The Happiest Place on Earth: Society for American Archaeology goes to Disney

On Wednesday 6th April I packed a bag full of summer clothes and said goodbye to the miserable British weather as I headed off to Orlando, Florida, for the 81st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.


Flying over Canada, comforted in the knowledge that there is somewhere in the world colder than northern England.

This society conference began in 1935, survived a world war, and has had meetings in cities and states all over the US. It was a real honour to be invited to participate in what must be the biggest archaeological conference in the world. After the first night in my hotel, Disney’s Port Orleans- Riverside (would recommend for anyone taking a holiday, really lovely and quiet, almost like a gated community), I woke at around 5am on Thursday morning due to horrible jet lag, and made my way to the Disney’s Swan and Dolphin conference venue for the first morning session of the week.


How to burn your shoulders in one simple step… I’m standing in front of the conference venue after my presentation- note the relieved smile.

The session I presented in started at 8am sharp and I was the second presenter on, which is probably the best time slot I could be given as I didn’t have to be first, the audience was still awake, and I didn’t have to wait long for my bit to be over. My session was entitled On the Move: Archaeological Approaches to Children and Childhood and was sponsored by the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past. The chairs Dawn Hadley and Traci Arden did a fantastic job, as did discussant Jane Eva Baxter, and the quality of the other participant’s presentations in that session were some of the best I saw during the week.

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Action shot of my presentation, photo by Gail Hitchens

Afterwards I spent the afternoon with my travel buddy and fellow session presenter, WRoCAH student Gail Hitchens, attending other sessions such as ‘Skull Cults amongst hunter gatherers?’ until our evening social with the University of Sheffield group. So finished the first day in Disney World, complete with a viewing of the Disney’s Magic Kingdom fireworks which were visible from the conference venue!


Gail and I at the University of Sheffield social on the first evening after our session looking very pleased with ourselves! Photo by Dawn Hadley

The remaining few days of the conference I attended sessions which interested me, sometimes running between to catch particular papers, as the conference was so huge that there could be up to 40 forums, general sessions, symposiums, and debates all running at once. At the end of the day we would take advantage of the late sunset and explore the attractions around our hotel, such as our trip to Disney Springs on Saturday evening where I saw the Indiana Jones bar and a restaurant beneath a volcano which “erupted” pyrotechnic flames every hour…


Volcano restaurant in the process of erupting. Wasn’t even the weirdest thing I saw that week.

What was really fantastic about this conference was that it attracted people and their research from all over the world, and you were almost certain to bump into someone you knew. I had a great time catching up on the research from my previous department at the University of Exeter and paying their stall a visit to say hello to my undergraduate lecturers and previous head of department. I also got to see many of the people who attended the Society for the Study of Childhood in the past conference I attended in Chicago last September. The scale of this conference makes it invaluable for strengthening ties to researchers you may have met at other conferences or institutions and for making new connections with people you may have missed before. It was obvious that this was one of the main attractions of this meeting, as at the end of the day people would stream into the hotel forum to chat with past and present colleagues. It is unfortunate that there is nothing similar in the UK as I think it’s truly invaluable to make face to face connections with people in the modern, competitive world of academia.


You can now follow me on Twitter! @Hollyhuntwatts


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