Epilogue: Why the History of Archaeology Matters

By Murray, Tim | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Epilogue: Why the History of Archaeology Matters


Murray, Tim, Antiquity


In recent years the history of archaeology has been enjoying something of a vogue in different research traditions, resulting in a wealth of new studies and publications. In the English-speaking world, our store of biographies and national histories has been considerably expanded by the five-volume Encyclopedia of archaeology (Murray 1999; 2001). The Bulletin of the History of Archaeology has provided a much needed forum for research, and the AREA project --Archives of European Archaeology--has begun to explore a range of resources bearing on the history of archaeology in Europe. At the same time, archaeologists have continued to justify and to advocate the significance of `novel' approaches to archaeology through partial histories of the discipline (the most recent being those associated with the revival of `Darwinian archaeologies' such as Lyman et al. 1997). Other agendas have been advanced through the production of alternative histories of national archaeologies (e.g. Patterson 1995), the role of women (e.g. Diaz-Andreu & Sorensen 1998) and amateurs (Kehoe & Emmerichs 1999).

In his comprehensive survey of disciplinary historiography, Trigger (2001) points out that the history of archaeology has become a richly complex field producing knowledge that serves a diverse range of interests. Major synthetic treatments (Trigger 1989; Schnapp 1996) have made firm statements about disciplinary history and identity that have stressed the entanglement of archaeology and society, and the complex and ambiguous roots of the archaeological perspective. A concern with disciplinary identity (particularly for Trigger) has also meant a concern with disciplinary epistemology and metaphysics -- in other words, with the nature of archaeological knowledge and of archaeological phenomena. This bridge between disciplinary history and epistemology has also focused attention on the need to explore archaeological institutions (university departments, museums and professional associations) as well as those structures (such as heritage legislation) that help shape the intersections between archaeology and society.

Over the last decade or so historians of archaeology have also focused their attention on methodological matters. Van Reybrouck is probably right in arguing here that perspectives from the sociology of science have been slow to filter through into mainstream histories of archaeology, but they have been present (see e.g. Fahenstock 1984; Murray 1989; 1998; Trigger 1985; 2001). Indeed, the kinds of methodological introspection found in two older collections (Christenson 1989; Reyman 1992) have recently been further expanded in the papers assembled by Corbey & Roebroeks (2001), where historians of archaeology (and historians of sciences cognate to archaeology) explicitly debate the role of the history of archaeology both within and outside the discipline.

The papers collected here as Ancestral Archives advance our understanding of many of the themes and issues that have been at the heart of recent work in the field -- methodology, the purposes of history-writing, issues of disciplinary identity, the socio-politics of archaeology (particularly in nationalist and colonialist contexts) and disciplinary epistemology. I shall now look at these in slightly greater detail.

How and why the history of archaeology

Ancestral Archives contributes to a continuing reflection about the how and the why of the history of archaeology. It does so through explicit methodological discussions (e.g. Van Reybrouck, Kaeser), and through practical demonstrations of the value of archival resources (Alexandri, Lewuillon, Ruiz, Sanchez & Bellon, and Roughley, Sherratt & Shell). In the Introduction, Schlanger steers a course between the various models of practice that have become available, and makes an important distinction between histories of archaeology that are for archaeology and those that are about archaeology. …

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