Friday, June 10, 2011

Embedded and Implicated :: Responsibility

As archaeologists, we pride ourselves on the long view, but if we train our view only on the past, we neglect our present. And, if we have come to understand that our work is embedded and implicated in social and political context, then we cannot present that such was true only in the past, only during periods of acknowledged colonialism, or only true for earlier generations of archaeologists. It’s true right now.
-- Barbara J. Little*

* Reintegrating Archaeology in the Service of Sustainable Culture, Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture in Archaeology, December 4, 2009, American Anthropological Association annual meetings, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Anonymous said...

Interesting quote...but is she saying that everything in the past is always true in the present? Or just colonialism?

I'm guessing it's not "everything" because generalizations are never a good idea (except when they are).


Digger said...

Archaeology has a long, long history of being in the service of colonialism. Not just studying colonized/"exotic" cultures, but actually taking part in the colonial/colonizing process.

What we do as archaeologists has in the past had implications, at various scales, for the people studied; for the drafting of legislation regarding, for example, property rights; how "other" cultures were perceived; and normalizing the us-them dichotomy that allows the creation of an "other."

Barbara's argument, as I understand it, is that the work archaeologists are doing now *also* has implications. On a very basic level, what I do has political, economic, and environmental implications because I help developers (private and governmental) get their construction/demolition permits (many permits require archaeology be done as part of the permitting process). How I frame interpretations of what I find has implications as well: do I tell the master narrative of the Native People all, as one, leaving this place and moving to reservations out west, no hard feelings, and no violence, when the white colonists came? Or do I tell the more nuanced story about white colonial land grab, decimated native populations, and the persistence of Indian communities here? (For some reason, the thought that Indians have continued to live in some Middle Atlantic states after the colonial period and through the present, really, really angers some people...). These different interpretations have political, social, and emotional implications for living populations, and not just the Native populations who *should* have their whole histories told, and not just the colonial version.

Similar loci of implication include class, race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, rural vs. urban, etc. etc. How we remember the past has deep implications to how we move forward in the present. If it didn't, no one would care if there were still Indians in the Middle Atlantic or if/how the massacres at Blair Mountain and Ludlow were remembered.

Yeah, that's what I think she means :)

Digger said...

Info on:

Blair Mountain

Ludlow Massacre