Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology

Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology

Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology

Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology

Synopsis

The Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology is a ground-breaking compendium of information about the ever-growing field of historical archaeology. Historical archaeology is an inherently interesting field because it can be defined in two, distinct ways. It can be defined as the archaeological investigation of any past culture that has developed a literate tradition; or it can be viewed as the study of the "modern world", the historical and cultural conditions that have shaped our world since the 1400s. The Encyclopedia bridges these two definitions by concentrating on the post-1400 period, while at the same time including references to the more generic meaning of historical archaeology where needed. A team of over 120 experts from around the world have come together to produce a volume that contains more than 370 entries covering archaeological concepts and important sites. Entries range from 150 words for simple definitions and site identifications, to 2000 word entries for the most complex theoretical concepts.

Excerpt

The field of archaeology is eminently suited to presentation in an encyclopedic format. Archaeological data is by nature detailed, amenable to cataloguing and vast. The information gathered by archaeologists is also infinitely expandable. Archaeologists broaden our understanding of the past every time they turn a new shovelful of earth or sift another bucket load of soil. The boundaries of archaeological knowledge are constantly being pushed forward and something new is learned with every excavation. Historical archaeology is one kind of archaeology that is doing much to increase our understanding of the past, and, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the field is adding fresh information to our storehouse of knowledge at an unprecedented rate.

Historical archaeology is an inherently interesting field from a purely intellectual point of view because it can be defined in two, somewhat distinct, ways. It can be defined as the archaeological investigation of any past culture that has developed a literate tradition; or it can be viewed as the study of the 'modern world', the historical and cultural conditions that have shaped our world since about AD 1500. These definitions of historical archaeology coexist and are not mutually exclusive, and both are widely used by the archaeologists of history.

Under the first definition, eighteenth-century France, nineteenth-century Australia, the fifteenth-century Maya and the first-century BC Greeks would all fall within the purview of historical archaeology because each culture had a tradition of writing. It does not matter methodologically whether the 'text' is a handwritten letter, a typeset legal document or an inscription chiselled onto stone. The important thing is that the 'text' has the ability to supplement and to complement archaeologically derived information. Archaeologists who use this definition of historical archaeology tend to be interested both in the cultures they study and in the wider questions of how archaeological (largely artefactual) data and written information can be united in the meaningful study of the past. The combination of 'historical' and 'archaeological' information has been a constant topic within historical archaeology, and it is something that historical archaeologists of many backgrounds continue to explore.

The second definition of historical archaeology tends to be used by archaeologists who live and work in those parts of the world that were colonised by Europeans during their so-called Age of Exploration. These archaeologists, who are also deeply interested in the union of excavated materials and written texts, tend to focus on several broad themes that have been important during the past 500 years. These themes involve the material aspects of colonialism, the creation of gender roles, the use of racial theories, the interaction of indigenous peoples with foreign invaders, the rise and growth of capitalism and many other topics.

An important disciplinary difference has often distinguished 'second-definition' historical archaeologists from those who tend to use the first definition. 'Second-definition' historical archaeologists are generally trained in anthropology and see historical archaeology largely as an anthropological pursuit. Though this distinction is a bit facile, many 'first-definition' historical archaeologists tend to view their field as essentially historical in focus, and they are usually somewhat less interested in the topics that fascinate anthropologists. However, we

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