April 5, 2010

Archaeological/Ethnographic borders

Where do ethnography and archaeology collide? Where do they overlap? How can ethnographic information and practice inform archaeological projects? How can archaeological insights and theories give us different ways of thinking about contemporary lived environments?

Sometimes disciplinary boundaries seem pretty arbitrary. When do we call material artifacts "archaeological," and when do we place them under the ethnographic umbrella? What's the use of this separation?

I am fascinated with the idea of an "archaeological site" as something that is defined by a series of social, political, and academic criteria. In some cases, a particular site becomes archaeological when it is 45 years old or more. So day by day new archaeological sites are showing up. At least rhetorically.

So, is a 45 year old Boy Scout campfire site just as archaeological as a 6,000 year old hearth? Why or why not? Where and why do we decide to place value upon the past? Who decides?

I like the idea of mixing ethnography and archaeology up and seeing what happens. How can an archaeological mindset be useful in ethnography? How might it be interesting to look at contemporary photographs from a particular standpoint? Or what about a set of objects in a kitchen? What about the use of domestic space?

This is the kind of stuff that I think about when I am supposed to be writing seminar papers. Creative distraction or procrastination or both?


Jeremy Trombley said...

Interesting thoughts, Ryan. I've been reading a lot of Bruno Latour lately, so the idea of material or non-human objects mediating the human world has been on my mind. It occurred to me while reading your post that this mixture of archaeology and ethnography is just the kind of thing Latour is talking about. The material components of a society are in no small part the very embodiment of the associations themselves. A full understanding of society, therefore, would look at both.
Increasingly, I see the Boas's genius in forming the four fields - they do complement one another very well!

Ryan Anderson said...

ya, i am a fan of the four field approach.

also, you remind me that i need to read more of mr latour's work.

Jeremy Trombley said...

I recommend this video:
Enjoy! :)