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SCHUYLER pology 294 (“Historical Archaeology” 2 credits)

in the Spring 1964 semester at the University of
Arizona. Cotter’s class was more important be-
Archaeological Remains, cause of its continuity which almost spanned two
decades and because it was a graduate offering. It
Documents, and Anthropology: was only when historical archaeology entered an
a Call for a New Culture History academic setting that its intellectual foundation
could be finalized by training scholars solely
dedicated to that specialization.
ABSTRACT After at least a quarter of a century of existing as
a recognized area of research a 1987 evaluation of
Historical archaeology is either a significant or superfluous the field must answer one basic question. Is
endeavor, depending on the level one stands on to critique historical archaeology a successful endeavor? Dis-
the discipline. If theoretical questions concerning the na- cussion of this question is usually deflected by two
ture, dynamics and evolution of cultures are the starting
point, or equally if more substantive but similarly broad
obstacles of our own making which must be
questions of modern “world systems” are selected, then pushed aside. The first impediment is the “P-P-P-
the results of a quarter century of excavations on historic P-P Complex,” an acronym for the “Psuedo-
sites are indeed weak and unconvincing. In contrast, a view Processual Progress Proffered by Prehistorians.”
grounded on “culture history’’ or “historic ethnography” This complex confuses historical archaeologists
finds historical archaeology to be potentially an impressive,
productive field, equal in many ways to other data sources
with the self defacing belief that prehistorians use
including written records. It is suggested that “historic more sophisticated methodology and, more impor-
ethnography,” based equally on archaeology and written tantly, have successfully issued processual state-
sources, is the future natural sphere for the archaeological ments, while historical archaeology is floundering
investigations of the modern world (A.D. 1400-20th cen- on a particularistic level. This belief is erroneous
tury). and is diverting attention from the real problems.
The possibility that two social groups, rather than
one, may have occupied Lindenmeier, the proba-
Introduction bility that matrilocal residence structured the as-
semblage at Carter Ranch, the observation that
Although twenty years have passed since the Upper Paleolithic cave art may be related to social
founding of the Society for Historical Archaeol- boundaries between groups, or the embeddedness
ogy, it is more appropriate to speak of historical or disembeddedness of Monte Alban within an-
archaeology as entering its second quarter-century cient Oaxacan civilization are all statements of
of growth. The 1967 organizational meeting in culture history, not process. Our colleagues are
Dallas was the culmination of the “proto-history” dealing with a black box-prehistory; any enlight-
of the field; a “proto-history” initiated within ening statements are legitimately impressive but
governmental agencies as early as the 1930s. The none of these advances have done much to directly
designation of any precise starting point for a illuminate the nature of culture or why it evolves.
scholarly field is arbitrary; nevertheless, a more Historical archaeology is no less accomplished on
important founding date would be 1960. In that the processual level; it simply is dealing with a box
year, John Cotter introduced American Civiliza- with windows in it.
tion 770 (“Problems and Methods of Historical A second intermittent obstruction can be re-
Archaeology”-Both terms 6 credits, Thursday moved with a suggestion. If I were crude I would
2-4) at the University of Pennsylvania. His say ‘stop trying to kiss the demkre of historians’
course, which was anthropological in orientation, but since I am not crude I will urge, ‘stop trying to
was soon paralleled on the other side of the make uncalled for offerings at the altar of Clio.’
continent when Arthur Woodward offered Anthro- This error is serious, has nothing to do with
historians, with whom indeed we have potential European society after A.D. 1400, geographical
connections, which I will return to, but rather expansion into the non-Western world and estab-
involves a misidentification of the points of inter- lishment of European hegemony, reaction of na-
action. tive cultures and civilizations as active participants
Evaluating the success of historical archaeology in this process, transformation of the process itself
depends on the perspective chosen; one is internal, with the industrial revolution and a secondary but
the other external. more pervasive global impact carrying the world
Within its own boundaries historical archaeol- into the 20th century. Wolf’s scholarship is ex-
ogy is impressively productive. It is taught as a haustive reaching to a detailed level of recent
set-off, specific subject, at a growing number of synthesis and interpretation by both social scien-
colleges and universities and there are a good ten tists and historians. Even prehistoric archaeology
graduate programs (M.A. and Ph.D.) with a pri- (surprisingly, considering the temporal focus of
mary commitment to the field. Compared to 1960 the book) is utilized.
