Why I’m not going to the AIA meeting

The annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America starts today in San Diego, and I am pleased to say that I won’t be there. Unlike last year, when my absence was the result of inclement weather in Boston, this year I am not attending by choice — a luxury afforded by my two-year fellowship at the Met. I would have stopped attending long ago if I had any choice in the matter, which I feel I do not, so long as I am actively looking for employment as an archaeologist in some capacity. Thus this seems like an opportune moment to articulate why I don’t care for the AIA meeting, if only for cathartic reasons.

  1. It’s expensive. My first job included travel funds, which was nice, but my next three did not, meaning that whatever I spent came out of my meager salary. This year Jacquelyn Clements has created an informal survey to try to get a sense of how much one typically spends going to the meeting, and I am looking forward to seeing the results.
  2. The talks are terrible. Certainly there are exceptions to this; in Seattle in 2013 I saw a brilliant talk on how timekeeping is a social construct and what its implications are for archaeology in Armenia. However, it followed a talk arguing that no one in the Near East knew how to swim. The bar is much too low.
  3. There are too many talks. Even if I am fortunate enough to find a handful of talks that interest me, they are invariably scheduled at the same time in widely disparate places. The meeting would be greatly improved if there were far fewer parallel sessions, and therefore far fewer talks, meaning that the standard for acceptance would have to be raised (in theory, anyway).
  4. The talks are too heavily slanted towards reports on fieldwork. That is not to say such reports are unimportant, but as often as not these reports are a tedious list of trenches dugs and objects recovered, without any attempt to engage with the broader research question. As a result, the talks are only meaningful to people already intimately familiar with the site or region in question – very inside baseball (and very dull). Perhaps the broader problem is that most of the archaeologists giving these talks do not have research questions any more complex than “what will I find if I dig here?” or “will I find the same things as I did last year if I keep digging in the same place?”
  5. Roman archaeology dominates the meeting. Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the preponderance of Roman archaeologists in the field of classical archaeology, but this causes the meeting to be even less inclusive and interesting. The presence of a token panel called ‘The Near East’ is one of the clearest examples of the chauvinism of the classics. Just because the Greeks hated the Persians doesn’t mean that we should too.
  6. There are no meaningful networking opportunities. Faculty in graduate programs like to toss out the old canard that the meeting is good for ‘networking’ (this is what passes for ‘advice’). Anyone who has been to the meeting knows this is not true. The key to networking is to have senior faculty at one’s own institution introduce students and early career scholars to their senior colleagues. But those senior faculty, if they attend the meeting at all, spend the entire weekend drinking with their senior colleagues, to the exclusion of lesser beings such as students and recent graduates. Moreover, this generally takes place in the prohibitively expensive hotel bar.
  7. Candidates interviewing for jobs generally cannot relax until the last of their interviews has taken place. Candidates with no interviews generally cannot relax at all. This makes it hard to care about how many sherds of terra sigillata were recovered from Trench C33.16NE.
  8. It is true that I will miss seeing old friends, but by now, after five years on the market, most of my friends either have jobs or have stopped looking, and therefore have no need or desire to attend the meeting.

Here concludes the rant. If you’re interviewing for a job in San Diego, good luck!