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Reviewed by:
  • Houses in a Landscape: Memory and Everyday Life in Mesoamerica
  • Joan Gero
Julia Hendon , Houses in a Landscape: Memory and Everyday Life in Mesoamerica. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010, 312 pp.

Julia Hendon's Houses in a Landscape: Memory and Everyday Life in Mesoamerica is a book about memory and the social processes of remembering, and about the role of material culture in these processes. Hendon sets about inspecting the connections between social identity and social memory, using historically- and geographically-related examples from three late Classic/Post Classic Mayan communities: the Maya kingdom in the Copan valley, its neighbors in the Cuyumapa valley and the site of Cerro Palenque in the lower Ulua river valley, all in what today is Honduras. In working through her examples, she will " shed light on the how and why of memory itself" (2), which is more directly her intent in this volume than a discussion of Mesoamerican houses or landscape or domestic life per se. In fact in Hendon's scheme, memory-making and its related practices touch and inform virtually all contexts and objects and sequences of activities involved in social life. [End Page 927]

From the start, she recognizes the close relationship between remembering, learning, knowing, making meaning, and identity formation as linked social practices. Thus groups who share memories ("communities of memory") also share social practices ("communities of practice") and, significantly, identities, as central aspects of performing life that Hendon returns to again and again.

Hendon's treatment of memory is elegant, nuanced, and scholarly as she takes us through contrastive scholarly traditions and alternative views that define and analyze memory: as the faculty of the individual mind vs. the property of social groups (the dichotomy ultimately dismissed in favor of an active practice-centered approach); seeing artifacts as visual archives vs. seeing objects as fossil memories (both positions dismissed to insist that it is people's interactions with things that produce memories); recall of something absent vs. the recovery of something forgotten. As she refines her perspective, she asserts larger questions: "How does everyday life become the locus of memory?" "How do domestic spaces become places of memory?" And "How does the presence of multiple memory communities built around memory and practice lead to a historical consciousness made manifest in material culture, practice and landscape?" Somehow the answer will lie in the fact that, " It is through an intensive and ongoing engagement with materiality that people do the work of memory across time and space" (28).

Ultimately, it is the analysis of how the social process of memory is accomplished that forms the backbone of the book, and the data fall into place around it—chosen selectively to illustrate the theoretical points Hendon is making about memory. (And if you expect, as I did, to find a traditional data set describing archaeological houses excavated by the author and then used to speak to theory, you will be surprised. In this volume, incidents of data—figurines, metates, spinning whorls, ballcourts, royal residences—may be taken up and compared within and between the three communities under consideration, but systematic treatment of houses is hardly the point, nor is it offered.)

In Chapter 1, Hendon introduces her three Mesoamerican "communities of memory" (or "communities of practice"), setting them up to examine in each " the shared project of living together" and to compare in the three communities " the means through which day-to-day reality is produced" (61). Known empirical facts about Copan, Cerro Palenque and the sites in the Cuyumapa valley are fitted around Hendon's theoretical arguments [End Page 928] about how different communities exist together as landscape and how issues of identity, lineage, and household may be better addressed as communities of practice. Chapter 2 uses Alfred Gell's notions of the enchantment and the humility of objects to begin to discuss how objects become the shared focus of remembering and forgetting; examples here look to the extravagantly carved stelae of Copan and Quirigua (enchanting objects) and differences in everyday metates (humble objects) to compare and contrast. (Note that in spite of the title of the book with its emphasis on everyday life, some of the first examples...


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pp. 927-930
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