By Sheli O. Smith and Annalies Corbin

Maritime History has long been served by journals such as Mariners Mirror (1911 to present) and American Neptune (1941to 2002). With the rise of recreational SCUBA after WWII and the accelerated discovery of shipwrecks, the need arose for an organized forum where archaeologists could share, compare, and contrast findings. The Council on Underwater Archaeology (CUA), formed in 1959, answered the need and has served as an international advisory body providing guidance on issues related to maritime, nautical, and underwater archaeology ever since (Damour, Historical Archaeology 56/1). By 1963 the CUA began hosting annual conferences. Papers collected from the first CUA conference sponsored by the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, April 26-27, 1963 were edited by June Drenning Holmquist and Ardis Hillman Wheeler. The first Proceedings, Diving Into the Past: Theories, Techniques, and Applications of Underwater Archaeology (1964) was published within the year establishing one of the key tenants of the publication – rapid dissemination of information.

The subsequent meetings in Toronto (1965) and Miami (1967) were not published, although a manuscript of at least the Toronto meetings existed in the papers of the late John Huston, but the current disposition of this manuscript is unknown. Although the CUA conferences continued to grow, it took another twelve years before the CUA constituency organized and published the CUA Proceedings consistently. In 1970, the newly formed Society for Historical Archaeology (established 1967) joined forces with the CUA and held a joint meeting of the International Conference on Underwater Archaeology in Pennsylvania. Two years later, Joan du Plat Taylor founded the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology helping disseminate underwater findings worldwide.

Yet, even with three journals focused on maritime history and archaeology along with the SHA’s journal on historical archaeology, the time between investigation and publication was lengthy. In 1973, the CUA changed its name to the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA) and in 1978 began producing the conference proceedings annually. Editing and production was a volunteer effort, which fell to the chair of the annual conference.

Publication of the Proceedings between 1979 and 1983 was provided by Jim Muche’s Fathom Eight Publications. In 1984 the Proceedings was published by East Carolina University’s Maritime Program. From the initial publication through the 1984 proceedings, the copyright was spread across numerous institutions and publishers. In 1985, the Society for Historical Archaeology published the proceedings for the first time as a Special Publication Series. The following year publication of the proceedings reverted to the underwater conference chair.

Underwater Archaeology Proceedings 1982 edited by Donald Keith (left) and In Search of our Maritime Past 1984 edited Gordon Watts (right).

In 1987, the ACUA constituency along with the SHA membership voted to formally combine the two organizations and change the conference name from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference and the Conference on Underwater Archaeology to the SHA Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology. As part of the agreement the SHA assumed copyright to the annual Underwater Archaeology Proceedings. For the subsequent twelve years (1987-1999) the Underwater Archaeology Proceeding continued to be edited by the conference underwater chair and published in the format of Historical Archaeology the SHA’s flagship journal.

Underwater Archaeology Proceedings (1987 and 1989) published in the format of the Historical Archaeology journal.

The remarkable twenty-one years of annual proceedings established a rapid publication process that provided access to science in real time, helped ensure that project data was not lost in the ‘gray literature,’ and afforded young professionals an accessible forum for publication. It was also during this period that the ACUA established the photo competition to celebrate the visual documentation of archaeology. Documentary shorts premiered in Baltimore in 1989 and by 1993 members began submitting their photographs covering an array of categories from artifact to field work. Participation in the competition has steadily grown with terrestrial archaeology colleagues also submitting images. Today the competition reflects the entirety of the Society. In 2007, the ACUA began publishing the award-winning images in an annual calendar, which ultimately made its way into every conference attendee’s bag.

However, not all was smooth sailing, in 2000, the SHA Board in a cost savings move, decided to cease publication of the Underwater Archaeology Proceedings inviting participants instead to submit to the Society’s journal, Historical Archaeology. No proceedings were published between 2000 and 2006.

Underwater Archaeology published as part of the SHA Journal.

The loss of the Proceedings was felt by many in the underwater archaeology community, yet the field continued to grow and a number of publications arose including the Australasian Journal of Maritime Archaeology (1981- present) and the Journal of Maritime Archaeology (2006- present). However, even with the growth of journals, a rapid publication format was lacking and regularly discussed by Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology.

In 2007, a solution emerged. The ACUA with financial help from the SHA and a partnership with the PAST Foundation would re-establish the Proceedings, renamed, the ACUA Underwater Archaeology Proceedings with a completely redesigned cover (see featured image on this page). As in the past, the proceedings were edited by the conference underwater chair, but in the new process published by the PAST Foundation employing modern, print-on-demand (POD) technology, with the ACUA maintaining copyright. The return to full production represents substantial gifts of volunteer time and resources by the volume editors and PAST Foundation (Columbus, OH), yet the result has proven resiliently successful. Through this partnership, the ACUA Underwater Archaeology Proceedings have been published twelve consecutive years. Today the proceedings average 150 pages in length with approximately 15-20 papers presented each year. Over 61% of the papers are by first time authors and 90% of the papers refer to fieldwork that was completed within a year of the conference presentation.

Even a global pandemic has not stopped the publication of the proceedings although the 2021 proceedings will certainly go down in the annals of publication as the most exotic. The 2021 conference was completely virtual and thus the number of submitted papers was substantially fewer than in other years. Faced with the dilemma of publication, the ACUA and SHA journal editor decided to include the 2021 ACUA Underwater Proceedings within Historical Archaeology, 2021: Volume 4. Just as in the past, the Proceedings will include an introduction by the editor, a fun cover image, and papers by conference presenters.

After 57 years of publication, the ACUA Underwater Archaeology Proceedings (open link for the full list) remain as relevant today as they were in the 1960s successfully accomplishing the original aspirations by continuing to provide a rapid publication of information, afford young professionals an accessible avenue to begin publishing, and chronicle the wider professional findings in a public forum. It is our hope that our colleagues and future underwater archaeologists will continue to write papers, volunteer editing, and recognize the value of the Proceedings.

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