an astonishing amount of field research advances In the Introduction (Wolf 1982:4) is found a
have been made, not in one but three spheres: statement:
contract, governmental agencies (now ranging
If social and cultural distinctiveness and mutual separation were
from the federal to the municipal levels), and the a hallmark of humankind, one would expect to find it most
academic-museum world. A massive, descriptive, easily among the so-called primitives, people “without his-
and occasionally interpretive, literature has been tory,” supposedly isolated from the external world and from
produced, our knowledge and control of historic one another. On this presupposition, what would we make of
assemblages is improving each year and general the archaeological findings that European trade goods appear in
sites on the Niagra frontier as early as 1570, and that by 1670
archaeological methodology has been adapted to sites of the Onondaga subgroup of the Iroquois reveal almost no
historic sites. When a younger social historian items of native manufacture except pipes?
such as James Borchert, the author of Alley Life in
Washington (1980:244) states: This use of data from contact-period sites, is the
only reference in Wolf’s volume that in any
A third possible way [the first being oral history; the second,
ethnography] to avoid the problem of biased sources is through
manner derives from historical archaeology and
historical archaeology. even it is drawn secondarily from Francis Jen-
nings, a well known ethnohistorian. We must not
it would seem, even as he adds “it was not be tempted to fault Eric Wolf because Europe and
practical for this study,” that historical archaeol- the People Without History only embarrassingly
ogy has joined the panoply of established fields. highlights the fact that the findings of 25 years of
Or has it? Is there external evidence of work on intensive research on the archaeological record of
historic sites and assemblages making meaningful the modern world (A.D. 1400-20th century) is
additions to general social scientific and historical being successfully ignored by not only historians
scholarship? but even our immediate colleagues in social an-
In 1982 Eric Wolf, a social anthropologist, thropology. Externally in its relationship to gen-
published a major work entitled Europe and the eral scholarship historical archaeology shows little
People Without History. This book is a significant impact.
indicator for archaeology not because of its theo- Why? Why is historical archaeology internally
retical stance, which is Marxist, but because of its successful but externally relatively unproductive?
subject matter. Wolf is the fist contemporary Archaeologists, because of the influence of
anthropologist to successfully attempt a global cultural resource management, tend to speak in
synthesis of the emergence and transformation of terms of Phase I, I1 and 111. I propose that the
the modern world. Its topical divisions practically growth of historical archaeology as a field should
define historical archaeology as it is practiced in logically follow a tripartite-phased advance. Phase
North America: Post-medieval development of I-the creation of a distinctive, new area of re-
search has been achieved. We have arrived at the thropologists, may have a non-human reference
boundary of Phase 11-a joining with general point: culture.
scholarship via descriptive, interpretive contribu- If this division between history and social sci-
tions, but have failed to cross over and are now ence is accepted then historical archaeology must
running the risk of turning back on ourselves into be placed with history, anthropology, on the fence
an involutionary dead end. We must return to the or in its own self contained category. I believe it
initial years of the existence of the Society for exclusively should be classed with anthropology
Historical Archaeology to understand this situa- because of all the factors listed above but particu-
tion. During the late 1960s a series of articles larly the relationship with its data source. For over
opened a discussion on the interrelationship of two decades historians, unless they were unem-
archaeology, history and anthropology. Many feel ployed, have been politely rebuffing the occasional
this debate has spent itself; however, I disagree. It wooings of some historical archaeologists. I be-
is a set of unresolved problems that all too fre- lieve this rejection is understandable because the
quently are expressed as relationships between archaeological record has little to say in regard to
history and archaeology when actually they almost their perspective. Artifacts do not communicate
exclusively involve anthropology that have frozen while written documents, even of a social historic
historical archaeology on Phase I. nature, talk directly to the researcher. If, in con-
I will reexamine these questions by simply trast, the reference point is shifted to an entity
stating a position on the relationship of history and which is not equal to people, single or in groups,
science which is neither original nor very radical. then potentially the data sources also shift and
There are two major traditions of scholarship expand. I will return to this possibility later.
