restricted access 7: Walter Taylor in the 1960s
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129 Introduction Although I cannot speak for his generation of archaeologists, for later ones like mine, Walt Taylor has been almost an enigma in spite of his bold statements in A Study of Archeology (1948). He was not an easy person to get to know, nor was he one especially eager to talk shop or to advance the ideas he developed in the early 1940s, either in class or out. In the following I try by reminiscence to pull out from the man another view of some of his ideas, because those few of us who were his doctoral advisees probably shared experiences of the man that most did not. I hope that this will help to contextualize the man in the history of American archaeology. However, my method is not to produce an exegesis of his works: that important task I will leave to others. I first met Taylor in 1963 when I moved from the University of Kentucky to Southern Illinois University to work on my Ph.D. I knew him fairly well as a student (although not as a person or a colleague) for the rest of the decade, but I saw him only irregularly after that. In our first meeting he quickly established that we were both Yale graduates and that paved the way in our relationship. He was then just ending his roles as chair of the new Department of Anthropology at SIU and as head of its graduate program, which, like any new program in the Walter Taylor in the 1960s Chapter seven R. Berle Clay R. Berle Clay 130 early 1960s, was in search of good students. I appeared to be a decent candidate and he assigned me to himself as teaching assistant, perhaps because of the “old blue” connection, but more likely because I had Southwestern experience with Douglas Schwartz in the Grand Canyon where Taylor had worked with Robert Euler. The Undergraduate Teacher Walt’s text for his advanced Introduction to Anthropology course was Ralph Linton’s The Study of Man (1936). As his assistant, I bought a copy, still in print even though it had been first published almost thirty years earlier. He came to class armed with well-worn note cards, indicating that this was a class he had taught for several years. Moreover, the textbook was probably one of the first texts in anthropology that Taylor had encountered as a student. In retrospect, Linton’s book was fairly straightforward and with a good teacher could make for a very interesting class. I recall of that period, however, that the written word in anthropology had a much greater “half life” than it does now when publication is more fast-paced than one could have ever imagined at that time. Consciously then, teachers looked backward in choosing a textbook; now we tend to do just the opposite and reach for the newly minted statement. Still, Walt was a good teacher at the advanced undergraduate level.He was a careful and precise speaker and the book fit his talents, so the students seemed to enjoy the classroom experience . For my class sections I was given Walt’s notes to lecture from, and things went smoothly. The most concrete thing I got out of the Linton text and Walt’s comments woven around it was Linton’s distinction (1936: 404) between “use” and “function .” For Linton “the use of any cultural item is an expression of its relation to things external to the sociocultural configuration; its function is an expression of its relationship to things within that configuration” (emphasis added). Any distinction between the two was overlooked in the writings of the most vocal of the“New Archaeologists,”who had a tendency to mix the two and could speak in the same breath, for example, of the functions of lithic tools and temple mounds—two quite different levels of abstraction. Such a tendency was to the detriment of discourse. Since those days, I have harped on the distinction between the terms with students and colleagues and have the pleasure to note that some friends feel it is useful (Mainfort and Sullivan 1998: 5) and not meaningless pedantry. I thank Taylor for that, and his careful elucidation of this distinction is also a reflection of the fact that he was a relatively precise thinker, even though he spoke the anthropological language of the 1930s. I am sure he would have been appalled by the linguistic flexibility that has become so characteristic of our...


Subject Headings

  • Taylor, Walter W. (Walter Willard).
  • Archaeology -- United States -- History.
  • Archaeologists -- United States -- Biography.
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