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The Discipline of Things

Bjørnar Olsen

Publication Year: 2012

Archaeology has always been marked by its particular care, obligation, and loyalty to things. While archaeologists may not share similar perspectives or practices, they find common ground in their concern for objects monumental and mundane. This book considers the myriad ways that archaeologists engage with things in order to craft stories, both big and small, concerning our relations with materials and the nature of the past.

Literally the "science of old things," archaeology does not discover the past as it was but must work with what remains. Such work involves the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, for things cannot be separated from society. Things are us. This book does not set forth a sweeping new theory. It does not seek to transform the discipline of archaeology. Rather, it aims to understand precisely what archaeologists do and to urge practitioners toward a renewed focus on and care for things.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-ix

This book is an outcome of a collaboration that has lasted nearly ten years. The births of children, conferral of PhDs, fi rst jobs, international moves, promotions, a wedding: all are bound up in the completion of this project. It has been the proverbial journey, fostering intellectual challenges, development and unexpected partnerships, and is the manifestation of our ...

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1. Introduction: Caring about Things

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pp. 1-16

This book is about archaeology and things. It considers the ways in which archaeologists deal with things, how they articulate and engage with them. The book offers a series of snapshots of archaeology as design and craft; archaeology is proposed as an ecol ogy of practices, tacit and mundane, rich and nuanced, that work on material pasts in the ...

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2. The Ambiguity of Things: Contempt and Desire

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pp. 17-35

Since the nineteenth century, industrial design and manufacture have delivered a mass of goods rooted in systems of technological knowledge fi tted to an increasingly urbanized and global modernity. The constant offering of new products, combined with ever more effective marketing and advertising, have made the people of today seemingly more conscious ...

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3. Engagements with Things: The Making of Archaeology

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pp. 36-57

Histories of archaeology are typically compiled around key figures, traditions of thought or wider social pro cesses. These histories, often rich in biographical details, philosophical infl uences, and social context, have provided insights into how and why archaeology came into being and on its subsequent development and confi guration in the various ...

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4. Digging Deep: Archaeology and Field work

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pp. 58-78

Doing archaeology usually brings to mind the “down and dirty” of fieldwork. Fieldwork is done outside, away from the amenities of institutional or contract firm offices. Archaeologists labor hard to collect their data, their information. The artifacts and ruins from the past are brought to light and documented through expending time and energy in ...

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5. Things in Translation: Documents and Imagery

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pp. 79-101

Archaeology abounds not only in artifacts from the past but in modes of documenting and studying them. In this chapter, we look at the way visuality works in archaeology, from the graphics, maps, and photographs themselves to the roles they play. Along the way, we question the stress placed in much discussion of visual media on their mimetic and ...

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6. Futures for Things: Memory Practices and Digital Translation

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pp. 102-135

Chapter 4 took a closer look at the craft of archaeological fi eldwork and made visible the collective and tacit labor that must be performed in order to translate the material world into the material past (the archaeological “record”). Archaeologists are keenly aware of the effort that is invested in crafting documents and imagery, and chapter 5 presented a ...

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7. Timely Things: From Argos to Mycenae and Beyond

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pp. 136-156

Archaeologists tend to regard time as linear. It is along the timeline, the modernist image of time par excellence, that “time” is ordered into a succession of events or laminar phases. Most archaeologists take it for granted that the Iron Age commences with the end of the Bronze Age; that the Bronze Age brings about the end of the Neolithic. This image of ...

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8. Making and the Design of Things: Human Being and the Shape of History

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pp. 157-195

Previous chapters have explored the ways in which archaeology and cognate fields are best treated as active engagements with things. We have explained the proposition that archaeology is itself a mode of cultural production, a creative enterprise of authoring, delivering goods and artifacts, and involving material modes of ...

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9. Getting on with Things: A Material Metaphysics of Care

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pp. 196-209

Throughout this book we have made the case that we are more than ever merged with our material pasts, and that the things of those pasts push back. As we have often repeated, the reason why— and how— they push back cannot be reduced to this imbrication itself. Things are not merely “enslaved in some wider system of differential meaning” (Har-...


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pp. 211-243


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pp. 245-255

E-ISBN-13: 9780520954007
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520274174

Page Count: 266
Publication Year: 2012