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Part 2. The ‘new-old normal’: how inclusive has archaeology really become? (and what does hybrid actually mean?)

Marloes van der Sommen

I wrote about it before: Now that the world is ‘easing up’, back to the ‘old normal’ I wondered: what lessons have we learned in recent years? What will we remember and what lessons will we take with us? And then with a focus on the lessons on heritage and inclusivity.

I mentioned how symposia and webinars have been organized online in recent months, which has greatly increased the accessibility of these types of events and reached other target groups. As I indicated at the time: online events turned out to be cheaper and you didn’t have to travel for them, and presence meant much less incentive was needed for introverted or otherwise easily overstimulated fellow human beings than during ‘the old form’.

Then I expressed my concern about the diversity of ‘experts’ being asked for these meetings and I expressed my hope that ‘hip’ topics such as inclusiveness and sustainability would remain on the agenda.

In the meantime, I notice something else and that is people in the heritage world also very much like to return to the ‘old’ normal and yet a little less enthusiastically embrace the ‘new’: often old traditions are decorated with a small layer of varnish with melodious names such as ‘ inclusive’ and ‘accessible’. But that layer of varnish only hides the fact that we are selling old wine in new bottles. Because how accessible and inclusive have we really become with each other in recent months? I suddenly see conferences scrolling past in my mailbox, with the beautiful trendy term hybrid added. Brilliant! Apparently, we learned a lesson, very nice. For example, most presentations are widely accessible and the people who need them can meet on location, while others can follow everything remotely. Right?

Because what is hybrid anyway? It’s  having or produced by a combination of two or more distinct elements : marked by heterogeneity in origin, composition, or appearance ( )

And what does that mean for a hybrid event? A hybrid event is a combination of an off- and online event. Both the physical and online audience absorb the same content and experience at the same time, but from different locations. A hybrid event focuses on interaction and goes beyond a live stream. Live streams are all about sending information, while the power of hybrid events is about increasing outreach and engagement with your audience (

Sounds good: so, we are going to experience the same heritage event from different locations at the same time?

Erm… no, as it turns out. What various conferences seem to understand by hybrid is one day on location, one day online. So that one day on location is still not inclusive, out of reach for people who don’t have the money to travel, are physically unable to travel or can’t handle the incentives of a physical convention. So, an entire group cannot attend the topics of their choice, but only the topics offered online. In this way you really exclude a lot of people from contribution, participation, involvement, an unambiguous experience with colleagues.

I’m starting to worry that the cost savings and ‘corona hassle’ are leading the technological deployment at our heritage conferences, and less the belief that knowledge enhancement and networking opportunities should be accessible to everyone in our industry.

I concluded part 1 of this diptych with, among other things, the hope that a changed understanding of the use of new technology for a more inclusive archaeology was here to stay, but I’m afraid we still have a few steps to take together. The possibilities are there, we just need to learn to think differently, rethink our priorities!