We asked established archaeologists and authors to offer their thoughts on the five books (archaeological or otherwise) that they felt graduates should read. Last issue we heard from Roberta Gilchrist, Charles Orser and Randy McGuire. Click on the books to the right or on the names below to read this issue's contributions:
Illustration by Jim Williams
When you have been around for a long time you can think of five good books before breakfast. The problem lies with the nature of books themselves. Unlike papers or conference proceedings, books still retain an affinity with tablets of stone and most of them will seem out of date by the time you are ready for serious research. However, like tablets of stone, they do provide solid foundations on which to build. By the time you are half way through your research you will have read the five key works in your own area of interest ad nauseum; so I shall recommend books that surpass the boundaries of specialism and typify the essential qualities of good research.
The first book would have to be Richard Morris's Churches in the Landscape (Dent 1989). This is such a readable piece of research that it is close to gripping. The text is so erudite that after a couple of chapters you suffer the pangs of jealousy and try to catch him out (perseverance pays off: there is a minor error on page 342 and a glorious typo on page 365). An exceptional achievement of this study is the lack of local focus; the whole of England is covered and it is impossible to detect where the author is based. (So many books with a putative national scope seem to think that the home counties, with maybe one or two significant outliers, is England).
My second recommendation is O.G.S.Crawford's autobiography Said and Done (Weidenfield and Nicholson 1955). This is a linking text by the father of aerial photography and founder of Antiquity that bridges the antiquarianism of the nineteenth century and the supposed sophisticated archaeology of today. An insular individual who did not enjoy many other living people, Crawford writes in a constrained idiosyncratic way that makes him a very real, if difficult, person. It was almost by chance that he worked for the Ordnance Survey in Southampton and was able to use his ex-World War I flying skills to develop aerial photography within the cartographic service.
Excavation reports are becoming drier and drier, with stretches of specialist reports and very rare flashes of interpretation. Nowadays the record is as detailed as costs permit and is directed at archaeologists working on similar sites. I am going to let you off lightly with this one and recommend John Collis' Wigber Low (Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield, 1983). This is a slim report with all the standard specialist contributions. I read this report many years before I came to Sheffield and it was the honesty of the lost labels and unstratified finds that lodged in my memory. Candour is disappearing from an academia infected by a world full of working people too scared to admit a mistake and thus the rare flashes of integrity should be cherished all the more.
Despite the short run of assemblage, it seems that it is now customary within the Five Books section to include a work of fiction. Archaeologists need to use their imaginations and to see how this can be done effectively does not go amiss. My choice is Foucaults Pendulum by Umberto Eco (Secker & Warburg 1989), less ecclesiastical than his better known Name of the Rose but equally arcane and intriguing. The first 40 pages may seem heavy going but that is good training and can be seen as a bonus if you have to justify reading fiction. After the hard work comes an enormous roller-coaster of images from a parallel world full of ideas and delusions exemplifying the delights and despairs of learning. To me the denouement seems brilliant and subtle but in the back of my mind there still lingers the thought that I read just the female version of the story. As an introduction to post-modern fiction the text is so rich and lush as to be almost edible and the fact that it can still carry very powerful imagery in translation is a tribute to both the author and the translator.
Finally, another book in translation is The Greenland Mummies (eds. Jens Peder, Hart Hansen, Jorgen Meldgaard and Jorgen Nordqvist, British Museum Press, 1991). Aimed at the general public this work does not talk down to the reader and contains enough detail for one's own sleuthing. Scandinavian archaeology always seems to be slightly ahead of the rest of the world in pragmatism and this volume is a superb example of collaboration between workers within different disciplines. Historical sources, ethnographic material and meticulous laboratory studies are used to produce this apparently seamless work, showing how it is possible to recreate the lives and deaths of an Inuit woman and two children in 15th-century Greenland.
The five books chosen embrace the qualities of successful research, namely: knowledge, serendipity, candour, creativity and holism.
Pat Wagner is a life weary Teaching Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield. She has collected books since the age of seven and says that you cannot have enough of them.
