Thursday, October 4, 2007

Publishing Archaeology Outside of Archaeology

Is archaeological research useful or relevant to scholars other than archaeologists? Although most archaeologists would probably answer this question in the affirmative, our actions typically don’t match up with our pronouncements. In exploring this issue, I will focus on connections between archaeology and the social sciences, especially for complex societies, because this is the literature I know best.

If we have important information about past societies to contribute to general knowledge, then we need to publish in non-archaeological venues. Archaeologists working on empires, city-states, or chiefdoms should be publishing in political science journals, and those of us studying social inequality should publish in the sociology literature. It’s not reasonable to expect that economists, for example, will peruse the pages of World Archaeology or Latin American Antiquity to find out what archaeologists have learned about craft production systems. We need to actively promote our message beyond archaeology.

Many non-anthropologist social scientists are clueless about the ancient past (and, less commonly, about non-western societies). As a student, I recall reading works in sociology that assumed that human societies started in the medieval period (or, for broad thinkers, perhaps in Classical Greece and Rome). My reaction was to consider these writers stupid and ignore them, thinking that the wonderful contributions of archaeology were valued where it really mattered—within the field of anthropology. Now, however, it has become clear that the relevant intellectual field is NOT anthropology, but the human sciences in general, especially history and comparative social science. (This is especially so given anthropology’s poor track record in getting its message out to others).

In some areas of study, archaeologists have gone out to actively collaborate with other scholars. This is the case in sustainability studies, where—at least in some quarters—archaeological research is making a difference beyond archaeology, and other scholars are taking archaeology seriously (Costanza et al. 2007). Archaeologists are publishing in ecology journals (Peeples et al. 2006; Redman and Kinzig 2003), and collaborative research is becoming more common (Briggs et al. 2006).

This kind of expanded perspective for archaeology is becoming more crucial as the social sciences are actively retreating from long-term historical perspectives (I realize that there are counter-currents here, such as the group that publishes in the Journal of World Systems Resesarch, but they are in the minority). Cultural geographers have labeled this trend, in which historical writing has become temporally compressed in recent years, as “recentism.” Whereas geography journals used to regularly include articles on ancient societies, today most publishing in historical geography focuses only on the 19th an 20th centuries (Jones 2004; Sluyter 2005). This same trend is painfully obvious in the field of urban history, as a perusal of journals like Urban History or the Journal of Urban History makes clear, and it also affects most other social science fields.

For example, one would think that a book titled Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences (Mahoney and Rueschemeyer 2003) might deal with phenomena before the 19th century (or that it might deal with fields beyond political science). To an archaeologist, it seems bizarre when the main examples of “long-term processes” are things like changes in modern political party systems or the restructuring of the modern welfare state (Mahoney and Rueschemeyer 2003:198). What would a political scientist do if he or she ever encountered a truly long-term process of the kind archaeologists study regularly? Or take another recent example: in a review of historical studies on urban neighborhoods (Garrioch and Peel 2006), the authors note the centrality of neighborhoods in "almost every period and place." Their next sentence sets their temporal parameters: "from medieval Genoa to twentieth-century London and New York" (p.663). What about the neighborhoods of Augustan Rome (Lott 2004) or those of ancient Nippur (Stone 1987)? Archaeologists need to get our message out to other fields; we cannot assume that they will pay attention to our work.

Some archaeologists do actively publish in the literature of other disciplines. Ian Morris, for example has some papers in the economics literature (Morris 2004; Morris and Manning 2005) and some of us have published papers in comparative urban journals (Blanton 1982; Kowalewski 1982; Smith 2005, 2007; Welch 2004). But if we truly believe that what we do has scholarly relevance beyond archaeology, then we need much more of this kind of activity.


Blanton, Richard E.
1982 Urban Beginnings: A View from Anthropological Archaeology. Journal of Urban History 8:427-446.

Briggs, John M., Katherine A. Spielmann, Hoski Schaafsma, Keith W. Kintigh, Melissa Kruse, Kari Morehouse, and Karen G. Schollmeyer
2006 Why Ecology Needs Archaeologists and Archaeology Needs Ecologists. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 4:180-188.

Costanza, Robert, Lisa J. Graumlich, and Will Steffen (editors)
2007 Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Garrioch, David and Mark Peel
2006 Introduction: The Social History of Urban Neighborhoods. Journal of Urban History 32: 663-676.

Jones, Rhys
2004 What Time Historical Geography? Progress in Human Geography 28:287-304.

Kowalewski, Stephen A.
1982 The Evolution of Primate Regional Systems. Comparative Urban Research 9:60-78.

Lott, John Bert
2004 The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Mahoney, James, and Dietrich Rueschemeyer (editors)
2003 Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Morris, Ian
2004 Economic Growth in Ancient Greece. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 160:709-742.

Morris, Ian, and J. G. Manning
2005 The Economic Sociology of the Ancient Mediterranean World. In The Handbook of Economic Sociology, edited by Neil J. Smelser, and Richard Swedberg, pp. 131-159. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Peeples, Matthew A., C. Michael Barton, and Steven Schmich
2006 Resilience Lost: Intersecting Land Use and Landscape Dynamics in the Prehistoric Southwestern Univted States. Ecology and Society 11(2):article 22 (online).

Redman, Charles L., and A. P. Kinzig
2003 Resilience of Past Landscapes: Resilience Theory, Society, and the Longue Durée. Conservation Ecology 7(1):article 14 (online).

Sluyter, Andrew
2005 Recentism in Environmental History on Latin America. Environmental History 10(1).

Smith, Michael E.
2005 City Size in Late Postclassic Mesoamerica. Journal of Urban History 31:403-434.

2007 Form and Meaning in the Earliest Cities: A New Approach to Ancient Urban Planning. Journal of Planning History 6(1):3-47.

Stone, Elizabeth C.
1987 Nippur Neighborhoods. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, vol. 44. Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago.

Welch, Paul D.
2004 How Early Were Cities in the Eastern United States? Journal of Urban History 30:594-604.

1 comment:

Francis Deblauwe said...

Elizabeth Stone's book "Nippur Neighborhoods" is available online and for free (as are most Univ. of Chicago's Oriental Institute publications nowadays).