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Reviewed by:
  • Historical Archaeology through a Western Lens eds. by Mark Warner and Margaret Purser
  • Emily Dale
Historical Archaeology through a Western Lens. Edited and with an introduction by Mark Warner and Margaret Purser. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017. viii + 338 pp. Figures, tables, contributors, index. $70.00 cloth.

Purser and Warner's cohesive volume, Historical Archaeology through a Western Lens, draws commonalities between research conducted across the American West in order to combat the issues of studying a region that [End Page 101] is simultaneously colonial, territorial, and state; indigenous, immigrant, and American; and mythic/past and real/present. The volume, deft ly divided into three thematic sections and eleven stand-alone chapters, tackles a wide range of temporal, spatial, and cultural questions important for both the archaeology of the American West and historical archaeology in general.

The first section of the volume explores economic realms of western life. Purser uniquely examines material remains from northern California and northern Nevada left behind by strategically flexible "boomsurfers." Next, in examining remains along San Francisco's early waterfront, Delgado convincingly argues that the city's success lies in its role as a port. Then, Cromwell evaluates the economic and social value of ceramic vessels at Fort Vancouver, Washington. Finally, Walker successfully asserts that it is important to recognize and identify transient populations in the archaeological record, as they were integral to the western economy, as evidenced by the Okie exodus to California.

The second section addresses the role of racialization in the formation of the West. First, Watkins's compelling chapter examines how Oklahoma Native Americans imbued Euro-American goods with meanings that differed from their original meanings. Dixon and Smith persuasively challenge the idea that ephemeral sites should be automatically excluded from the National Register of Historic Places due to their individual lack of integrity or importance in their research of Chinese woodcutting camps associated with Nevada's Comstock boom. Ross emphasizes the diversity of Japanese, a notably understudied group, and Chinese populations at British Columbian canneries by analyzing food and beverage consumption habits. Lastly, Clark encourages the incorporation of landscape archaeology and collaborative work with stakeholder communities in her important discussion of Colorado's Amache Japanese internment camp.

The final section explores the role of the "mythic" West in our present conceptions of the West as space and time. Church's confrontation of past Eurocentric emphases in historical archaeology examines the economic, social, cultural, and kinship ties between Southwest and Plains Native Americans along the Santa Fe Trail. Scarlett discusses the challenges of conducting historical archaeology in Utah, a state more focused on its prehistoric resources despite the Mormon Church's interest in its heritage and archaeological sites. Closing the volume by confronting the idea of the West as wild and untamed, Warner critically discusses the "domestication" of the West and the fact that material goods, household activities, and consumption habits took on different meanings in the region than elsewhere in the United States.

While the Plains is not the main focus of the volume, the chapters authored by Walker, Watkins, Clark, and Church reveal that the boundaries of the American West are flexible, permeable, and can be extended to events and locations in the Plains. As with every edited volume, some chapters are weaker than others, in terms of thesis, data, or conclusions, but, in general, the larger thematic and theoretical elements that span all of historical archaeology, not just the American West, make Purser and Warner's edited volume an important addition.

Emily Dale
Department of Anthropology
Northern Arizona University


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