The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of Later Historical Britain

The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of Later Historical Britain

The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of Later Historical Britain

The Familiar Past? Archaeologies of Later Historical Britain

Synopsis

The Familiar Past surveys material culture from 1500 to the present day. Fourteen case studies, grouped under related topics, include discussion of issues such as:* the origins of modernity in urban contexts* the historical anthropology of food* the social and spatial construction of country houses* the social history of a workhouse site* changes in memorial forms and inscriptions* the archaeological treatment of gardens. The Familiar Past has been structured as a teaching text and will be useful to students of history and archaeology.

Excerpt

Susie West

While we reject empathetic responses, the experience of engaging with the past as archaeologists is intimately bound up with the impact that sites and artefacts make through their resonances of past activities and past minds. a past populated with individuals becomes 'alive', and this (indirect) contact is one of the rewards and motivations of research. Arguably, it is this sense of contact with the past that has been lacking in British post-medieval archaeology. Post-medieval archaeology in Britain is conventionally held to start after 1500 or 1550, and in practice ceases by 1750 to judge by the lack of published work going beyond that date. Post-medieval archaeology does not have a flourishing image as a research area, and can be unfavourably contrasted with intellectual explorations in prehistoric archaeology. Years of data collection have not been illuminated by questions centred on people. Modern archaeology has evolved through a vigorous period of reassessments of the purpose and methods of the discipline since the 1960s, and is now aligned with other human behaviour disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. the reasons for post-medieval archaeology's lack of involvement with the general disciplinary evolution of archaeology are not clear, but there is some evidence that one specific definition of the practice of archaeology has acquired a longer life within the community of post-medieval researchers than elsewhere. the fundamental questions that define the existence of our discipline deserve consideration in this community. Why, and how, do we do archaeology?

Archaeology, as the study of the physical remains of the human past, includes the nineteenth-century workhouse as well as the Bronze Age burial mound; the country house as well as the stone axe. If prehistoric archaeology is about making the unknown more familiar, the archaeology of historic periods is often about de-familiarizing what we think is the known past. the recent past surrounds us, observable daily through standing buildings and the cumulative alterations to the landscape. Yet we live with the results of cumulative actions, phases of creation and alteration which have their own historically specific contexts, possibly founded on quite different assumptions about society and human behaviour. Archaeology, as a discipline concerned with material culture, has a valuable contribution to make to current debates about the more

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