Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview
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Introduction: matériel culture in the modern world


As we contemplate this end-of-century world […] may war atlast be recognised as having lost its usefulness and deep attractiveness? War in our time has been not merely a means of resolving inter-state disputes but also a vehicle through which the embittered, the dispossessed, the naked of the earth, the hungry masses yearning to breathe free, express their anger, jealousies and pent up urge to violence. There are grounds for believing that at last, after five thousand years of recorded war making, cultural and material changes may be working to inhibit man's proclivity to take up arms.

(Keegan 1993:56)


This is a book about warfare, and arguably the first book to draw together from around the globe insights into and examples of the materiality of conflicts, wars, battles, skirmishes and civil unrest that have dominated lives and experience over the past century. It is a critical archaeology of conflict, examining what survives, why that material record is important and what mechanisms exist for retaining it in a form that can benefit this and future generations, accepting the point that we can learn a great deal about culture and the manner in which it develops from how people fight (Howard 1994:1; Carman 1997). It also examines different perceptions of warfare: cultural, social and personal. How do we feel about our troubled pasts, about a 'heritage that hurts'? How do former combatants and warriors react to a heritage they helped create? And how will the retention of objects, structures and sites of conflict contribute to a more peaceful and tolerant society? To address this, a variety of approaches and examples are presented. Some of the contributions are detached, objective, 'cold'; others are more immediate, intimate, hot and engaging. There is a place for both, we argue.

For all these reasons the volume is necessarily wide-ranging, encompassing the full spectrum of what we refer to here as matériel culture: the physical remains of human conflict - military and civil - broadly defined to embrace sites and monuments, artefacts and militaria, vehicles, vessels and craft, and human remains. It also


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