Public Significance and Imagined ...
P1: JLS International Journal of Historical Archaeology [jha] pp1163-ijha-484376 March 24, 2004 22:3 Style file version Nov 28th, 2002 International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2004 ( C 2004) Public Significance and Imagined Archaeologists: Authoring Pasts in Context Christopher N. Matthews1 This paper explores how archaeological authorship is an articulation of the imag- ined social roles archaeologists play with the actual contexts of our practice. The discovery of popular public discourses on archaeology should not be seen as im- pediments to pure archaeologies, but as routes to the significance archaeology seeks to attain. A parallel concern with the determining influence of public con- cerns in ethnography is reviewed to develop a method for an archaeology that is truly publicly formed. An example of a public archaeology program developed in dialogue with existing historical debates in Annapolis, Maryland illustrates. KEY WORDS: public archaeology imagination reflexivity Annapolis. INTRODUCTION Being a professional archaeologist is not a natural act. It is about achieving a position where the expert can see the archaeological record as a data source that can bring to light meaningful stories for the present to consume. To attain this position involves training, aspiration, good fortune, and most importantly for this discussion, an understanding of the social relations that permit a distancing of one���s self, as an archaeologist, from others. Being an archaeologist is, in other words, a social act. The basis for this idea is not new, but has been a concern of the discipline since the 1960s when archaeologists laying the foundations of the New Archaeology sought to make their work relevant by relating their studies to living concerns like over-population or waste management (e.g., Martin and Plog, 1973 Rathje and Murphy, 1992). It has also been a force behind more strident critiques of the 1Department of Anthropology, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York 11549 e-mail: anthczm@ hofstra.edu. 1 1092-7697/04/0300-0001/0 C 2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation
P1: JLS International Journal of Historical Archaeology [jha] pp1163-ijha-484376 March 24, 2004 22:3 Style file version Nov 28th, 2002 2 Matthews field such as that by Shanks and Tilley (1987), who start with the assumption that archaeology is a servant of dominant capitalist interests, and that its relevance may only be assessed from this biased perspective. What is new here is an approach to defining how archaeologists produce, through our own professional and personal acts, the social space reserved in modern culture for our practice. Also new is an exploration of the production of this space by looking at the borders created as a result of the way archaeologists and others imagine ���archaeologists��� as a symbolic whole to be defined. The point of this examination is first to recognize how these borders serve as archaeology���s principle social markers, and how they act to our detriment in the strategy we typically employ for defining archaeological self-determination. The discussion then proceeds to propose a manner of working beyond the limitations and biases of archaeology���s social difference to achieve a sense of real public significance that is contextually and politically relevant in the contemporary world. The two key outsiders that largely define the borders of the social space for archaeology are the public and the discipline of anthropology. While the defining characteristics of how archaeology sees itself as different from these outsiders are unique, the manner in which we mark ourselves as separate is principally the same for each. First, we study the archaeological record using scientifically established methods verified in the academy, and, second, we focus on the dead. These acts of self-determination call for examination and, I argue, such an analysis permits insight into exactly how archaeologists see and position themselves within the larger context of our work. The conclusion here is that our self-perception requires much more reflection, if not substantial change. Drawing on the methods of critical ethnography, I consider, with an example of my research in Annapolis, Maryland, how the modern borders of archaeology may be breached in the development of critical research questions that reframe the meaning of archaeological remains in light of the context of their discovery. After briefly explaining how I use the idea of the imagination to envision my subject, I begin my analysis by elaborating on the constituting aspects of archaeology���s social boundaries and the imagined location that archaeologists occupy as a result. IMAGINED ARCHAEOLOGISTS The ���imagination��� is a vital aspect of any cultural formation, but it has changed in recent years with rise of what many call late capitalism (Appadurai, 1996 Jameson, 1991). My interest here is on understanding how this change has affected the way we and others imaginatively construct archaeologists as social beings, and then how we act in public as a result of these self-assessments. To define this subject, I draw on specific constructions of the ���imagination��� taken from Benedict Anderson (Anderson, 1983) and Arjun Appadurai (Appadurai, 1996). Anderson���s notion of ���imagined communities��� stresses the believed shared
