Returns and Reconnections Seminar Series

Over three days in September 2021 the Research Centre for Deep History (Australian National University) and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge) convened the three-part Returns and Reconnections Seminar Series.

The series brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and fields of study who are engaging with the deep past through research collaborations with and alongside Indigenous and local communities. The seminars advanced new conversations about the nature of these collaborations, collectively thinking through the role of archives and collections in engagements with the deep past, considering what it means for communities to return to the knowledge and material traces of their ancestors, and elaborating some of the diverse meanings of deep time and deep history across different spaces, disciplines, and temporalities.

The series was opened on 20 September by Professor Ann McGrath, Director of the Research Centre for Deep History. Seven papers were delivered across the three dates (20, 21, 27 September) with presenters and co-authors from Australia, Vanuatu, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, France, England, and Scotland. Comments on each paper from invited respondents were then followed by extended discussion with the 35-40 attendees at each session, with the final seminar on 27 September concluding with a drawing together of key themes from Professor McGrath and Dr Catherine Namono (University of the Witwatersrand).

A number of cross-cutting themes emerged, including the challenges of navigating relationships between local knowledges and broader disciplinary or institutional structures; the right to interpretation (or reinterpretation) as a way of connecting with the past; the value of community partnerships and co-production; the complex ethical considerations involved when working across cultures and communities; and the necessity for Indigenous and local peoples not just to have access to artefacts and knowledge, but to have a position from which to speak.

Series convenors Ben Silverstein and Mike Jones (ANU), and Paul Lane (University of Cambridge) are now exploring publication options for the papers featured, and may also convene additional seminars to continue the conversations started by Returns and Reconnections. The seminar series is another important milestone in the Research Centre for Deep History’s ongoing commitment to building productive collaborative relationships with scholars in our region, and around the world.