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Archaeology and the modern world

Press release issued: 20 November 2003

The archaeology of the recent past will be the focus of a major international conference at Bristol University this weekend.

Archaeologists are generally perceived as excavating the dusty remains of a distant, exotic, lost past - in prehistory, Egypt or the Classical world.  But over the past decade, a sea change in the limits of archaeology has taken place, and archaeological remains dating from after AD 1500 are now increasingly recognised as significant.

This weekend, a major international conference at Bristol University will bring together scholars from Britain, Ireland, North America, Europe and Australasia who specialise in the archaeology of the later historical and very recent past.

The conference, Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT),will explore subjects ranging from colonial plantations in the 18th century Caribbean and 19th century Zanzibar to life on an Australian chain gang and the relics of the ‘heroic era’ of Antarctic exploration.  

CHAT will take place at the University’s Archaeology Department from Friday 21 November to Sunday 23 November 2003.

Dr Mark Horton, Head of Archaeology at Bristol University, said: “It is remarkable that the archaeological study of the modern world has been neglected by academics for so long.  Whether industrialisation and colonial expansion, or the archaeology of the First World War or everyday life in the very recent past, archaeologists have unique access to the remains of unwritten histories."

Dr Angela Piccini, co-organiser of CHAT 2003, said: “One of the most interesting implications of this broadening of archaeological horizons is the question: Where does archaeology end?  Increasingly as archaeologists, we are exploring the contributions we can make to the study of the very recent, and even 'contemporary' past.”

Dr Dan Hicks, co-organiser of CHAT 2003, said: “These are exciting times for historical archaeology in Britain.  Archaeologists are starting to make valuable and cross-disciplinary contributions to our understanding of the past 500 years.  We hope that CHAT 2003 will demonstrate how, across a wide range of subjects, historical archaeology exposes the texture, detail and complexity of apparently familiar pasts."

CHAT 2003 is the first meeting of a new Conference Group - Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory - which was established in February 2003 as a response to radical and interdisciplinary shifts in the limits of archaeology. 

CHAT 2003 is convened by Dr Dan Hicks and Dr Angela Piccini (Bristol University Archaeology Department).

Bristol University is a leading centre for research and teaching in historical archaeology, running two MA programmes in Historical Archaeology of the Modern World (AD1500-2000), and in Archaeology for Screen Media.


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