Histories of archaeology

by Cornel  

I've always been interested in the more, shall we say, juicy aspects of the history of the discipline, in the personal histories of archaeologists who left their mark. Archaeologists are interesting people, and histories of the discipline could indeed easily read like popular novels if someone chose to write them as such (see the interview with Sally Binford that I linked to in a previous post); yet the majority of said histories are dry and, frankly, quite boring, focusing on the genealogies of ideas but all too often leaving out the personal context in which these developed. While it's perfectly understandable why this is so, and while it is certainly easy to find "juicy" bits on most archaeologists with a bit of digging (pardon the pun), I also think it would be useful to pay more attention to the people rather than just their ideas. Nothing develops in a vacuum, and most (if not all) of the big intra-disciplinary debates (e.g. the Pompeii premise, the Binford-Bordes debate on the meaning of Mousterian variability, the Spaulding-Ford debate on typology, to name but a few) cannot be fully understood without understanding something about the personalities of those who engaged in them. Indeed, there is more to scientific debates than just science - there are personal egos and ambitions at work, reputations to maintain and destroy; there are also personal reasons for engaging in particular types of research or, indeed, from turning away from certain areas or subjects in great disillusion.

In this post I simply wanted to point out the interesting work done by Pamela Jane Smith, a Cambridge researcher and a former student of Bruce Trigger. Her Personal Histories project is fascinating, and I'm eager to see what will come out of her new(ish) initiative, the Histories of Archaeology Research Network.

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