SIA Conference

View of the Teller County, CO sky and Highway 67.

SIA report part 1: overview

Colorado Springs: June 3 – 6, 2010. What do you get when you combine archaeologists, engineers, physicists, preservationists, software programmers, and others? A cross-section of the attendees at the Society for Industrial Archeology conference. It’s a diverse group, some involved professionally and some only in terms of avocation (or perhaps obsession). Some are working in the field, a few of us are students, and some are retired and remain active members.

The SIA studies, protects, and advocates for the machines and the environment that has propelled the industry of our culture: power sources, functions, machinery, waterwheels, railroads, mining structures, geology. Perhaps an unlikely combination (preservationists and engineers are friends?!) but the strength of the SIA lies in its diversity of knowledge and expertise.

An SIA conference is different from others that I have attended in that there is only one day of papers and the other days are spent touring and studying the areas. In fact, a day of tours is included in the registration fee. Additional days of touring incur additional costs. Thursday and Sunday are such the case, but the Friday tours and Saturday papers are generally attended by all.  For those on a budget like myself, you will be happy to know that many meals are included: a welcoming reception, a breakfast, lunch on the tour, and the luncheon member business meeting. (The food was delicious, for anyone concerned.)

It’s a smaller group than organizations such as the National Trust, so it feels more personable. This was my first experience traveling alone to a conference where I didn’t know a soul. I spent the 2 1/2 days sitting at tables and on buses with strangers and meeting lots of interesting people. It’s probably something that I would not have done as an undergrad, but now (older and braver) the experience was very good. SIA members are friendly and welcoming and all have good stories to tell.  It didn’t take long to feel welcomed by the SIA veterans.  I am grateful for the friendliness and the conversation. (Side note: for any students interested in industrial archaeology, you should definitely join and get involved. Members are looking for young newbies!)

Paper sessions ranged from railroads to bridges to historic forts to waterwheels to iron structures to international industrial archaeology and so much more. I presented a paper on the Lake Champlain Bridge as a case study for preservation policy, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with conference attendees.

In addition to talking to people on tours and at meals, the paper sessions prove just how dedicated these members are to their research and interests. What I’ve learned about the SIA members is that they all want details and more details! They want to know, in full, how something operates and its history. And those who have been studying this for a while have an incredible bank of information. The SIA conference is definitely a wonderful place to meet people, to learn about the area you’re visiting, and to hear exciting research. It is truly one of the fun conferences.

Check back for SIA Tours (and pictures) Wednesday.