P1: JLS International Journal of Historical Archaeology [jha] pp1163-ijha-484376 March 24, 2004 22:3 Style file version Nov 28th, 2002 Public Significance and Imagined Archaeologists 3 histories, experiences, and senses of self and identity that underlie early modern nationalism, especially as a result of common languages and their dissemination in print capitalism (specifically newspapers, novels, and other widely read texts). The familiarity of stories across wide geographic areas permitted disparate groups to gloss a commonality despite their very different experiences, dialects, modes of subsistence and economy, religion, and other markers of uniqueness. In fact, though these characteristics of local culture proved to be quite pronounced as they framed the nature of the relationship between marginal peoples and the central powers organizing and dominating modern states, new citizenries, notably with the help of professionals such as anthropologists, actually compartmentalized their unique- ness as their folk identity, or as the weighty traditions that marked their past. They instead constructively imagined themselves as part of a larger, more meaningful, polity. Appadurai expands on this point. For him, the imagination underwent a radical set of transformations in the recent reconstruction of later modernity. First, it broke ���out of the special expressive space of art, myth, and ritual and [became] a part of the quotidian mental work of ordinary people in many societies��� (1996, p. 5). Second, the imagination explicitly challenged the authority of fantasy. As he writes, ���while fantasy can dissipate,��� imagination ���especially when collective can become a fuel for action. . . . The imagination is today a staging ground for action��� (1996, p. 7). It follows, third, that the imagination is ���a property of collectives��� (1996, p. 8). These transformations are significantly interrelated in that they demonstrate the shift from Anderson���s imagination in early modern state to a late modern imagination in which citizenries are seeking increasingly to be disparate rather than finding sources of common ground. Citing both ���electronic mediation��� [versus print capitalism] and ���mass migration��� (1996, p. 9), Appadurai���s point is that the imagination has become a means for subcultures and diasporic communities to frame the substance of alternative nationalisms and other new senses of social being in the late modern era. The imagination serves individuals and groups in that it provides a field for playing out justifications of difference, most especially as it allows ���more and more people throughout the world [to] see their lives through the prisms of the possible lives offered by mass media in all their forms��� (1996, p. 54 emphasis added). In other words, in later modernity it is increasingly common to see people living ���partly imagined lives��� (1996. p. 54) in which a good component of the immediate materiality of the everyday is directly tempered by imagined futures and constructed pasts as well as imaginary senses of locality and distance between the solidity of ���here��� and the significance of ���there��� (i.e., homelands, origins points, desired destinations). This new idea of the imagination serves this paper in two specific ways. First, it helps to direct attention to how the subjects of archaeology have changed in recent years. An underlying argument here is that archaeology���s subjects have changed radically from those defined by aspects under the direct control of
P1: JLS International Journal of Historical Archaeology [jha] pp1163-ijha-484376 March 24, 2004 22:3 Style file version Nov 28th, 2002 4 Matthews archaeologists (i.e., the remains and artifacts of past peoples and the records of investigation that traditionally defined the archaeological record) to the living communities with which archaeologists socially relate to undertake their work. While these groups seem to have only recently arrived in the form of resistant descendent and local communities, it is assumed here that such social relations have always marked in pronounced ways the character of archaeological scholar- ship and practice. What is different is that prior to recent challenges these publics were either supportive of archaeological work or easily dismissed as fringe (see e.g., Casta�� neda, 1996 Patterson, 1995 ). In either case, their impact was easily undervalued, ignored, or suppressed. Thus, one sense of imagination discussed here draws on how recent challenges to archaeology are part of a much larger global movement in late modern culture in which oppressed and marginal peoples have sought out imaginary materialities to resist their present circumstances. I ar- gue that archaeology plays an important role in defining the content of these new imaginations. The other consideration of the imagination discussed here