Last week I was lucky enough to present a short paper on the chemical compositional variance of Roman period iron production tap slag at the Historical Metallurgy Society’s Research in Progress meeting 2011.

I’ve submitted a full review to HMSNews, but my overall feeling is that this conference was a particularly good example of how small Societies can create spaces for cross-disciplinary interaction. I had an absolutely fantastic time listening to the eleven other papers which all drew on research from very different contexts but were all focussed on the over-arching theme of the Society – past metal use and production. Papers were given by professional commercial archaeologists, museum and archive professionals, early career researchers and established academics. Topics included discussions of excavation methods, finds analysis, archaeometric work, experimental metallurgy, archival research, and the importance of metalworking in socio-economic contexts. I really can’t think of a way the RIP programme could have been more diverse!

Derek Pitman and Jessie Slater were the organisers, and the meeting was held at the lovely and ideally sized Institute for Humanities Research at Sheffield University. The programme for RIP meetings tends to evolve naturally out of the abstracts submitted, so the diversity exhibited is further evidence that the Society is doing well to reach out to multiple professions and researchers.

Admittedly, I’m on a couple of HMS’s committees, but I have to admit their success has entirely nothing to do with me – I am rarely able to make the meetings or contribute significantly. That said, I am extremely proud to be a member of the Society, which is able to host not only very specialised meetings bringing together researchers from across Europe (the 2011 Conference) but also bring together widely disparate topics within a broad theme. With the joint meeting with the Roman Finds Group up in York last month, the Society’s activity this year has gone from strength to strength.

Of all the great papers at RIP 2011, it was the final one that really excited me. Christina Clarke of the Australian National University presented some of her work on the stone-hammered vessels of the Minoan Palatian Era. It was fascinating to see the practical, experimental work she had done to reconstruct these objects, though I didn’t envy her the hard work necessary to beat out a vessel from 6mm copper using a piece of stone!

Hopefully the Society’s success this year bodes well for its overall development. It’s a great context within which to meet people with a wide range of experience, and I valued the feedback on my own presentation immensely. Researchers into the various aspects of past metallurgy are widely spread and I think the Society offers the only real forum within which we can all meet. I am definitely looking forwards to the coming year, and perhaps I can even present some firmer conclusions on my PhD research at one of next year’s meetings!

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