Samantha S. Reiter (TEA Editor)
Belfast, Budapest, Bern, Barcelona…barring the online conferences in 2021 and 2020, the list of the EAA’s recent conference locations is an alliterative index of some of Europe’s best locales starting with the letter B! However, there is of course a deeper strategy surrounding how EAA selects the locations that will host Europe’s premier annual archaeological conference. To investigate this topic more deeply, TEA conducted a series of interviews with some of the major players involved in EAA location selection: current EAA President Eszter Bánffy, past EAA AM Budapest coordinator Alexandra Anders and upcoming EAA AM Belfast coordinator Eileen Murphy.
The EAA’s recent general survey (October-November 2022) included a question that put the how and why of choosing EAA Annual Meeting (AM) locations into sharp relief. The question asked whether Members supported holding AMs “in the widest possible range of countries in order to support and promote archaeologists and archaeology across Europe.” Virtually all respondents (99%) voted in favour of this policy, which is a resounding cry of support for diversity regarding EAA AM locations.
This was welcome news to Bánffy, who states:
Wherever we go, the focus will be on archaeology. Both the beautiful side—landscapes, research, heritage policy—as well as the problems. When the EAA arrives, the pressure is on to see how the country keeps to European conventions and the Valetta Agreement. In going there, we make a statement about which side we are on. In some ways, this is also a warning to local decision makers.
It was hard to miss the thousands of archaeologists who descended on Budapest at the end of summer 2022, marked as they were with the bright cheery yellow of the ‘Re-Integration’ conference theme. That so many archaeology and heritage professionals converge on a single location draws both local and international attention to that area. This can shed light on everything from the protection of sites to the protection of archaeologists as professionals and people. Murphy expands upon this sentiment, expressing her hopes for the 2023 AM in Belfast (which will coincide, incidentally with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreements): “Being able to bring a massive international conference to Belfast will undoubtedly help to underscore archaeology’s relevance and importance here; it will show that it is taken seriously as an impactful discipline throughout Europe.”
Perhaps the most powerful example of the impact of hosting the EAA comes from the recent 2022 AM in Budapest. “When they asked whether [Budapest] wanted the chance to re-host, my immediate answer was yes! It was a dream. We wanted so very much to welcome you in Hungary,” says Alexandra Anders. Previous to the EAA’s 2022 AM, the last comparable international archaeologist conference in Hungary had been in 1876. “Hosting the EAA AM is a further legitimatization of who we are and what we do. We all have international contacts—that is the nature of what we do. But, hosting an international conference of such a size is something else again,” she continues. Organizing an EAA AM allows the host country to share their local heritage and to express who they are and what they do in new and exciting ways on an important professional stage. It brings attention to discoveries new and old as well as fresh eyes and new viewpoints to everything from heritage policy to the conditions under which archaeology is practiced (see e.g. EAA’s Statement on Nurturing the Cycle of Good Archaeological Practice).
But the benefits of the AM extend beyond the professional sphere. Anders expounds upon this by saying “The public definitely knew that there was something going on for Hungarian archaeology [during the EAA AM]. There were a lot of fringe benefits for Budapest locals, including exhibitions, radio shows and public articles around our local heritage, and what it meant to be sharing it with the world.” Murphy echoes this sentiment, adding “There’s a great deal of excitement about the 2023 AM. We’re planning a lot of public-facing events to bring the focus on archaeology to persons who may not otherwise recognize it, including exhibitions and maybe even a series of films which reference archaeology.”
While virtually all EAA members do support locating the AM in as wide a variety of places as possible, some recent concerns e.g. in relation to LGBTQIA+ (Buzsáki, 2021) gave members pause as they considered how, when and why a particular location is chosen as a host locale. When I asked Anders and Murphy about when they had begun negotiations to host the AM, neither could pinpoint the exact date. A survey of the timeline for past AMs show that there are 4-6 years on average between application and realization with 2-3 years of active planning before the big event actually takes place. Logistically speaking, it is impossible to change pre-selected venues from year to year; the logistics involved are simply too unwieldy to leave room for it.
