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The ‘new-old normal’: how inclusive has archaeology during covid really become?

Marloes Van Der Sommen

Sign saying nothing about us, without us.

Now that the world is ‘easing up’, and we go back to the ‘old normal’, I’m starting to get a little worried and wonder: what lessons have we actually learned in the past two years? What will we remember and what lessons will we take with us?

If you read my pieces more often, you know that I mainly focus on the lessons around heritage and inclusivity, because despite these strange times that brought a lot of challenges, I have also seen many beautiful developments.

Over the past two years, for example, symposia and webinars have been organized worldwide, online, which has greatly increased the accessibility of these types of events and reached other target groups. Online events turned out to be cheaper and you didn’t have to travel for it and presence meant much less incentive for introverted or otherwise easily overstimulated fellow human beings than participating in ‘the old form’ did.

It was also very nice that the educational institutes that always prevented students with physical or mental disabilities from taking online courses, now had to follow the pace of these people, because suddenly no one could physically go to lectures. I hope they have taken away from this that the technology is available, that you also keep new and other talents involved in your training program and that in the ‘new-old normal’ they don’t start building these obstacles again, but understand that this is part of inclusive education…

In addition to this accessibility, the feedback on topics discussed at online events also changed. In chats, completely different people were suddenly speaking than the ‘usual suspects’. The presentations were often recorded, so people could respond at a different time, giving discussions a different dynamic. For example, when a speaker made sexist or racist statements, it was taken up more widely and it could no longer be brushed aside because of the recording in question.

Also, the sight of panels suddenly gave a different kind of awareness: we saw panels in a different setting, instead of in cosy seats on a podium and that made the manels ( -and-what-can-we-do-about-them-148068  ), in a new way, even more visible and we started giving each other tips on how to make webinars more inclusive ( ).

The topics discussed at online conferences also changed, we suddenly understood that we need each other and that inclusivity matters. We saw a society that is concerned about ‘sustainability’ and about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘MeToo’ and it was finally talked about within archaeology. Whole sessions were suddenly broadly devoted to such topics. Not just in a small committee anymore. Gain! Progression! Finally!

And then I put on my cynical look: suddenly everyone is an expert in this field, not just the people who have been working on these subjects for years. In those panels just mentioned, people suddenly join during these sessions who ‘know’ everything for someone else, without the relevant target groups being given a place in panels, solutions are devised or pain points are easily pushed aside in the field of decolonization of heritage, obstacles in heritage for people with a disability or whether or not to set up a bullying hotline in archaeology (‘not necessary, because that’s no problem with us’).

And I’m still scratching my head about that one: are these subjects really well embedded and secured for the coming period, even if everything goes back to the ‘old normal’? Or was that a fun new hobby for whole groups in these ‘boring times’ where nothing was allowed?

I hope I’m being too cynical now and that this, like a changed understanding of how to use new technology for a more inclusive archaeology, is permanent. That these self-appointed experts gradually develop into real experts and that despite and perhaps because of these strange times we are still taking steps towards a more diverse and inclusive archaeology, in which more and more people feel seen and heard and we can all play our own part in this. Part II to follow