How do traditions start? Sure, we follow traditions like holidays, anniversaries, and even personal routines with little to no thought, but how do we make a single action into a habitual one? These are questions teacher and archaeologist Mat Saunders and five students (Abby Stutts, Cole Lambeth, Winter Hamme, Dean Harder, and Reagan Henderlite) explored at the 2022 Bluegrass Annual Discussions on Anthropology and Social Sciences conference at the University of Kentucky.
First, a little background: Mr. Saunders is well known in our community for leading American Foreign Academic Research (AFAR) projects for students throughout the summer. In the summer of 2022, the AFAR program took over 70 Davidson Day students to historical sites in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Belize to conduct archaeological fieldwork and research. These four sites are well-established with the AFAR program, meaning that generations of Davidson Day students have excavated the same locations over the years. The core of AFAR is to provide students with opportunities, so when the University of Kentucky invited Mr. Saunders to present at the first annual conference, he was on board.
Mr. Saunders first asked participating field directors and staff from AFAR 2022 to select student representatives from each of the four project locations. The selected students then explored more of the history behind the sites they worked on that summer and summarized their research, archaeological processes, and site challenges on large posters to be presented at the conference. Cole Lambeth created "The Castle of Sleepless Knights: Archaeological Fieldwork Challenges at the medieval castle site of Zorita de los Canes, Spain”; Abigail Stutts produced "Adversity in the Place of Ticks: Post-pandemic Archaeological Fieldwork Challenges at the site of Cahal Pech, Belize”, and "A Macedonian Mixup: Archaeological Fieldwork Challenges in the Imathia Ephorate of Greece” was written by Winter Hamme, Dean Harder, and Reagan Henderlite. A fourth poster was prepared by Grace Galloway and Abbie Gordon entitled, The Tide is High but We're Holding On": Archaeological Rescue at the Roman Coastal site of Tróia, Portugal. Unfortunately, Grace and Abbie were unable to attend due to their athletic commitments.
The team of six students traveled to Lexington, Kentucky for this exciting four-day professional conference experience. “We had a lot of time to kill before the conference day,” says Reagan, “but we found plenty of things to do like hiking, making s’mores, watching football, and playing cards.” On the day of the conference, they attended presentations by Mr. Saunders, university professors, and college students. The Davidson Day students then set up their posters and spoke with attendees and answered questions about their research. “It was challenging and even scary to think on our feet, but we all worked together well and everything went smoothly,” remembers Winter. The day concluded with more presentations and a board meeting for the University of Kentucky Anthropology Department, all of which the Davidson Day students were able to attend.
A primary goal of the conference was to make a great impression on the conference’s coordinators so Davidson Day students would be invited back, which would make the conference a yearly tradition for Davidson Day. “It’s so rare for high school students to have an opportunity to experience a formal, collegiate environment,” says Winter, “which is why it’s important we maintain this connection with the university so more AFAR students can experience this in the future.”
While making the conference into a tradition was at the forefront of their minds, the team of six hope more traditions were started along the way. Things like Mr. Saunders’ bottomless supply of Dentyne cinnamon gum, hiking the natural bridge trail, Peanuts music on repeat, and bonfire debriefs are all smaller memories that can become traditions alongside the conference.
So, how are traditions made? The key is to be intentional until the action becomes second nature. When we intentionally repeat an action, we not only build a tradition, but we create opportunities for those younger than us to follow in our footsteps. Mr. Saunders and the Davidson Day global studies students hope that this conference will become a tradition so others can gain real-world experience presenting research at a professional academic conference, and also build some fun memories along the way.