Conference Report: The Interplay of Cultures and Technology
In the week of 14 to 18 January the workshop 'Intersecting Worlds. The Interplay of Cultures and Technology' was hosted at the Lorentz Center in Leiden.
Attracting many scholars from across the world, this workshop explored, in a comparative and connective way, the transformations and responses of indigenous societies around the world to changing cultural, social, economic, and political environments triggered by European invasion and colonialism. The archaeological record is perfectly suited to provide completely novel insights into these infamous histories by uncovering the indigenous perspectives hitherto biased by still dominant Eurocentric viewpoints. In the Americas, the Caribbean indigenous were the first to experience European invasion and colonization. At the beginning of the 16th century, they also experienced the influx of African slaves, contributing to the formation of the present-day, multi-ethnic Caribbean society. In Asia and the Pacific Rim, Australia, and New Zealand the European invasions represented equally varied contacts and cultural intersections. Such colonial invasions were the principal cause of widespread social, political, and economic change, causing catastrophic demographic collapse as a result of the introduction of exotic diseases to which Europeans were tolerant, but to which local populations had no resistance. Researchers with expertise on the Caribbean, (West) Africa, and Southeast Asia/Pacific, as well as local stakeholders came together during the workshop to discuss topics related to these histories, focusing specifically on landscapes in transformation, lifeways and deathways, and mobility and exchange.
This workshop was supported by The Lorentz Center as part of the Distinguished Lorentz Fellowship (DLF) awarded to Prof. dr. Corinne L. Hofman in 2018 and the ERC-synergy project NEXUS1492. Prof. dr. Hofman organized this workshop together with distinguished academics and colleagues Prof. Ian Lilley (Archeological Heritage Management, University of Queensland) and Prof. Christopher DeCorse (African Archaeology and History, Syracuse University).
Decolonizing the study of landscapes
The workshop was organized in several key note addresses, complemented by smaller work sessions, in which participants tackled specific subjects in more depth. The two key questions central to all workshop addresses and sessions were 1) What were the immediate, and the lasting, effects of colonial encounters on indigenous cultures and societies across the world, and what were the intercultural dynamics that took place during these infamous colonization processes? and 2) How can the study of indigenous histories contribute to a more sophisticated awareness in the present, and how can it speak to multiple and perhaps competing stakeholders at local, regional, pan-regional, and global scales? Point of departure to tackle these questions is a backbone of archaeological data, the indigenous perspective is the hallmark.
A platform for future synergies
Following the research conducted by the ERC-synergy project NEXUS1492 on the first inter-cultural encounters in the Caribbean, new synergies and plans for future collaborations will expand this work in both space and time, as well as method and technique development (e.g., genetics, multiple isotope analysis, network science; geophysics, remote sensing). In doing so, the gap between the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences is bridged. The discussions resulting in these new synergies were, among other things, focused on the archaeological study of worldwide, large scale populations, their movements, and the transformations of material culture, burial practices, networks, and foodways before, during, and after colonial invasion. Key to these discussions were the expertise of academics working with a range of methods and techniques, facilitating research that is both transdisciplinary in nature, whilst also drawing comparisons between the key regions of the conference. Such academics included Jaime Pagán-Jiménez (palaeobotanical research; NEXUS1492), Alison Crowther (The University of Queensland), Hannes Schroeder (aDNA research; Natural History Museum of Denmark), Gareth Davies (VU, Amsterdam, NEXUS1492), Jason Laffoon (multiple isotope research; NEXUS1492), Henry Hooghiemstra (UVA), Amanda Logan (palaeobotanical research; Northwestern University), Menno Hoogland (funerary research, NEXUS1492), Darlene Weston (osteoarchaeological research; UBC/NEXUS1492), Kenneth Kelly (University of South Carolina), Mark Hauser (Northwestern University), María Cruz Berrocal (Universidad de Cantabria), and Douglas Armstrong (Syracuse University).
Presentations and discussions focused on the study of the social, cultural, political, but also physical landscape in regions with colonial histories, with special emphasis on the indigenous histories. Besides discussing the deep past, the resilience of indigenous communities and the continuation of their practices and traditions in the present and future were also central to the conversations. The position, mode of conduct of researchers studying landscapes with indigenous and colonial histories , and the exchange of knowledge between academics and local communities, is extremely important in order for the discipline to move forward. Community engagement should permeate and inform the entire archaeological process.
The recurrent theme of positionality was approached from a variety of perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds and were therefore infused with a diversity of examples and personal experiences. Important for these discussions were the participation of Irvince Auguiste (former chief of the Kalinago Territory, Dominica) and his wife Louisette, Samoe and Carlos Sergio Welisiwen (Wayana representatives from Suriname), Nathalie Swanepoel (University of South Africa), Gert Oostindie (KITLV Leiden), Michael Aird (University of Queensland), Jay Haviser (SIMARC), Stephen Acabado (UCLA), Christophe Sand (IANCP), Tibisay Sankatsing Nava (NEXUS1492), Genner Llanes Ortiz (Leiden University), and Eithne Carlin (Leiden University), who all have much experience with collaborative work between academics and local communities. This resulted in interesting and dynamic conversations amongst the participants and ideas for a joint publication.
The organizers wish to thank all participants for their efforts and enthusiasm during this successful and fruitful week.