Nevertheless, the EAA has and always will take concerns about members’ safety and comfort very seriously. An online discussion with the Háttér Society on LGBTQAI+ matters in Hungary (still visible online) was organized by the EAA in early 2022 to address members’ concerns raised on social media, among others. In addition, together with her colleagues, Anders set up a hotline during the EAA AM in case any LGBTQIA+-related concerns or issues arose, though Members did not report any problems during the AM. One anonymous write-in comment from an attendee at the 2022 AM included the following:
Leading up to the conference, there were communications from the Board in relation to concerns about the LGBTQIA+ policy in the host country and potential responses when affected members might be at risk of being subjected to harassment or intimidation. Notwithstanding the legitimacy of concerns about the politics of the party leading the current Hungarian government, my experience of Budapest and its citizens was in marked contrast to the tenor of those discussions. I had no negative experiences walking through many parts of the city at night included. It was remarkably safe with no evident signs or symbols of hostility. I fear some if not many LGBTQIA+ members and their allies may have stayed away and missed a wonderful experience because those concerns were overstated.
Were all those extra preparations in vain? Of course, there is now the new option to attend AMs virtually, but there is something to be said for attending an event in person. Anders says, “We who live here know what it is really like on the ground. I was happy to work with colleagues, so that we could tell EAA Members that, yes, ‘you can come to Hungary without any fear.’”
But how did Budapest (or Barcelona or Belfast, for that matter) end up on the location docket if such concerns were even a remote possibility? As Bánffy pointed out to me, given the very long lead time for conference preparations, there is no way to predict whether a particular area will have concerns when the arrangements are made for a conference location. “We had the 2022 AM in Budapest, but that had nothing to do with the fact that I am Hungarian; Felipe [Criado-Boado, past EAA president] made the arrangements before I took on the presidency.” In fact, if you look back, there was an AM in Istanbul in 2014 during the unrest following the Taksim Gezi Park protests (Human Rights Watch, 2014). There was an AM in Barcelona during the peak of the Catalonian independence movement (Jones, 2018; Minder, 2019). Bánffy continues “If we begin to cherry pick countries, we may turn away from colleagues, higher education and heritage in countries that need our support.” After a thoughtful pause, she adds tongue-in-cheek, “Otherwise, we’d have to hold every AM in Luxembourg!”
While we now know that the AMs have a long lead up and an important impact on the host country, it is also important to recognize that the impacts of the EAA’s visit do not end when the last AM attendee quits the venue. Anders says “The AM has an afterlife, as well! The show goes on! We have to get on with all the work of communicating the results of the conference, diffusing the knowledge and conclusions reached both to an international scientific audience as well to [local] archaeologists.”
Upon being asked whether there is anywhere in Europe that they would not go, all interviewees gave an emphatic ‘no’. “I think you have to give places a chance,” says Murphy. She points out that:
Many of the places we go need that support. For example, while there are geopolitical tensions [in Belfast], we have learned to live with that, and it’s really nice to have the support of the EAA in navigating them. We need to be understanding. Just because a regime has a position or politics which are not ideal does not mean that the archaeologists who work there are that way, as well.
At the end of the day, the choice of EAA conference location brings us full circle to the original principles on which the EAA was founded. Bánffy expresses it eloquently:
The thought behind the formation of the EAA was to eliminate borders, divisions and fences—also those in the head and in education—and to create networks in order to build a tight group of archaeologists, archaeologies and heritage politics. This leading idea should be kept in mind when thinking about contacting people and building communities and also when thinking about venues. Therefore, I think this is yet another reason for EAA to be consistent and steadfast in supporting and not abandoning, countries, colleagues, archaeologists, and archaeologies. Why else does EAA exist?
By crossing borders and daring to reach out, we practise the spirit of the EAA. At present, the 2023 AM in Belfast is shaping up to be one of the largest in our organisation’s history. The heretofore record holder for highest number of sessions submitted was the 2018 AM in Barcelona with 260 session submissions. The latest count for the Belfast AM clocks in at 326! As the saying goes, people vote with their feet. By attending AMs, we vote to support heritage, archaeology and archaeologists throughout Europe, and it is just such action and involvement that make choosing, hosting and attending the AM so important.
Buzsáki, R., 2021. LGBTQIA+ matters in Hungary. The European Archaeologist 71, 15–17.
- Human Rights Watch, 2014. World Report 2014: Turkey, in: World Report 2014.
- Jones, S., 2018. Tensions flare at Barcelona protests on anniversary of independence vote. The Guardian.
- Minder, R., 2019. 600,000 Protesters in Barcelona Call for Independence from Spain (Published 2019) [WWW Document]. URL https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/11/world/europe/spain-catalonia-independence.html (accessed 12.10.22).
Go back to top