue of TEA every second month!

One of the great things coming with this job was the wonderful opportunity to join the regular EAA Executive Board meetings. The Board continues meeting twice a year, and Lidka and I were always happy to participate and to follow and contribute to the discussions. As non-elected, ex officio members we had no vote, nevertheless our voices were heard. Just as the EAA is a diverse body reflecting very different research traditions and diverse approaches to practicing archaeology, so the Board also reflects manifold opinions and aims, and debates were sometimes intense and sustained, with many pros and cons brought forward and with many long-term goals and short-term concerns voiced, to be finally balanced into sound decisions. We always tried to reflect the decisions and their background in TEA as well, in a brief Editorial and in the EAA Matters.

From today’s point of view I think I could and should have done more to open TEA even more as a forum – also for non-European archaeologists, since EAA developed into a major body that is not only representing European archaeologists, but also important partners outside Europe. We of course did include non-European voices such as Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which for example reported on the partnership with EAA and “Sustainable site preservation” (TEA 37), but such an exchange beyond Europe could have included more non-European research and heritage management and is even more necessary today, as EAA is one of the most representative archaeological organizations holding one of the biggest annual meetings, where colleagues from all continents are welcome.

This also touches on the language issue: TEA is published in English, and while some things sometimes may get lost in translation, and while it may sometimes be necessary to shape an argument in the language of a certain research tradition, it is very helpful to have one lingua franca, facilitating the exchange of information and questions, the discussion of problematic issues, the networking of colleagues facing similar challenges (for example J. Collis on “Cuts at Sheffield Museums”, TEA 34; St. Trow on “The Destructive Impact of Farming and Forestry on the Archaeological Cultural Landscapes of Europe”, TEA 35; E. Bánffy and A. Gyucha on “Fundamental Modifications to Archaeological Heritage Protection Regulations in Hungary”, TEA 36; J. Almansa-Sánchez on “Without present, without future and now… without past. For the defence of historical heritage in Madrid”, TEA 39 etc.).

So, while the newsletter may have been unconventional at least in parts and versatile on the one hand while still not all-inclusive on the other, in its first 26 years (starting in December 1993!), it has gained a firm place in the communication of European archaeologists and beyond. Thanks to Katharina and Roderick, who meanwhile have edited the record number of 15 issues, this tradition continues. TEA always was and still is facing the challenge of how to reach and address an increasing membership (from a few hundred in the 1990s to more than 3000 in 2018/19!), how to deal with the growing complexity of European archaeology, and how to redefine the role of the newsletter in an era of changing digital communication. We hope that TEA will remain its flexibility, changeability, and openness to both reflect and help shape exchange and communication within this wonderful field called archaeology!

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