concerned with human beings as social creatures: The boundary between Phase I and Phase I1 of
the historical and the social scientific. These tra- historical archaeology has turned into a barrier for
ditions are not dichotomous, nor, necessarily in a number of complex reasons involving culture
conflict, but they are different. These differences theory, but more basic is the simple fact that
involve at least the following three aspects. First, a almost no historical archaeologists are using their
specific subject may be studied as a legitimate end birthright as anthropologists. The problem in-
in itself, or it may be viewed as merely an example volves anthropology not history. Historical archae-
of something else: a generalization, preferably a ologists are only analyzing one of the data sources
process, or even a “covering law” (which are available by definition to their field, the archaeo-
probabilistic not absolute statements); historians logical record. They do not treat the documentary
tend to the former perspective, social scientists the record, the second data source, equally. Either
latter. Second, which is a corollary of the first, has they ignore or at best allow the archaeological
been called the “uniqueness thesis” but more remains to structure their use of written sources.
fairly should be seen as a deep respect for the Egress from this predicament is possible if histor-
singularity of events in history as contrasted with a ical archaeologists start to act like anthropologists
greater willingness to simplify (or, if you prefer, and produce, what I will call, “historic ethnogra-
violate) that richness of a given phenomenon; phy.”
historians tend to the former, social scientists to Anthropologists and a few anthropologically
the latter. Third, the most significant difference, influenced historians have already began work on
which is more blurred because certain schools of the ladder needed to get out of the excavation pit
anthropological thought are fundamentally histor- historical archaeology has started to dig for itself
ical and not scientific in their practice, is the basic by remaining on Phase I. Ethnohistory is the first
point of reference in research. Historians focus on rung. By ethnohistory I mean an operational defi-
humans, either, as with narrative and chronicle nition: the analysis of documentary sources left by
history, as individuals, or, as with social history, cultural group A about group B. An analogy exists
as groups, while social scientists, particularly an- between the ethnographic distance between a so-
cia1 anthropologist and the foreign society being (1982:5), one of the historians, has suggested the
studied and the distance preserved in such complex term “ethnographic history”:
sources (Thurman 1982). Ethnohistory has two
Anthropologists cross frontiers to explore communities other
relationships to historical archaeology. The first is than their own. Social historians cross time spans to study
substantive and substantial. Half of all archaeolog- earlier periods. Whether one moves away from oneself in
ical research on periods post-dating A.D. 1400 cultural space or in historical time, one does not go far before
could be considered ethnohistoric in that the field one is in a world where the taken-for-granted must cease to be
is deeply concerned not only with European and so. Translation then becomes necessary. Ways must be found of
attaining an understanding of the meanings that the inhabitants
European colonial societies but also with transcul- of other worlds have given to their own everyday customs.
turation between these groups and native cultures.
All scholars working on contact sites should also Isaac has produced a convincing example of “eth-
be doing ethnohistory. However, I do not want to nographic history” in his 1982 prize winning
discuss this requirement but rather a more generalbook, The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1 790.
and simple message. Ethnohistory has taught both Ten years earlier Anthony F. C. Wallace produced
anthropologists and historians that documentary another example, although he uses the label “eth-
sources are much more complex than a direct nohistory,” with Rockdale, the Growth of an
reading would imply. I am not referring to source American Village in the Early Industrial Revolu-
analysis but to the very nature of documents as a tion (1972). These two works differ in several
cultural product. The richness of the symbolic andaspects (one is concerned with a community, the
material meaning preserved in documents is only other with a culture area, one is Geertzian in its
now being recognized and it was in part the more theoretical approach, the other more generally
complex nature of ethnohistoric sources that mentalist) but together they offer a significant
helped to bring this potential to the fore. The advance in diachronic scholarship. They present a
message for historical archaeologists is that it is history”-that uses an
explicit definition of culture to explore the past,
possible for them as anthropologists to analyse not
only the archaeology but also the written sources which if one can jduge by the reaction of both
within the traditions of their own field. anthropologists and historians is different enough
from traditional approaches to draw a great deal of
It is the failure of archaeologistsdealing with the
modern period to do such analyses that created thepositive attention and comment.
