For 'The Five Books Feature', we asked established archaeologists and authors to offer their thoughts on the five books (archaeological or otherwise) they would read first, given the benefit of hindsight, if they were once again embarking upon a course of graduate study for the first time. Nary a one recommended the Star Trek annuals, but there were some unexpected surprises. This time, we have recommended reading from:
Illustration by Quentin Drew
Oh dear! You will have read all the mainstream stuff, natch, and there aren't too many archaeology books that one would read for pleasure... But I would make an exception for Charles Thomas' Exploration of a drowned landscape (Batsford 1985). It's about the Isles of Scilly - a beautifully-written display of the diverse, interlinked archaeological reasoning which has to be deployed in reconstructing the history of a landscape. Knowing how to read a place is a precious kind of archaeological practice.
And then, I'd like you to read something by Stephen J. Gould - any one of his several collections of essays published in paperback would do, such as The Panda's Thumb, or Hen's Teeth and Horses' Toes (both Penguin 1990). Gould's essays are wonderful examples of good science - calm, rational debate, lateral thinking as well as linear reasoning, research as a form of hunting but also as a deeply reflective pursuit. And yes, it should be fun, some of the time anyway. I like the way Gould understands scientists as people with motives and passions, deeply implicated in the intellectual and political traditions of their research communities.
Doing archaeology is about using your imagination, often in a quest for the Otherness of the past. I have chosen two books which may help. One is Colin Turnbull's The Forest People (originally Cape 1961, and now a Pimlico paperback, 1994) which displays that admirable anthropological skill of communicating the 'otherness' of a group of vertically-challenged African people - the BaMbuti - whilst at the same time celebrating our shared humanity. My second 'otherness' book is about a past that ought not to be very strange to us - life in rural Devon in the 19th and early 20th century. In Small Talk at Wreyland (Cambridge University Press 1923, but also in an Oxford University Press paperback, 1979) Cecil Torr put together his own memories, historical researches and the letters and diaries of his older relatives to create a fascinating, reflective memoir of changing times and mentalitÈs. How idiosyncratic their preoccupations seem to us today! This is the very stuff of the past, not so far away from us, yet so different. In a way, this is Thomas Hardy for real, if you know what I mean.
My last book is Easter Island, Earth Island, by Paul Bahn and John Flenley (Thames and Hudson 1992). This is an excellent read; as archaeology-doing-history it has the same qualities as my first suggestion. And this book also contains a striking historical parable. Apparently, the man who cut down the last tree on Easter Island must have known what he was doing - but he did it just the same. Let us remember, my keen postgraduate, amidst all the thrills and spills of critical theory, that the seriousness of the historical project lies in the fact that it reaches right into humanity's present predicaments. That, surely, is what the past in the present is all about.
Andrew Fleming is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Wales, Lampeter. He lectures in landscape archaeology and his research interests include social and economic archaeology, ceremonial monuments and the later prehistory of Britain and north-west Europe. He has published The Dartmoor Reaves and is completing a book on the landscape history of Swaledale.
©Andrew Fleming 1996
If starting out again as a new postgraduate student, I would still want to work on late medieval and early modern England; but I'm not sure about the specific discipline (archaeology, history, literature, philosophy, architectural history) to choose. I would want to think about human beings making their own history, though, and to do so in an interdisciplinary way. So here are five books, both general and period-specific, that have helped me in this task over the last few years.
1. Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish. Foucault is so fashionable it is becoming a clichÈ to cite him. Nevertheless his thinking is monumental; we cannot avoid it when speaking generally of intellectual enquiry, or specifically of the practices and techniques that came together in modernity. If starting again, though, I would try to read a few of Foucault's books cover to cover, rather than rely on general surveys and readers. Discipline and Punish remains the best of these.
2. Deetz, J. In Small Things Forgotten. However much this book is criticised, however much its structuralist outlook appears outmoded, there is still more original and inspiring thinking in one page of this book than can be found in most academic volumes.
3. Ackroyd, P. The House of Doctor Dee. To describe this novel as a ghost story would be like calling Moby Dick a book about a whale. A disturbing meditation on the reflexive nature of present and past, as well as an insight into an Elizabethan mind; I could say more about its relevance but I don't want to give the plot away. Doctor Dee wins narrowly over Ackroyd's Hawksmoor; both books also get across something of the way old places in a landscape can frame the thoughts of the living.
