Historically, the archaeology of the early modern period was subsumed under the rubric of “post-medieval” archaeology. In France, the archaeology of the early modern period has recently started to mature as a separate discipline.
This symposium expands each thematic topic (such as the archaeology of technology or of the built environment) to include the early modern period. However, this particular session also examines early modern and contemporary archaeologies in the context of the other social sciences.
It goes without saying that archaeology today transcends the study of the ruined, obsolete, or even the buried past. Archaeology is, in fact, the study of the material world regardless of the time period, whether it dates to 1492 or 1800. However, this raises the question of the relationship of archaeology to the other social sciences including art history, history, sociology, ethnology, social anthropology. How do we develop a productive, multi-disciplinary approach that rises above the traditional concerns of any single discipline?
Session 1: Historiography
Early modern and contemporary archaeologies receive little professional recognition in France, excepting its particularistic applications. This section invites discussion of its history and future both in the heart of old Europe as well as in the New World…
Session 2: Early Modern and Contemporary Archaeologies and the Other Social Sciences.
The focus of this section isn’t just limited to some of these French research topics, as we are also interested in papers addressing the widest possible range of themes.
Session 3: Material Culture: From Artefact to Individual
“Material life, it is of people and things, things and people” (Braudel 1979:15)
The field of “material culture” as expounded upon by the historian Fernand Braudel in The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, provides an alternative perspective into the workings of society when compared with the study of either political or economic institutions. Modern historiography now incorporates the study of daily life offering both social and anthropological perspectives on the material lives of different social groups. Most often, French scholars emphasize the importance of material goods to our understanding of the evolution of private life while Anglo-American scholars have developed a full-fledged anthropological study of consumer behavior.
Archaeologists of the early modern and medieval periods shed light on past life in new and promising ways on the basis of abundant quantities of commonplace artifacts. Historians also note the presence of the same types of objects as listed and appraised in probate inventories by lawyers, all of which offers new and promising directions of research. Probate inventories were in general use in Europe and European colonies by the 18th century although this was not the case in earlier centuries. Therefore, archaeology provides insight into the cultural sensibilities of elite groups as well as those of more modest background in urban and rural areas for whom, in the end, we have fewer documentary sources.
Rather than simply examine artifact taxonomy, we are interested in understanding the object as a carrier of meaning. We solicit papers which highlight the manner by which archaeological artifacts (most of which were objects of negligible commercial value) inform us about daily life, the evolution of taste and of style in domestic furnishings, and about such sensitive indicators of transition periods during the early modern age in the areas of foodways, health, and heating.
Transcending basic functional analysis, the study of material culture and consumer behavior informs us about the social construction of identity, whether individual or group, elite or commoner.
How can artifacts help us understand habitation sites and the use of interior and exterior space?
We also need to focus on the acquisition of material goods each step of the way from production to distribution. How do we account for the presence of objects made of different materials, but apparently used in the same manner? How can social meanings be interpreted on the basis of archaeological materials? How can we evaluate the relative worth of consumer goods? An overriding concern is to determine how material goods can inform us about the social status of consumers<
We are interested in papers which address the spatial, temporal, and social separations between the producers, distributors and consumers of material culture.
Papers to be presented in Section 3 should emphasize the following:
- having well-identified contexts for the material culture being quantified and analyzed, whether in Europe or the New World.
- analyzing patterns of distribution and acquisition.
- Linking texts and/or iconography with archaeological materials focusing on a particular class of object.