barrier between Phases I and 11. The archival “Ethnographic history,” nevertheless, is not, I
sources may well be explored, perhaps in some believe, the final rung on the ladder to Phase I1 we
detail, but these investigations are structured need as historical archaeologists. Wallace utilizes
only documentary sources in his reconstruction of
within the needs of the archaeological record. This
artificial narrowness must be abandoned. We can Rockdale and its history; indeed, even the selec-
not solve the problem by turning to a group of tion of documents is narrowed by the theoretical
mythical historians who supposedly will do our stand. Isaac seems on the surface to be more
research for us, nor should we want such a holistic giving the reader insightful thick descrip-
relationship which would fundamentally cripple a tions of mature colonial Virginia that include
movement to Phase 11. dance, music, architecture (exterior and interior)
and landscape. These images on closer examina-
tion dissolve because there is an almost exclusive
primacy of documents over other sources in his
Ethnographic History research. He really does not use archaeology,
material culture or even the illustrative sources
The second rung on the scaffolding is now under (engravings, paintings) in a convincing style. His
construction by a few scholars including social documentary sources, like Wallace’s, are also
anthropologists and social historians. Rhys Isaac peculiar in their selection. The Transformation of
Virginia is predominately based on a very limited and weaknesses of these sources are unknowable
number of classic, personal documents that from case to case. “Historic ethnography” must
“speak” to the researcher seeking an emic analy- give equal attention to the archaeological and the
sis. Landon Carter’s diary is a fine internal exam- documentary records, and possibly other sources
ple, while the journal of Philip Fithian, a good (oral history, contemporary ethnography or eth-
external, indeed ethnohistoric, example. In a sim- noarchaeology). This is where “ethnographic his-
ilar manner Rockdale is constructed on the rich tory” falls short and although a lack of familiarity
correspondence, diaries and personal papers of its with differing data bases is a partial explanation so
19th century local elites. is the selection of a limited definition of culture,
Delimitation of the evidential sources is directly (3) and, finally, “historic ethnography’’ must
related to the mentalist, delimited definition of cul- involve the explicit presentation of a theoretical
ture chosen for doing “ethnographic history.” position and explain how it is being operationa-
Such a selection is productive as the success of these lized as a research design.
two volumes demonstrate; nevertheless, a mental- Historical archaeologists must simultaneously
ist, actor-centered definition of culture, like the analyze both the archaeology and the textual
historical tradition of scholarship, passes over sources from an anthropological perspective. The
sources such as the archaeological record. “Eth- combining of these different data sources will en-
nographic history,” which is still in its formative able us to at least attempt “historic ethnography”
stage, moves us forward but its basic elements need and move historical archaeology out of Phase I. It
substantial readjustment. Borrowing a phrase from is indicative that almost all current archaeological
the Department of American Civilization at Penn, reports assume a final format that divides into an
I would suggest that “historic ethnography” is archaeology section, a history section (if it is
more amenable to our interests as archaeologists. present at all), and a section on methodology. It is
necessary that an adequate statement is offered on
how the researcher handled the archaeological data
Historic Ethnography and a parallel statement (almost always lacking) on
how the documents were handled, to get us to the
“Historic ethnography” would involve the fol- point of a final culture historical or processual syn-
lowing three elements: thesis. Yet at the point where the historical archae-
(1) the recognition that culture comes to us in ologist should be displaying a higher level of his or
history in the form of “packages,” functional her anthropologicaltraining the report stops. It is as
units with temporal and spatial boundaries, not as though a social historian, such as Borchert, divided
disembodied variables or processes, nor decontex- his final monograph into: Part 1, historical conclu-
tualized research topics (e.g., class conflict, sions based on documents written on white paper,
women in history, urbanism’s influence on ethni- Part 2, historical conclusions based on documents
city). Context is the key to producing ethnography, written on yellow paper; general conclusions, none.
synchronic or historic, and a return to an earlier “Historic ethnography” can not be written un-
partially functional anthropological image of cul- less an anthropological analysis of the archival
ture is long overdue, sources has been undertaken first with commit-
(2) the culture concept utilized must be consis- ments of time and effort equal to what goes into the
tent and holistic on two levels: (a) it must not excavation, analysis and synthesis of the archaeo-
arbitrarily delimit culture to only symbolic or only logical data.
