October 24, 2007 7:58 PM   Subscribe

"Proposition. We are all archaeologists, even if we don't realize it. An archaeological sensibility - working on what is left of the past, heritage, museums, collecting culture, antiques, retro styling, family genealogy, local history, tourists visiting the past - is a vital part of the contemporary zeitgeist. Archaeography and Archaeographer are photoblogs that explore the connections between photography and archaeology." Mining a similar vein is The Nonist's Archeography Project.
posted by Kattullus (6 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure The Nonist's a MeFite but I'll be damned if I can remember his username.
posted by Kattullus at 8:01 PM on October 24, 2007

We are all archaeologists

This is true. For example, when I was a kid, I was Indiana Jones.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:07 PM on October 24, 2007

Some interesting stuff, from Michael Shanks, Professor of Classics at Stanford and Director of Stanford Humanities Lab, and also you might want to check out what he termed, 'the uncanny'.

Very nice post. Thanks!
posted by sluglicker at 8:59 PM on October 24, 2007

I am reminded of this:
I once read that "History is the knowledge of events that have occurred in the past". That is a simple definition, but not simple enough. It contains three words that require examination. The first is knowledge. Knowledge is a formidable word. I always think of knowledge as something that is stored up in the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Summa Theologica; something difficult to acquire, something at all events that I have not. Resenting a definition that denies me the title of historian, I therefore ask what is most essential to knowledge. Well, memory, I should think (and I mean memory in the broad sense, the memory of events inferred as well as the memory of events observed); other things are necessary too, but memory is fundamental: without memory no knowledge. So our definition becomes, "History is the memory of events that have occurred in the past". But events—the word carries an implication of something grand, like the taking of the Bastille or the Spanish-American War. An occurrence need not be spectacular to be an event. If I drive a motor car down the crooked streets of Ithaca, that is an event—something done; if the traffic cop bawls me out, that is an event—something said; if I have evil thoughts of him for so doing, that is an event—something thought. In truth anything done, said, or thought is an event, important or not as may turn out. But since we do not ordinarily speak without thinking, at least in some rudimentary way, and since the psychologists tell us that we can not think without speaking, or at least not without having anticipatory vibrations in the larynx, we may well combine thought events and speech events under one term; and so our definition becomes, "History is the memory of things said and done in the past". But the past—the word is both misleading and unnecessary: misleading, because the past, used in connection with history, seems to imply the distant past, as if history ceased before we were born; unnecessary, because after all everything said or done is already in the past as soon as it is said or done. Therefore I will omit that word, and our definition becomes, "History is the memory of things said and done". This is a definition that reduces history to its lowest terms, and yet includes everything that is essential to understanding what it really is.

If the essence of history is the memory of things said and done, then it is obvious that every normal person, Mr. Everyman, knows some history. Of course we do what we can to conceal this invidious truth. Assuming a professional manner, we say that so and so knows no history, when we mean no more than that he failed to pass the examinations set for a higher degree; and simple-minded persons, undergraduates and others, taken in by academic classifications of knowledge, think they know no history because they have never taken a course in history in college, or have never read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. No doubt the academic convention has its uses, but it is one of the superficial accretions that must be stripped off if we would understand history reduced to its lowest terms. Mr. Everyman, as well as you and I, remembers things said and done, and must do so at every waking moment ...

Mr. Everyman would be astonished to learn that he is an historian, yet it is obvious, isn't it, that he has performed all the essential operations involved in historical research. Needing or wanting to do something (which happened to be, not to deliver a lecture or write a book, but to pay a bill; and this is what misleads him and us as to what he is really doing), the first step was to recall things said and done. Unaided memory proving inadequate, a further step was essential—the examination of certain documents in order to discover the necessary but as yet unknown facts. Unhappily the documents were found to give conflicting reports, so that a critical comparison of the texts had to be instituted in order to eliminate error. All this having been satisfactorily accomplished, Mr. Everyman is ready for the final operation— the formation in his mind, by an artificial extension of memory, of a picture, a definitive picture let us hope, of a selected series of historical events—of himself ordering coal from Smith, of Smith turning the order over to Brown, and of Brown delivering the coal at his house. In the light of this picture Mr. Everyman could, and did, pay his bill. If Mr. Everyman had undertaken these researches in order to write a book instead of to pay a bill, no one would think of denying that he was an historian.
- Carl Lotus Becker, "Everyman His Own Historian" (1931)
posted by nasreddin at 10:19 PM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I didn't realize that was so long, sorry...
posted by nasreddin at 10:20 PM on October 24, 2007

Oh, no need to apologize, nasreddin, it was an interesting text that was relevant to the post and as a bonus gave me quite a bit to think about. I have never thought of history as a form of memory. To me history is what begins when memory ends. Though I never articulated that until I read Becker's text.
posted by Kattullus at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2007

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