asks whether ar- chaeologists have made strides toward reimagining ourselves in this new light. It is understood that archaeologists have been largely immune from such worries inasmuch as archaeology was located within the cultural confines of the modern elite. Yet, new challenges have forcefully urged archaeologists to shed this pose and open our discipline more widely to public scrutiny. The question is: have we? And, whether or not, what is required to do so successfully? VERSUS THE PUBLIC One of the basic means for any sense of identity is how it is formed in the negative: what one is not (see Holland et al., 1998). For archaeologists, as for any professional identity, one of the key markers of being is the nonprofessional audience for our work. This includes a wide array of people and groups, the makeup of which has changed significantly for archaeology in the last genera- tion. When archaeologists traditionally imagined working in public we thought of staging museum displays and scripting site tours for educating and entertaining a visiting public. More recently, federal, state, and municipal legislative mandates redefined the archaeological public as a generalized body of citizens whose inter- ests archaeology serves. Even more recently, some archaeologists have proactively developed archaeologies in the public interest in which descendent communities and other publics are consulted and maintained as agents in the development of archaeological research designs and their implementation. Notably, with each step, archaeology has resituated the public by bringing them closer to the heart of real archaeological decision making. Positively, this work has led archaeol- ogy to develop new modes of inquiry and forge productive research partnerships
P1: JLS International Journal of Historical Archaeology [jha] pp1163-ijha-484376 March 24, 2004 22:3 Style file version Nov 28th, 2002 Public Significance and Imagined Archaeologists 5 that by all accounts are clearly advancing the nature of significance in the field (e.g., Echo-Hawk, 2000 Ferguson et al., 2000 Swindler et al., 1997 Wall et al., 2004). Having done so archaeologists and the public working together have refined the role of archaeology and thus the imaginary spaces occupied by those claiming to be archaeologists. The result is that the identity of being an archaeologist has changed from an isolated researcher to a more engaged citizen of what may be termed the research polity, or the now more public space in which archaeology is conducted. It is my contention, however, that this change is less a sign of a mainstream progressivism within archaeology than evidence of concessions made by archae- ologists to keep pace with new cultural demands for relevance. By exchanging academic freedoms (freedoms that have always been effectively defined to keep the public at bay), archaeologists have maintained access to sites that were fast being closed to them or destroyed by bulldozers, pipelines, or negligence. It is vital, however, to consider that archaeology draws from a storehouse of aca- demic freedoms culturally granted to it by its own past acts and its association with the Western academic canon, and that this freedom is increasingly con- tested in the contemporary world. It is a power, in fact, that has been identified by potential and actual archaeological publics as one they would like to have. Furthermore, because the identity of being an archaeologist is apparently so mal- leable as a result of the public relation efforts made by archaeologists to pre- serve our relevance (as well as our site access), it is a power that our subjects have an easier time challenging than the legislative or commercial forces they would otherwise like to control. In other words, as archaeology has sought to keep pace for its own good, it has revealed the somewhat arbitrary basis of its social authority, and the wise but ever more disenfranchised public has sought to take the reigns of this exposed archaeological control to assert their own self- determination. Despite these concerns, I am not advocating that we figure out a way to stop leaking our authority. Rather, this is what is going on in the archaeolog- ical political work done by the SAA and others on Capital Hill regarding site preservation. It is also the principle moral lesson and driving force underlying most discussions of public archaeology and professional ethical codes (see e.g., Jameson, 1997 Little, 2002 Lynott and Wylie, 2000 cf. Zimmerman, 2000). This impulse, I submit, also underlies the basic legitimacy of CRM archaeology: that archaeology serves its constituency by identifying and preserving a precious public resource. Certainly, without site preservation the future of archaeology as we know it is at risk, but there is more political work to do than just saving the past for the future, i.e., our own professional descendents. Instead, this work needs to be seen as maintaining the status quo in archaeology, or in the iden- tity terms used above, sustaining a solitary space of archaeological expertise so that archaeologists may remain key figures in the authorship of site significance