Thursday 16 April 2009

The artefact collector-friendly archaeological "Federation": debate quashed

The British Archaeology Jobs Resource (a sort of a online job seeking service for British archaeologists) is apparently trying to set up some kind of a "Federation" to "save" British archaeology from something or other. Sadly though it is not from the damaging public perception of archaeology fostered by current treatment of the artefact hunting and collecting issue in that country. Archaeologist David Connolly the spiritus movens of BAJR is very publicly pro-collecting, pro-"metal detectorist" up to his ears, so it is not surprising that he has gathered much support in the pro-collecting milieu.

Recently on "Britarch", the discussion list of the Council for British Archaeology (so in some ways perhaps a rival for the task of representing archaeology and archaeologists to other bodies) a discussion started up on the topic of the federation, gathering members' thoughts. Some doubts certain individuals had were expressed about the apparently less than democratic means by which is was being set up, and whether it was ultimately a good or bad idea to have yet another body (alongside the CBA, the IFA, ALGAO, PAS and various other organizations acting as the public face of the discipline, and trades unions protecting the rights of its members). Especially one with the - to some - somewhat controversial David Connolly as self-appointed leader.

What was interesting about the discussion was that among the first of a rapid flurry of posters who leapt to defend the new organization on Britarch, three were "metal detectorists" chastising archaeologists for not supporting the new initiative (including one defending BAJR by provocatively accusing some British archaeologists of being "heritage brownshirts", thinking it was a surefire way to gather support in the milieu no doubt). It would seem that at least some British "metal detectorists" see it as very much in their interests that Mr Connolly should, by means of this Federation, achieve some "clout" in British archaeology. That alone might lead some of us to question what the grounds for that might be.

Part of the British archaeological community will face a problem finding out about and expressing opinions on the creation of a body which aims to represent them. Much of the organization of the new federation is currently going on over on a closed section of the BAJR forum. As is well-known, Mr Connolly does not let all and sundry on his forum. For example, I have found to my cost that one is not allowed to call artefact hunting there "artefact hunting" or disagree with what Mr Connolly says, both appear to be (I was told) offences against his forum's "Accepted Use Policy". Since I do disagree with David Connolly over a number of things (in particular what seems to me a fundamental issue of whether portable antiquity collecting really is in any shape or form "archaeology for all" as Connolly insists), it's not worth the effort of trying to register there to have him block and manipulate my posts. Though if I took up metal detecting and artefact collecting I might have more of a chance I guess.

Readers of this blog will now not be able to see in turn what members of Britarch said over the past couple of days about the new "Federation" and the questioning of certain methods being applied to create it. On Friday, Mr Connolly contacted CBA asking them to remove certain members' posts, and apparently when they (rightly) refused, Connolly (and possibly one other person - unconfirmed) contacted the CBA's service provider (JISC) who today obligingly removed the whole of two threads on the BAJR "Federation" from the Britarch list ! Free speech no longer rules in Great Britain it seems. This is ironic, as it is precisely this type of behaviour on Mr Connolly's part (hidering free discussion of his proposals in an OPEN forum) that was being questioned in that thread. The would-be leader seems to have shown his hand and how how he would treat those in British archaeology who have a different perception than his own. If the "Federation" had any guts (which it would need to face the problems archaeology in Britain faces today), it would reply to the comments and doubts expressed on a public forum and not simply brush them aside by having two whole threads of comment and discussion deleted by a third party. These are, however, the same tactics we have seen David Connolly apply consistently whenever his approach to artefact collecting is questioned. I have observed that he will not face or tolerate criticism, nor justify his views or actions, simply dismiss the question. While this is what we have come to expect from the no-questions-asked portable antiquities collector (who simply have no real justification and much to hide), it is disturbing to see this inability to articulate a coherent answer to legitimate concerns about the heritage in a professional archaeologist.

Once he'd removed two threads from an independent forum, he then set up an open thread on the forum he controls "for the benefit of Britarch members" (!). But is is hardly a conducive environment for the Britarch member since most of the first three pages of the thread consists of jokes about Britarch, and personal comments at the expense of the Britarch members who had earlier questioned the Federation in the now-missing posts (suddenly it seems the AUP is less stringently applied than when talking about Connolly's views on "metal detecting" and its role in archaeological policy). Not surprisingly Britarch members have not been flooding to BAJR to discuss the topic of this new federation there.

I will not be supporting a "metal detectorist" friendly "Federation" run by David Connolly to represent British archaeology, especially one that uses such methods to quash alternate opinions. Neither do I personally think, until certain issues are cleared up, would it be wise for anyone else to do so. In any case as far as I can see, a lot of attention has been paid to who is eligible for membership of what kind, but there is no overall statement of the actual aims, nor manner in which those aims will be achieved.


jake said...

come on Paul, people were comparing David Connolly to Hitler. I think he had a right to take offence at that, and ask for it to be removed. I also think BritArch should have removed it of their own accord, as it was very obviously an offensive personal attack.

Paul Barford said...

people were comparing David Connolly to Hitler .
Were they Jake? Are you sure? You use the plural, how many did you count? I saw none, it seems to me that the one person who mentioned “1939” was making a light-hearted comment about something else, obviously not too skillfully, but I think if you re-read it… oh no...
...sorry you cannot as David Connolly's complaint over the head of the CBA led to two entire threads being deleted by JISC.

