CHAT – Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory

CHAT 2013 Experience

CHAT 2013: The Experience of Archaeology and the Archaeology of Experience

An International Conference Exploring the Experience of Archaeology and the Archaeology of Experience

University College London, 8-10 November 2013

Wilkins Building, UCL Main Campus, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Hosted by UCL Institute of Archaeology and jointly organised by UCL Institute of Archaeology and Atkins.

Conference Theme

‘Experience’ represents a significant concern across a wide variety of academic disciplines. We might think of the importance of ‘experience’ to sociological studies of everyday life; it’s central position as a concept within phenomenological approaches to landscapes and the past; the emphasis on the lifeworld in ontological perspectivism and the ‘new’ materialism; the role of experience within certain spiritual and intellectual traditions; the focus on emotional experience in studies of affect; the place of experience in the study of craft and in ethnoarchaeology; and the role of experience within contemporary educational pedagogy.

‘Experience’ is central to studies of modernity, which emphasise the peculiarity of the experience of progress, speed, time and place it produces. In The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore argued for a late modern shift from a service-based economy to an experience-based one: goods and services come to be valued not so much for their function, but in terms of their engagement of the senses and the experiences that surround their purchase and use. It could be argued that this experience economy is simply a reflection of a broader experience society in which there has been a shift in focus from ‘exhibition’ to ‘experience’, from the ocular to the embodied, in relation to processes of consumption, learning, knowing and ‘being’.

Increasingly, ‘experience’ determines the viability of heritage sites and dictates their interpretation: the contemporary heritage landscape—heritage-themed destinations, heritage-led regeneration and branding of place through the enlisting of ‘the past’—explicitly reflects a new concern with experience. In doing so, it exposes major differences in philosophies and taste amongst ‘professionals’ (archaeologists, architects, public historians, heritage managers) and the public. The practice of engaging with and ‘capturing’ oral history, which we might think of as memories of experience, plays an important role in contemporary archaeological narrative. Recent ethnographies of archaeological practice have similarly emphasised the experience of archaeology and its accompanying field and laboratory practices in understanding its history as an academic discipline.

This conference will focus on the experience of archaeology and the archaeology of experience in the present and recent historical past. We see a number of potential sub-themes emerging from this call:

  • Archaeologies of the experience society
  • The role of archaeology in the experience society
  • How do we study ‘experience’ archaeologically?
  • Heritage, themed experience and destinations
  • ‘Old’ media, ‘new’ media and the mediation of the past (in the past and present)
  • Memory, nostalgia and experience
  • Archaeologies of affect
  • International perspectives on the experience of the past
  • Experience and place-making
  • The contemporary and historical experience of archaeological field and laboratory practices
Download Conference Poster (PDF)
Download Final Conference Programme and Abstracts Booklet (PDF)



Registration is now open. Fees of £40 for waged participants and £20 for unwaged participants will be used to cover the cost of room hire, tea/coffee, refreshments and lunches. Payments may be made using a credit or debit card. Participants should register in advance of the conference by following the link below. Unwaged and student participants may be interested in applying for one of the CHAT 2013 International Travel Grants or Conference Registration Bursaries.




Participants should makes their own arrangements for accommodation during the conference. A helpful list of hotels close to the conference venue at UCL is available here.

About the organisers

The conference theme provides a unique opportunity to bring together academic archaeology and the contemporary placemaking sector, represented here by the two conference organisers, and to explore the significance of the conference themes not only to academics and commercial practitioners, but also to the public at large. UCL Institute of Archaeology is one of the largest and most highly regarded centres for world archaeology, cultural heritage and museum studies in Britain. Atkins is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary design and engineering consultancies. Atkins has been involved in a number of cross-sector initiatives in historical archaeology and contemporary heritage, including the publication of the influential English Heritage discussion document on later twentieth century heritage Change and Creation (2004), and the subsequent publication Images of Change: An archaeology of England’s Contemporary Landscape (Penrose et al 2007). London provides a unique venue to explore these issues of experience and theming in relation to archaeology and the past as a global hub for museums, themed heritage experiences, and the historic built environment, marketed and exhibited for international audiences.

Please send any queries regarding the conference to the organisers, Rodney Harrison (UCL) and Sefryn Penrose (Atkins), at

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