C. The Contemporary: Narratives and Genealogies

Organizers: Geneviève Godbout, University of Chicago and Rebecca Graff, University of Chicago

Saturday, May 7th
9:30 – 12:00
Robert Sproul Room


Genealogies, fictions and myths, tropes, folk knowledge, institutional ancestors, cultural imaginaries…  all influence what archaeologists deem interesting questions about the past, and what epistemologies and knowledge-making practices they bring to their work.  This session proposes to investigate the intellectual and affective processes that inform contemporary archaeological standpoints.  Narratives and genealogies help trace the material and ideal accumulation of events, peoples and ideas that contribute to creating, simultaneously, the Contemporary and the Past.  This simultaneity is at the heart of narration and genealogies as genres, themselves encapsulating, in many ways, the archaeological conundrum.  By exploring the multiple meanings of the notion of “the contemporary”, we propose to engage how the past is configured into culturally and historically situated narratives; how bias and romanticism shape our research; and what intellectual baggage we carry as scholars in and of the contemporary world.

Papers Accepted:

Embodied Subjectivities: Situating Gender in Contemporary Practice

Dana Bardolph, University of California, Santa Barbara, dbardolph@umail.ucsb.edu

Researchers have long recognized our gendered selves as deeply embedded in the construction of archaeological narratives. Considering the fluid, dynamic nature of our discipline—and its practitioners—this topic is worthy of reevaluation. Who encompasses the extant archaeologist over a decade into the 21st century? In this paper, I examine the contemporary, gendered, archaeological practitioner, with respect to how his/her data are collected, presented, and disseminated. Through a consideration of recent data related to publication, professional representation, as well biographies of individuals, I seek further understanding of the sociopolitics of archaeology and of gender biases shaping our practice in the contemporary world.

Shovelmoms and Shovelbums: Everyday Significance of Contemporary Practice in Japanese and American Cultural Resource Management (CRM)

Sarah Kautz, University of Chicago, sarah.kautz@gmail.com

Public participation in American CRM projects is limited by minimum professional qualifications stipulated in Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  Private-sector concerns over liability, etc., may also limit public archaeology, with CRM projects being contracted to firms and consultants.  In Japan, however, public participation in CRM is prevalent and people with little or no formal qualifications find employment with public-sector CRM projects where they are trained by professional archaeologists who work alongside them.  This paper highlights how contemporary practice in American and Japanese CRM reflects very different notions of “public archaeology”.  Because CRM is a public practice in Japan, popular significance of archaeology is perpetuated in the daily work of doing research rather than through institutionalized outreach.  Drawing from my experience at a private American CRM firm in addition to fieldwork and interviews I conducted in 2009 at a public-sector CRM project in Japan, I propose that the Japanese model of public-sector CRM promotes the significance of archaeology as a daily practice of custodianship rather than an institutional relationship between contemporary archaeologists and the public.

(Re)Imagining the French Colonial Americas

Christopher Grant, University of Chicago, ctophergrant@gmail.com

Since the nineteenth-century, French expansion in the Americas has been subject to romanticization and exoticization. The result has been a vision of the French colonial past that often lacks dynamism and fails to escape nationalist metanarratives. This paper will examine how archaeologists have challenged these limited interpretations of French colonialism.  By examining the diverse interpretations of “Frenchness” in contemporary visions of the past —as observed in myth and material practice —I suggest that archaeologists might benefit from a host of dynamic historical positions that open up possibilities for a new and more expansive understanding of French colonial history.

Novels and the Archaeology of Manners in the British Caribbean, 1750-1900.

Geneviève Godbout, University of Chicago, ggodbout@uchicago.edu

Our contemporary imaginary of everyday life in British colonial society is influenced by historic works of fiction, such as Jane Austen’s or Thackeray’s ever-popular novels of manners. This paper addresses the utility of eighteenth and nineteenth century works of fiction to the archaeology of plantation foodways in the British Caribbean during the same period. I propose to reflect on the status of the realist novel as historical evidence, as well as to assess how works of fiction influence the kinds of questions about British lifeways that archaeologists deem interesting and relevant in the Caribbean context.

Origins Narratives Past and Present: A View from Kent’s Cavern

David Clinnick, Durham University, clinnick@dunelm.org.uk

The controversy over the geological chronology of human skeletal and cultural material during MacEnery’s 1825 to 1829 excavations of Kent’s Cavern presents an integral moment in the development of the contemporary concept of human evolution (White and Pettitt 2009, 759). Utilizing habitus (Bourdieu 2003; 2000; Pizanias 2000; Jacobsson 2009) as a reflexive tool to critique this 19th century debate as well as current models of Anatomically Modern Human origins elucidates an inherent tendency to normalize scientific inferences about human antiquity through alignment with preexisting dominant narratives.  Simply, origins narratives gain greater credence by their proximity to discourses of the present.

The Essence of Matter: Towards a Genealogy of the Concept of Assemblages

Mudit Trivedi, University of Chicago, mudit@uchicago.edu

This paper asks a few basic questions of the archaeological concept of assemblages. It attempts a genealogical examination of the term in the hope of coming to a better understanding of its use and enregisterment in the early archaeological lexicon. It argues subsequently that notions of assemblages are perhaps best understood at two levels; firstly, as intuitions, as ‘things being in order’. It is only secondly that assemblages are named, discussed and reified. Treating assemblages in this pragmatic sense I finally hope to consider the contemporary itself as an assemblage, both as intuition and reflexive statement, practice and sensibility.