"Now Quite out of Society": Archaeology and Frontier Illinois

By Eslinger, Ellen | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

"Now Quite out of Society": Archaeology and Frontier Illinois


Eslinger, Ellen, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


"Now Quite Out of Society": Archaeology and Frontier Illinois. By Robert Mazrim. (Springfield: Illinois Department of Transportation, 2002. Pp. Xiii, 297. Illus., maps, tables, notes, bib. Paper, $25.00).

Anyone interested in Illinois's frontier era will agree that publication of these archaeological reports is welcome and overdue. As a general rule, archaeological reports-particularly those originating from salvage studies such as undertaken in preparation of new construction, are seldom published. Even historians and other scholars in neighboring disciplines find it difficult to access archaeological findings. This book too will be difficult for many readers to access given that it is a special publication, but worthy of the effort. It is organized well, makes superb use of federal land maps, and amply illustrated.

Among the volume's greatest strengths are the two superb opening essays on the early Illinois frontier and settlement patterns. In addition to providing a succinct and solid orientation to the archaeological reports that follow, both essays address topics often overlooked or misunderstood in the historical literature. The archaeological reports do not encompass all of Illinois, but rather concentrate in the central and southern regions where Anglo-American settlement first commences. Although selective in the coverage, the sites are by all appearances representative of a much larger region. In general, the analysis is balanced and provides solid detail, with a style of presentation that is lucid and accessible.

This reviewer is a historian who has worked a few archaeological digs from the colonial era. As a result, I appreciate firsthand how much the fields of history and archaeology have to contribute to each other. Yet, from the cross-disciplinary perspective, I confess to a bit of disappointment. The reports practically ignored parallel studies by historians. Some reports cried out for the synergistic benefit of a more interdisciplinary approach. For example, I expected a fuller understanding of tea consumption, especially given the potential significance of teaware in the Illinois excavations. Likewise, the integration of probate inventories with archaeological data is a welcome advance, yet probate inventories involve some unusual properties. The archaeological analysis might have benefited from a sizeable body of methodological literature produced by early American historians in recent years. The same is true concerning commercialization or what historians term the "capitalist transformation." The historical works cited in interpreting the archaeological data tend to be limited to the most well known. …

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