Why? Because there were “allegations and innuendo” 17/04/2009 : 12:07. I saw instead some perfectly pertinent points made about the federation which is supposed to represent the discipline. Most people in such a situation would simply answer those comments, clarify any misunderstanding, not delete the whole of two threads. That is a type of behaviour that would suit a number of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes from all parts of the political spectrum, but not one built on openess, free discussion and exchange of views. So what does that tell us about the Federation and people involved with setting it up?

The contributor to the Britarch discussion who made the “1939” comment apologized ( about the same time as JISC were as a result of mr Connolly's complaint deleting whole chunks of the Britarch archive containing the posts with the OTHER uncomfortable questions, you know, the ones a representative of the federation has yet to properly address. I guess they feel they do not have to now.

I personally think David Connolly owes the CBA an apology.

As for name calling, of course if you criticize those “nice” (passionately interested in the past) “metal detectorist” fellows, you tend to get called a number of names. The same goes for US Coin dealers . As my old professor used to say, the only way to avoid getting criticised is to sit back and do and say nothing.

it was very obviously an offensive personal attack
well, anyone who could find the words “artefact hunter” offensive may well have a pretty low tolerance – though I must say to judge from some of the posts I see there, such sensitivities do not seem to apply to all the comments on other archaeologists that Mr Connolly allows on his forum.

Paul Barford said...

I presume "Jake" was here because of:

Dave Connolly writes:
"I have been passed this by another Federatation Member. Where yet again, it is being misunderstood, misquoted and maliciously turned into something it was not. There are claims that I run it, and that it in fact somesort of front for metal detecting and is all about pro collecting (now that really took me by surprise.. I see nothing about the federation doing that?)

If you ... wish to reply to this, then feel free, I am ignoring it as just another pathetic personal attack, however, for those that wish to see the Federation work, you may consider this unnacceptable."

OR they may not. They may regard it as something its initiators need to clarify. Mr Connolly has not answered the questions raised here, nor has he answered those raised by members of the CBA's discussion list whose messages he had deleted over the CBA's head.

Here now we see him suggesting that others "may" want to do his fighting for him.

I wonder what support people will have from a federation where its self-appointed chair refuses to address some fundamental issues, proclaims he is going to ignore criticism and asks others to answer the critics.

ARE there any "Federation members"? I thought it was in the process of creation. After all, they've still not worked out what it is actually going to DO.

Could Mr Connolly, or one of his apologists authorised to make such a declaration, confirm that "metal detectorists" will not, in fact, be allowed in this Federation, even as affiliate members? Can he confirm that in the representation of the discipline to public opinion, he will not allow a confusion to develop in the public mind between the work his members do in the field with the mere collecting of portable antiquities? That seems fundamental to strengthening public support for archaeology - pointing out that it is a lot more than just "finding Treasure".

Marcus Preen said...

I don't think anyone could give you that assurance at present since as things stand the proposal is that a "Member" can include individuals or small groups that are "active within what can broadly be termed archaeology within the UK" (depends how broadly you want to define "active in archaeology"!) and if that doesn't mean metal detectorists there's always "Affiliate:
A person who is ....not directly involved in archaeology" - which I take to mean Tom, Dick and Gary!

Paul Barford said...

I think that the operative word in the first quote is precisely that "broadly" which is why (given the pro-collecting stance of BAJR) I raised the question I did. A perfectly valid point requiring at some stage an unambiguous answer. Why not sooner rather than later?

jake said...

Actually Paul, I read your blog quite often (it is in my favorite listing and everything.) Though this is the first time I have commented. I also subscibe to the BritArch forum and have been following the debate on BAJR so consider myself quite well informed on this subject.
I'm not sure there IS a light hearted way to compare someone to a genocidal meglomanic, but that aside I would like to make a couple of points clear.
1) JISC removed the entire threads not David Connolly, and they are now going to put them back up minus the offending messages.
2) BAJRFed is still being set up, but I cannot think of any comment made so far either pro or con detertorist. It aim so far as I can tell is to represent professionals involved in the heritage industy, who currently feel marginalized.

It is quite distressing that this has turned into such a entrenched argument that is getting dominated by personalities, when the aim of BAJRFEd (an interim name I hasten to add) is laudable.

jake said...

sorry, I just re-read your comment and also re-read the 1939 comment on BritArch(it was still in my in box).

RE: BritArch comment. If it is a comment to something other the the 2nd world war I don't understand it. Maybe you could give me your opinion.

I apologise for implication you yourslf find comparing people to Hitler light hearted.

But I do believe the comment was in very poor taste and should have been removed by BritArch itself.

Paul Barford said...

Well really it depends how you read it. No, I am not going to tell you how to read it, though obviously you all took it at the most superficial level. But the author apologised for the black humour and the post has gone, so I really cannot think why you are still going on about it.

1) JISC removed the entire threads not David Connolly, and they are now going to put them back up minus the offending messages.
No, THEY are not, it was the CBA that asked them to restore the posts to the CBA discussion forum. Connolly went over the heads of the CBA, he is out of order and owes them (and Britarch) an apology when this could have been arranged another way. It is precisely this type of hysterical reaction that makes some of us look at a BAJR-headed "federation" aiming to represent all of us somewhat warily.

Not to mention the secret squirrel hidden passwords and behind closed doors discussion with which I suspect many of my colleagues will have no truck. If Comnnolly wants to speak for all of us, then first he has to speak with (and listen to) all of us, and not just a selected group.

[The "Federation"] It aim so far as I can tell... Yes, well, as I commented its "funny" that setting it up does not entail FIRST defining its aims. That does seem rather an important first step from which the others follow.

At the moment it looks rather like headless chicken stuff.

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