Tea With the Sphinx – continued
Rather than taunt you with more pictures of cake, secret cat diaries and nail designs (I can’t believe I forgot to photo Nichola’s shoes) I will now taunt you with actual conference content. You missed a treat, you really did. Right now Kate is hating me because she had been going to speak but had to withdraw, a good friend would pretend that the conference had been ‘meh’, I am clearly not a good friend!
So, having established I am a bad person undeserving of attending excellent conferences, let me explain why it was so good. Obviously a large part of its success was due to the combination of the papers involved, the personalities involved and the inter-disciplinaryness (that so is a word) of the conference, but I’d say the attention to detail – the locations, conference packs and cake all added to the charm. Charm’s not something we think of as necessary for academic conferences but I (now) think this is an error. My sister (she of the Secrets Cat Diary) is involved in business conference management and when she tells me about her work I’ve often thought it would be lovely to attend one of her conferences, even if the subject matter would make me want to go and lie in the traffic. Ellie and Nichola managed to deliver a conference that got all the details right and had wonderful papers. Even when things went wrong and I’d have racted by having a toddler tantrum under the nose of the Lapworth dinosaur or running around screaming and looking for someone to – loudly – blame, they got it sorted with good humour in a, seemingly, laid-back style. They managed to produce a conference that had been well-planned and well-organised but it felt relaxed, good natured, comfortable. So, well done you two, may we all aspire to produce such fab creations.
Content wise – do you know, I don’t think I’ve been to an inter-disciplinary conference before? I know, I’ve led a very sheltered life. But, as an inter-disciplinary newbie, I have to say it’s an excellent way to go about things. I think I’d go to more conferences if they were all interdisciplinary. Obviously it helps if the subject is about encounters with Egypt*, who isn’t interested in Egypt, Egyptology and Egyptomania? I’m not sure it would work so well for British prehistory say, but I’d be willing to give it a try. Anyway, onwards and upwards. Chris Naunton of the EES gave the key note speech about the historical and current tension between popular and scientific Egyptology arguing that from its very inception what draws in the public is not always seen as important by the practitioners. It was, as you’d expect, a very well-argued, interesting and convincing lecture with references to Petrie, Pendlebury, Emery as well as the work of the EES in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I hadn’t realised to what extent Pendlebury had been keen to engage the public in their Egyptology work, I knew he was a showman but not that he’d filmed the Amarna excavations, both on and off site, attempting to show the public that archaeologists had fun on excavations as well as working hard. Nor had I realised the extent to which Pendlebury has been sidelined in EES internal history. Chris talked, regretfully, about the EES decision to give up excavating tombs in the 90s in order to retain their British Academy grant and how this deepened the division between popular and scientific interests. At the same time, he argued, popular interests have narrowed to Tutankhamun, Cleopatra, pyramids and tombs. It’s his belief that the popular and the scientific need to be brought back together and one way this has been done recently is by Nick Reeves. Reeves’ suggestion that Nefertiti is buried in a secret room off Tutankhamun’s combined academic writing with social networking and media to ensure his work reached the widest possible audience, an audience who were supplied with all the references needed to weigh up Reeves’ argument. Just as Amelia Edwards and the early EES scholars used all possible channels to get their work into the public space, so current Egyptologists, Naunton suggests, should be making use of television, the internet, all the resources available to engage the public, popularise their findings, break down the barrier between those within and those outside the profession.
On that uplifting note I’m going to pause for today. I’ll be posting more about the conference during this week, but I’m massively busy and have deadlines shrieking at me so it’ll be intermittent rather than coherent blogging – well, that’s this week’s excuse for my lack of cohesion anyway!
Any comments, agreeing or disagreeing with Chris, or the need for charm and comfort in conferences, or even if inter-disciplinaryness is or isn’t the way forward, whatever, do stick a comment in the comment box.
*The official term seems to be Reception Studies, or at least people kept referring to ‘reception’, even in a fan-girl attempt to fit in I can’t use it. To me it means the first year at school, my daughter is in Reception, studying that would involve infants, noise, body fluids, chaos and frustration, I wish to avoid these things in my working life!