Earlier this month I was in Amsterdam for the 18th Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC). This was the first TRAC to be held outside the UK and reflected what appears to be a growing continental interest in theoretical discussion within Roman archaeology. Or does it? I decided to do some statitics to get a better idea of what sort of geographical coverage was represented in the conference papers. In my programme, I counted 62 papers, nine of which do not specify a region of particular interest in their abstract (grouped below as ‘thematic/methodological’ and included for comparison). Here’s a chart to illustrate what I found out about the geographical interests of TRAC-goers:
We see clearly that papers on Roman Britain dominate (15 papers or 22% of the conference total of 62). The Dutch were on ‘home turf’ and the Roman-period archaeology of the Netherlands (and neighbouring areas of Germany) is well represented by 11 papers (17% of the conference total). Italy and the city of Rome were also well-covered (11 papers, or 16%). Interest in Western provinces such as Gaul and Iberia is apparent as well (5 papers, 8%). Two papers discussed North Africa (3%).
The eastern Mediterranean attracted considerably less interest: The Near East was covered by 4 papers (6%), whereas small numbers of papers dealt with Egypt (3, or 5%) and Dacia (3). Only one paper (2%) discussed Roman Greece. I did not register any paper that dealt spefically with Asia Minor!
Is this worrying? Are archaeologists working with the eastern Mediterranean less interested in theory? Or does it simply reflect the history of TRAC as being predominantly UK-based and exclusively anglophone (see also the recent discussion of English as the ‘universal’ research language in archaeology in Archaeologies, the WAC journal)?
More than one answer may be valid but what I find important here is in the interest of all Roman archaeologists, namely that TRAC should actively try to shed its image as a conference of almost exclusively the provincial archaeology of the Roman West (and especially the Northwest). TRAC is a great forum, but there’s always room for improvement. What I’d like to see is a ‘Mediterranization’ of TRAC that includes empirical perspectives from both East and West, and always maintains a firm focus on the Roman world as an integrated unit, not split into modern nationstates and languages.