For this blog post I watched a talk from Virginia Butler, she is a zooarchaeologist who has worked with archaeological fish bones from South and North Pacific regions. I have read a number of her articles these past couple months so I was rather excited when I found this talk on Youtube. The presentation focused on one of her research projects in the Pacific Northwest, however the concepts and issues which are discussed could actually be applied globally. Much of her work deals with conservation biology and zooarchaeology, resource intensification and depression, prehistoric fishing practices, and resource sustainability. In my fourth blog I analyzed a couple journal articles which discussed anthropogenic impact on the environment as well as archaeological applications to global change issues. I was interested in knowing how the ancient past could provide lessons for contemporary issues, and Butler’s work attempts to explore this notion.
She began her talk by establishing her study in context of modern concerns with global fisheries and their sustainability. She provided some compelling statistics to ignite the audience’s feelings and understandings of this important issue. However, she explicitly stated that talking about declining global catches is ‘preaching to the choir’, and her intentions were not to focus on worrying problems but on potential solutions. Her argument was that contemporary solutions are difficult to create and implementing sustainable strategies are questionable. Basically, how can we be confident that something will continue to be sustainable in the future? Butler suggests looking to the past for answers so that we may gain some time perspective on cases of sustainability. I admired her overall premise for this talk: suggesting alternative ways to looking at a problem and at the same time bridging the gaps between different fields.
The structure of the talk was incredibly clear (including a slide outlining her trajectory) and organized. She did not include any personal anecdotes in the speech and instead had a direct approach to present problems and solutions. She used comprehensible language but did not want to dumb it down, so she defined certain concepts which she utilized frequently throughout the talk. This made it easy for the audience and also for Butler since she did not have to do a complete code switch. She then provided some physical context to the site ,as well as historical background outlining various transitions in lifestyles which occurred over a ~10,000 year time scale. When discussing her actual research project her motives were made very clear. She had two questions: to measure if salmon use increase along with human population growth, and whether the indigenous people were sustainable.
There was a portion of time in the middle of the presentation where some people may have lost slight interest and that was with the delivery of the data. Butler discussed the patterns in fish abundance using different charts and graphs. I do not imagine this sort of data would interest many people in general, however the inclusion of such information was necessary for the following discussion of her interpretations of the socio-ecological systems. Thinking about it now, I do not know how Butler could have presented this information differently. She utilized image representations of the data which was ideal, and she did not dwell too long on specific patterns. Her pace was quick allowing her to transition swiftly to discussions on the significance of such patterns and relations to sociocultural behaviours and practices. I think the switch between zooarchaeological ‘numbers’ to sociocultural evidence progressed the talk nicely and avoided getting stuck on the technical part.
What was effective?
Clarity of goals and motives, and the organization of the talk made it easy to follow. For instance, she was clear in stating that she took a sociocultural theoretical approach. I think this clarification of objectives was important to establish to the audience that she was not just going to discuss fish. For an audience that is not familiar with zooarchaeology, it may be necessary for the researcher to clarify that their research views the relationships between animals and people, and not solely animals.
Due to the position of the camera I was unable to watch Butler’s physical movements, but I could hear her voice clearly. Her tone remained upbeat and engaging throughout the entire talk, which kept me awake while I watched around midnight.
Although her main evidence was archaeological and ethnographic, she discussed the significance of the main issues through a series of perspectives from different fields. The research she had conducted, and the future actions and strategies made by contemporary fisheries, would have both biological and social significance. So towards the end of the presentation she did not appear to only be an archaeologist, she advocated for change through different disciplines and her position turned into one of an environmentalist. I admired this multidisciplinary aspect of the presentation because it highlighted that her work had relevance to larger issues and it was not just a display of data.
I also liked her final comment at the end which asked whether we should continue eating fish or not. I feel like she was already anticipating that question and wanted to address the audience on their own personal concerns. After reading or listening to issues such as global resource sustainability I personally would like to know how the problems and solutions relate to my own life. I think this engagement with the general public is important when these types of topics are discussed, especially in a public setting.
What was ineffective?
I would have to say my biggest criticism for this talk was the pace of her speech. Do not get me wrong, it was engaging, upbeat, and definitely not monotone. Yet I found myself thinking: “thank goodness I can pause this”. Her pace was rather quick and a lot of her data was flown over so it was difficult for the listener to grasp everything she was saying. It appeared as if she had a lot to say in the given time and perhaps this was a reason why no anecdotes were included in her talk.
I found it to be a straightforward lecture; a problem, argument for a solution, research field and site context, data, interpretation, and relation to large issues. I did not have to guess or dig deep to figure out what her arguments or significance were, I appreciated this clarity of her presentation. There was nothing completely unconventional about the framework of the lecture, specifically there were no creative anecdotes or narrative. Was it still good? Of course! Just because it was simply structured does not mean it was a bad talk. I enjoyed Butler’s presentation because she discussed an issue which is of global concern. What made her content unique were the suggestions for unconventional ideas, approaches, and insights to a problem which contemporary scientists continue to struggle with. These points were made clear, and I believe her intentions to address a wider audience were apparent as well.
“Virginia Butler – The 10,000 year record of sustainable fisheries in the Pacific Northwest,” BevanSeries, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q2vSNNoUM8