Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why I am posting less frequently this fall

1563 date panel, Calixtlahuaca

Basically, I am incredibly busy right now, leaving me little time for more enjoyable things like blog
posts. Why so busy?

  • The Calixtlahuaca project is coming to a close. I am working to make sure all our final analyses get done and paid for before the NSF grant turns into a pumpkin. Among other things, my students and I are hosting a project workshop here at ASU in November, with participants coming in from the U.S. and Mexico to organize our data and thoughts. So why did someone carve both the Aztec and Christian dates in a panel in 1563, when Calixtlahuaca was under the control of Martín Cortés, son of the conqueror?
  • Our urban services project is starting up (the NSF grant started in September). Not only are we charting new territory in the GIS analysis of premodern (archaeological and historical) cities, but we are undertaking a massive program of coding historical data to analyze the social, economic, and political context of each city in our sample. The GIS and other technical stuff is the easy work - this coding takes a huge amount of time. My respect for Rich Blanton and Lane Fargher (and the coding they did for Collective Action in the Formation of Pre-Modern States) grows daily. And finding experts to help us with strange old cities, from Zanzibar to Chang'an to Aleppo, can be a real task. So why did the residents of Teotihuacan have to travel much farther (on average) than residents of Tikal, to get to a formal open space for public gatherings?
  • Guess who is the lucky faculty member put in charge of getting our intro archaeology class online! We decided to make this interesting by: (1) combining TWO (2, count em) intro courses--New World and Old World prehistory--into one new course; and (2) getting all of the archaeology faculty co contribute. While that saves me from having to put together class material on, say, the African Paleolithic, it does introduce a certain amount of cat-herding to get everyone to do their part.
  • I spent a fantastic week at the Santa Fe Institute this summer (I really should post separately on that), and came home all charged up about two new projects. These aren't official things, funded by grants, just research that I am very excited about right now and WANT to spend time on, but can't. Well, I am working on them in small steps, with the help of some students and colleagues. These two projects are:
  • Urban scaling. I blogged about this on Wide Urban World. I went to Santa Fe as a skeptic, ready to argue how the scaling models should not apply to ancient cities, but I came home a convert. I really would like to work intensively on this, but no time. Why do social measures (from economic productivity to innovations to crime rates to the number of rock bands in a city) scale at a rate FASTER than basic exponential growth? I am convinced, on theoretical grounds, that this is NOT simply an attribute of modern urban agglomeration economies, but should hold for ancient settlements as well. Now the issue is to gather some data to test this idea. Easier said than done........
  • Wealth inequality. I worked on this topic early in my career, calculating gini indices for Aztec sites I excavated in the 1980s, and then I largely dropped this when later sites didn't seem to lend themselves to proper sampling for this approach. But then I had a meeting with Sam Bowles at SFI, and he is rooting around for quantitative data (gini indices) on inequality prior to the Industrial Revolution. Bowles is one of my heroes, and talking to him got me excited about generating gini data for two kinds of things: (1) cities in our urban services project; and (2) Aztec data. I've got a student re-doing my earlier gini work (see graph) and applying it to some new datasets. And I'm writing a couple of papers on Aztec inequality.
  • And, finally migration. Related to interpreting my rural household data and to the urban scaling research, I am writing a paper on peasant movement and mobility. I quickly discovered that migration is one of the most messed-up topics in the archaeology of complex societies. Almost as bad as identity.  No one defines the term, including basic programmatic papers by people like David Anthony (everyone knows what migration is) and Stefan Burmeister (it might be nice to define migration, but I refuse to do so), and Catherine Cameron (same view as Burmeister). On one level, it is rational to avoid defining migration, because I think it means too many things to be a coherent topic with a theoretical framework, relevant concepts, and such. But then stop claiming that migration or movement IS a thing that archaeologists should study. Rather it is a catch-all for people moving from here to there, which does not seem to be a coherent research domain. So what is the most useful work on "migration" and its constituent forms? - it is an old paper by Charles Tilly that no one  cites! (that is, no one in archaeology or anthropology cites it; the paper is in fac\t widely-cited in historical research on migration). Email me if you want a pdf. (Tilly is another of my heroes.)
Tilly, Charles
    1978    Migration in Modern European History. In Human Migration: Patterns and Policies, edited by William McNeill and R. Adams, pp. 48-74. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

And, finally, why so long a post if I supposedly don't have time for blogs? Because the alternative is to start grading a big stack of student papers on urban planning in ancient cities.....

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