material phenomena; technology, economy, socio-
political structures and ideology are all equally A Question of Scale
aspects of culture, (b) if culture is not equal to
people or only human mental processes, then it The natural unit for “historic ethnography” is
exists in all data sources and the relative strengths the “community” or some subunit of the commu-
nity, and yet it is now recognized, because of cal archaeologist is specialized on piantation-slave
researchers such as Eric Wolf, Immanuel Waller- archaeology, it is absolutely necessary that the
stein and Fernand Braudel, that culture appears on current literature on the subject, most of which
a number of different historic-functional scales comes from the pens of historians, be controlled.
ranging from the individual as a member of a There is little reciprocity because historical archae-
cultural tradition to “world systems.” All of these ologists have yet to produce much in the way of
cultural levels can only exist if manifested in the final cultural syntheses which would interest other
material realm. Therefore, all scales are present inscholars. More specifically it may be possible to
the archaeological record and historical archaeol- compare individual “historic ethnographies” with
ogy can explore the entire range. However, there is work produced by historians, especially social and
a basic problem which is relative and perhaps economic historians, on specific types of commu-
absolute. You do not dig up the state of Georgia, nities. Such comparisons are not ideal because the
unless you are William Tecumseh Sherman; you units will not be based on the same range of data;
do not excavate on a global level. For the time however, such comparisons will allow a more
being, the unit of study must be the community rapid movement of the field toward Phase 111as the
(the site) or some smaller subunit. “Community” archaeologist awaits the creation of plural “his-
does not, at the same time, imply a total, function-toric ethnographies” on a given community type.
ing society but rather a historically integrated As I opened this paper with a recognition of the
cultural unit. Thus a fur trading post, a frontier two major traditions of scholarship, the historical
fort, a lumbering camp, or the Merrimack Corpo- and the social scientific, I would like to conclude
ration in 19th century Lowell, with its factories by referring to an even broader division. I place the
and housing, are as much “communities” as a research of all scientists (social and physical) and
Puritan village. This specificity of focus may be all historians into a category of “objective schol-
absolute in that historical archaeology will always arship.” I know the work “objective” is not very
make its major contribution at the site level of popular today, but this is a restorative polemic. I
analysis. Certainly there is no way to approach a have already urged old fashion holism, a return to
higher scale, a higher historically connected scale,functionalism, so why not objectivity, and that is
a region for example, until several “historic eth- what I mean-an attempt to gain a neutral, objec-
nographies” have been produced within its bound- tive understanding of reality, especially human
aries. reality to the degree that it is humanly possible.
This perspective is in contrast to a humanistic point
of view-not particularly concerned with being
Phase Ill-Historic Ethnology neutral or even objective but rather an attempt to
gain an emotional understanding, or perhaps it
“Historic ethnology” or comparative studies, a would be better to say appreciation, of reality,
goal frequently discussed by historical archaeolo- especially human reality. It is necessary to keep
gists, will only be possible when there are similar these two purposes separate during research. As
units to compare. If the division between a social Stanley South has so aptly put it, he writes poetry
scientific tradition and a historical tradition in and digs science (archaeology) but does not con-
general scholarship is recognized this does not fuse the two. Yet even this ultimate division is not
mean that the division is absolute. There is a absolute. For archaeologists they connect at the
methodological linkage but that commonality is all end and at the beginning.
too frequently exaggerated. Source analysis is not Once historical archaeology has produced some-
complex and can be easily learned by doing. A thing worthwhile to general scholarship, which has
more significant cross-fertilization involves the yet to happen, these “historic ethnographies” may
secondary scholarly literature being successfully indeed be used to enhance the heritage of nations,
produced by historians. If, for example, a histori- ethnic groups or other divisions of humanity.
Nevertheless, all of science, social science, his- nography” followed by comparative studies will
tory, anthropology and archaeology have at their help to reestablish a culture historic core to both
most basic level a bedrock of humanistic support. historical and prehistoric archaeology.
We do not do anthropologyor archaeology because
we hope to uncover the six great laws of culture
but simply because it is enjoyable to do archaeol- REFERENCES
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1982 Plains Indian Winter Counts and the New Ethno-
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