It is fun to see what Google Ads throws up sometimes. I found this while creating the image for yesterday’s post at http://www.customsigngenerator.com/digital.asp
One reason for rejecting critical theory as used by many archaeologists is that I cannot take it seriously. A helpful book I read was Intellectual Impostures by Sokal and Bricmont. Not because it gave me an excuse to ignore a large body of work, but rather because it gave me the confidence to be able to say that some of this stuff was incoherent. It wasn’t a blanket rejection of philosophy. Around the same time I was getting interested in Singer’s work, because I could see what the problems he wanted to solve were. And any philosopher that has to have an armed guard must be doing something right. But by and large I’ve been able to comfortably ignore much modern theory not simply because it’s bad, but worse – it’s irrelevant. I suppose with Ophelia Benson skewering critical theory and with the launch of Theory’s Empire*, a book I haven’t read yet, I could fossilise in my views with no real injury. Indeed yesterday I showed that it would be par for the course in archaeology to select a theoretical school and squeeze snugly into it.
It would be a little dull though and rather parochial.
Occasionally I have communication trouble. I have a naïve tendency to take things at face value. For instance I thought that archaeologists who built their ideas around Foucault’s ideas had actually read Foucault. It turns out they’ve read Foucault in translation. Fair enough, philosophical French is a little dense, there’s nothing wrong with reading it English for archaeological purposes. It turns out that this isn’t quite what some people mean by in translation. They don’t read Foucault at all. They read what other archaeologists said about applying Foucault to archaeology.
Oh dear I’m not feeling at all well.
I’ve just read an article “What Drives History?” by Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter. In it he argues that historiography doesn’t pay enough attention to public interpretations of history. This is view that I have a lot of sympathy for. In addition I think that examining public history (or archaeology) isn’t just useful in itself, but it could help students see the relevance of theory to their pre-university experience of history. At the moment there’s a tendency for theory courses to bludgeon students into submission with “proper” history or archaeology. If you work from the public understanding of historical process then you can build a bridge across to more academic theory by showing how theory isn’t important because it’s a higher plane of existence, but because it’s a useful tool for interpreting the world we’re in and the data we have. So I seem to be in agreement with Prof. Black. This bothers me deeply.
Well, it’s because the article appears on the Social Affairs Unit’s blog. The Times describes it as “…driving its coach and horses through the liberal consensus scattering intellectual picket lines…” Before I know it I’ll be quoting the Daily Mail with approval.
Nevertheless it is a good and thought provoking piece.
A story from Ansa.it has caught my eye. I spend a lot of time studying the cursed remains of pagan temples, but I’ve never come across unspeakably giant monsters guarding ancient secrets while I do it. It turns out I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Part of ancient Rome is now home to giant crabs. They get bonus monster points for eating the corpses of dead cats, rats and pigeons.
I’ve been sent a Call for Papers for The International Conference on the Arts in Society. My initial feeling is to ask where else the Arts would be. I mention it as Theme 5 Audiences includes: Virutal audiences, blogs, cyber-art and performance. I was about to suggest that a panel of bloggers might be interesting. Then I saw the registration fees. Student registration is $377. I have no idea what the aim of the conference is, but a charge of $226 for “virtual registration” (i.e. you don’t actually go) would suggest that participating with society isn’t one of them.
I followed the link Put What Where? from Early Modern Notes because I thought that taken a certain way it might sound a bit rude. Yes, I am a bit naïve. It’s a link to a story about a book on 2000 years of sex advice. There’s also an interesting interview with the author at the Times website.
If you ever wanted to make a case that the study of history tells us more about our current times than the past, I’d reckon the History of Sex would be exhibit number one. One example would be that when the forbidden cupboard existed in the British Museum, 90% of the people who accessed it were women. Why? Umm… From personal experience I can say that I wouldn’t think ill of a woman who had an interest in studying the topic, but if a man does it my first reaction is to look for the dirty raincoat and weak handshake. This must be in part from my childhood experience. At one school I was at girls had sex education while boys had rugby. This may explain a lot of dissatisfaction in half of the British population.
This is probably not a healthy attitude. Sex is a universal in human experience rather like eating or disease. You could argue that this doesn’t actually apply to monks, nuns and some Catholic priests. Yet it’s still possible to pass through a history course only touching on the issue of sex as ‘gender’, which is somewhat different.
Michael Shanks appears to be back online again after a summer hiatus. There’s an interesting post about the repatriation of human remains. The UK doesn’t really have the same repatriation issues that the US or Australia has. It’s not that we don’t have the bodies, but the peoples concerned are usually so far away we don’t hear them. In light of this lack of pressure you could argue that the new declaration on the repatriation of remains under a thousand years old is an example of surprisingly ethical behaviour.
The problem is why 1000 years? From a practical point of view it effectively covers the period after the discovery of the Americas and Australia. Though potentially there could still be issues of ancient American remains, though I don’t know if there are any in UK collections. On the other hand people don’t get magically get deader after a millennium. I can see how things look different when soft tissues still survive, but are one set of bones much the same as another? If they are don’t they all deserve respect? The archaeologists I’ve worked with have all shown respect when excavating human remains. So why should Michael Shanks feel guilty?
One possibility is that while he is ethical, if archaeology is ethical it’s often by accident. Somewhere (in the book Archaeological Ethics, I think), Brian Fagan argues that archaeology treats ethical considerations as an option rather than a central feature. The quote I’m think of is something like “By not placing ethical considerations at the core of their work archaeologists are acting in a deeply non-groovy way”. Those weren’t his exact words, he phrased it better, but I’m tired. I know there are ethical declarations, for instance the AIA insists that members uphold certain standards, but I can’t recall a serious coherent ethical text. Vitelli’s Archaeological Ethics, seems to be as close as we have. I don’t know if someone has sat down and worked out what we owe to our colleagues, the wider profession and the public if we are to be good archaeologists.
I’d love to be wrong about that. These may be the bits of Shanks and Tilley’s books that didn’t sink in when I read them.
It’s probably not enough to behave in an ethical manner, we also need to show that we have seriously considered the ethical implications of what we’re doing as archaeologists.
I’ve found a picture Sudoku script which should be easy for those with tidy minds. This link will take you to a page that has archaeology photos instead of numbers.
They refuse to sit still for photos, as this shows. Annoyingly when I didn’t have my camera on me today one was sat for a while on the lowest branch of the plum tree taunting a local cat. I’m trying to work out a way of setting up a feeder at work without upsetting anyone. There are few things that can’t be improved by the presence of squirrels.