I just read an odd article in American Anthropologist by B. Sunday Eiselt called “Americanist Archaeologies: 2008 in Review” (Eiselt 2009). I use the term “odd” because two aspects of the article conflict with the apparent goal of the paper (to review major developments in Americanist archaeology or “archaeologies”). First, the topical coverage, which focuses on the themes of conflict, catastrophe and collaboration, captures only a very small portion of published research in Americanist archaeology. Second, much of the literature reviewed is written by Europeans about areas outside of the
The paper is part of a new series in American Anthropologist called “The Year in Review.” These are short articles intended to review “what happened in a particular subfield of anthropology” in 2008 (Editor’s introduction, page 132). This is a worthy addition to the journal, and such papers could be very useful for keeping up with different parts of the discipline of anthropology.
But just what is “Americanist archaeology”? The author does not define this term anywhere in the paper, but she does cite Robert Dunnell’s series of articles that reviewed “Americanist archaeology” for an
In fact, there is a much older and far more widespread usage of the term Americanist archaeology that includes all archaeology done on the American continents. This is part of the field of “Americanist” scholarship. The International Congress of Americanists (“
Eiselt presents tables tallying peer-reviewed articles in 2008 by topic and by approach. Such data can be useful for getting the pulse of research in a field. But since no information is given on the source of the data (which journals were surveyed? what criteria were used to identify “Americanist” papers?), the tables are neither scholarly nor helpful. Then the review launches into the three themes (conflict, catastrophe, and collaboration). Although the material covered under each heading is interesting, these sections reflect poorly the content of the literature in Americanist archaeology. The most biased section is “conflict,” the bulk of which is devoted to the
Note 1 to this article (p.143) states that “The use of this term
One part of me is inclined to ignore these difficulties of coverage and definition. People can write what they want, and if the title and goal of the paper were different I would have few objections. But American Anthropologist has only a limited amount of space for these new review articles, and as an Americanist archaeologist I feel cheated. This paper covers only a tiny portion of current publishing in this field, and much of the content has nothing at all to do with Americanist archaeology as normally construed. Yet the Editor of the journal opines that Eiselt and the other review article authors have “succeeded wonderfully” in chronicling “what happened in a particular subfield of anthropology” in 2008 (Editor’s introduction, page 132). I disagree quite strongly with this judgment, and most of my “Americanist” colleagues would probably concur. Eiselt’s article is NOT about Americanist archaeology.
1974 Cien años de Congresos Internacionales de Americanistas: Ensayo histórico-crítico y bibliográfico. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
Dunnell, Robert C.
1979 Trends in Current Americanist Archaeology. American Journal of Archaeology 83:437-449.
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Eiselt, B. Sunday
2009 Americanist Archaeologies: 2008 in Review. American Anthropologist 111:137-145.
Lyman, R. Lee and Michael J. O'Brien
2001 The Direct Historical Approach, Analogical Reasoning, and Theory in Americanist Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 8:303-342.
2004 A History of Normative Theory in Americanist Archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 11:369-396.