4. Any good anthology of period literature or poetry. Yes, most (not all) writers were elite men, but many of the key ideas of this period - the nation state, social order, colonial thinking, gender, mental and moral landscapes - can be seen being hammered out and renegotiated, not just straightforwardly expressed, in the literature of the period.
5. Hoskins, W.G. The Making of the English Landscape. Latest edition with notes from Chris Taylor. If we cannot get away from Foucault theoretically, we cannot escape Hoskins when thinking about how the English landscape works. Taylor's notes offer a new student an excellent avenue into the tension between the accepted traditions of landscape history and the way thought has moved on in the last few decades.
Matthew Johnson is a lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Durham. He has recently published An Archaeology of Capitalism (1996), and his research interests include medieval and post-medieval archaeology of England and Wales, vernacular architecture, landscape history and archaeological theory.
©Matthew Johnson 1996
If I were to list five books as recommended reading for someone about to begin research, I fear these books would be treated as training manuals. Post-graduate research is one stage of an individual's intellectual biography. That biography is moulded by other people - their presence, the challenge of their ideas - as well as by one's own desires. The five books listed here each had a particular impact upon me; they have helped me find what I want the practice of archaeology and the creation of history to be about.
My first three books are about the craft of production. We write history through our archaeological work and we should consider what that creative act entails. Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary (1953) was published twelve years after her death. It contains a selection from her diary of entries which deal with writing. Up to the moment I read this, I still half-thought that good writing arose from a natural gift some people were lucky enough to possess. That may be the case. But on reading this diary I discovered the extent of the labour, both physical and mental, which one of the greatest modern English novelists had to commit to her work. My second book is about a different kind of craft production, the making of images. In David Sylvester's Interviews with Francis Bacon (3rd edition 1987) Bacon talks about his painting and the ways images emerged and were lost out of the contingency of brush strokes, the thickness of the paint, the resilience of the canvas. Here are two very different people, working in different media, addressing the ways their labour, ideas, desires, skills, and materials all worked together to make something over which they could not claim a final control, a product which they may not even have intended but which none the less endures and continues to address us so directly. The application of physical and intellectual labour upon materials creates an objectivity which escapes us; it is also the way we continue to remake ourselves. In a 1980 interview Michel Foucault said: 'I only write because I don't know yet exactly what to think of this thing that I would so much like to think through. Thus, the book transforms me and transforms what I think. I write in order to change myself, and not to think the same thing as before.' Our research should always reach beyond what we are now and its products may always surprise us (research therefore is no more or less than a part of life). My third book explores the idea of the book escaping from its author. When you read Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller (English translation 1981) you hold in your hands a book - turning its pages, reading the words - the very book which the author is searching for but never finds. This book works to question the relationship between author and reader and to set the object of the text before you in such a way that the responsibility of its meaning rests more with you.
The product of our work is history. It is a product which expresses our desire to understand a wider humanity, and the way that product is crafted and read tells us about our commitment to that humanity. E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class (1963) helped me formulate an idea of the kind of history which archaeologists might write. Thompson deals with 'class' not as some abstract category but as the making of relationships which actually happened between people. Class does not emerge mechanistically as a product of general conditions but is something created as experiences, understandings, desires, struggle - simply as ways of living which people made for themselves within the conditions available to them. The working class was 'present at the moment of its own creation' and to understand it Thompson does not write a history which 'explains' how it came into being but one which listens to the stories which it told of its own experiences and desires, and sets those in the wider context of the conditions of the day. In other words, Thompson contributes towards a fine grained history of humanity which draws back from the arrogance of explaining why that humanity had to take the form it did, whilst at the same time maintaining a critical understanding of the conditions under which it operated.
It is the arrogance of grand theory which is now so distrusted in our current 'postmodern' age. Many claim that this distrust results in the abdication of political responsibility because by doubting the truth of our understanding of others we cast aside the grounds upon which we might act on their behalf. What is gained from a distrust in metanarratives, however, is surely more important, namely a moral responsibility towards others. We replace our certainties of knowing what is best with the humility to seek a solidarity with the widest community of humanity possible. This position must not be compromised, for it finds the infliction of pain and suffering intolerable, but it tolerates and listens to the diversity of humanity which archaeology above all has set itself the task of exploring. And so my last book is Richard Rorty's Contingency, irony and solidarity (1989), a book which contains no truth other than the hope that we can be better than we are at present.
John C. Barrett is Reader in Archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield. His publications include Fragments from Antiquity (1994), and his research interests include archaeological theory, funerary archaeology and landscape archaeology.
©John C. Barrett 1996