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Reading Rednesday: Historical Archaeology

This past semester, my extracurricular reading was focused around two topics. First, I read a good bit on time in archaeology, and, more recently, I’ve been reading about in the world of Historical archaeology.  In January, I will officially start writing a book on the archaeology of contemporary American culture and my introduction will think about both time (and what it means to be contemporary) and the tradition of historical archaeology in the U.S.

The challenge for me is that while I do read in historical archaeology, I tend not to read very systematically and as a result, I don’t necessarily have a feeling for the scope or even big-picture direction of the field. Over the past few months, then I’ve turned my attention to various surveys and textbooks in the field. Starting with Barbara Little’s little book Historical Archaeology: Why the Past Matters, enjoying Mark Leone’s Critical Historical ArchaeologyCharles Orser’s Historical Archaeology, as well as various big edited volumes like the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology, Hall and Silliman’s Historical Archaeology, and the Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology and the massive series from Springer, Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology and University Press of Florida, The American Experience in an Archaeological Perspective. The volumes of the journals Historical Archaeology and the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, likewise produce useful guides to the field. 

In part, my goal is to feel along the edges of world archaeology and American archaeology and determine the lines of influence and coincidence and departure. For the history of the archaeology of the contemporary world seems to proceed along two interrelated but separate lines: one in the U.S. and the other in Europe. While the historical reasons for these separate lines of development are a mix of historical experience – particularly the archaeological responses to post war reconstruction of European cities – and the different traditions of historical archaeology practiced in both contexts. 

In general, this stuff is pretty exciting and it reminds me reading for my comprehensive exams as work to balance between the intriguing character and arguments of individual works and the need to read “for work” and to come away with a broader perspective on the field without losing nuance. More than that, I’m working on re-learning how to read efficiently and to re-hone some professional practices developed in graduate school and then left neglected in the face of professional realities that tend to require on depth rather than breadth. 


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