© Pat Wagner 1997
Return to top
My selection of five books is a very personal one: each marks a step in the development of my own thinking over the last two or three decades. The first, by Wright Mills, was my guide as a beginning graduate student. I came to Marx when, near to finishing my doctoral dissertation, I thought I had independently hit on the distinction between technical forces and social relations of production through the analysis of reindeer herding! It was in subsequently writing about the transformation from hunting to pastoralism in reindeer-based economies that I came to read Darwin, and this reading gave me the inspiration to try to figure out the relation between evolution and history – the subject of my next book. But in the end it was Bergson, not Darwin, who emerged as the philosophical hero of that book. Only after finishing it did I follow the advice of a number of colleagues to read Gibson, who has been my guiding light ever since. It is of some note, I think, that not one of these books is by an anthropologist, or even by an archaeologist. Rarely do the books that change one's life come from one's own academic discipline.
C. Wright Mills, 1959. 'The Sociological Imagination'. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Although written some forty years ago, this is still one of the best appeals for a social science that would enable us 'to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society'. Wright Mills cuts through all the humbug, jargon and doublespeak that has characterised sociology right from its inception with a razor-sharp critical knife. But the best part of the book is its appendix. Entitled 'On intellectual craftsmanship', it advises the novice preparing to embark on independent work about the whole process of research and writing. This advice is as relevant today as when it was first written, and remains unsurpassed. Nor do you have to be a sociologist to benefit from it.
Karl Marx, 'Capital', volume 1.
There are any number of different editions of this work. The one I have is the Everyman edition published by J. M. Dent in 1930, and translated by Eden and Cedar Paul from the fourth German edition, dating from 1890, of Marx's first volume 'Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals'. I remember buying it during a day out in Chester in June 1975, and it has been a constant companion ever since. Marx, of course, was no Marxist. After all the impenetrable and obfuscatory verbiage that has flowed from the pens of his latter-day academic admirers, it is wonderfully refreshing to read the original. Marx writes with clarity, passion and wit, backed up by a formidable erudition (for which his friend, the admirable Friedrich Engels, must take some of the credit). It is an exhilarating intellectual experience to be able to follow the mind of one of the greatest social and historical theorists of all time at work.
Charles Darwin, 'On the Origin of Species'.
This work too, exists in countless editions. Darwin kept adding to it and correcting it, right up to the sixth edition of 1872. My copy is a reprint of the original version of 1859, published by Watts of London in 1950. Every serious scholar should read this book, if for no other reason than that it has exerted such a profound influence on modern thought. On reading it, one cannot fail to be struck by how far Darwin's present-day followers, self-styled neo–Darwinists, have departed from the spirit of his original enterprise. Just as Marx was no Marxist, so Darwin was no Darwinist and like the plant and animal breeders and the pigeon fanciers whose work he so closely followed, he had an almost intuitive 'feel' for living organisms and their ways of coping in diverse environments – a sense that is palpably missing from contemporary neo–Darwinism. But above all, reading Darwin reminds us of the importance of humility, of respect for the facts, and of being prepared to stand against the prevailing orthodoxy when reason and conscience require us to do so. Ironically, nowadays, this means standing up against Darwinism itself!
Henri Bergson, 'Creative Evolution'.I discovered this work by accident, some time in 1983 or 1984, while looking for another book on the library shelves. It was a translation of the French original, published by Macmillan in 1911. Covered in dust, it looked as though it had not been touched for decades. At the time, I was in the midst of writing my book, 'Evolution and Social Life' (1986). The name of Bergson had cropped up once or twice in my reading, so I thought I would take a look. I was astonished by what I found there. In this book, Bergson had already said everything that I was struggling to say about organisms, life and evolution. In retrospect, the encounter with Bergson seems like a watershed that altered the whole course of my work. However, when I mentioned my excitement to philosophical colleagues they would go a little pale, hinting darkly that it was all very well for me, as an anthropologist, but that if they were to even mention Bergson it would be at grave cost to their academic careers! Bergson's fault, it seems, was to have extended a way of thinking that more cautious philosophers had reserved for humanity to organic life in general, and thereby to have fallen foul of a biology keen to reassert its scientific status through the reinvention of Darwinism. But now that the principles of Cartesian science are coming increasingly under fire, Bergson may be due for a revival.
James J. Gibson, 1979.The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
This is the book that has probably exerted the greatest influence on my thinking over the last ten years or so. The title makes it sound rather narrow and technical, but in fact it is very much more than just a book about the psychology of vision. In it Gibson establishes an entirely fresh approach to understanding perception and action, known as 'ecological psychology', which takes as its point of departure not the activity of a mind in a body but that of the whole organism in its environment. Though Gibson is primarily addressing his fellow psychologists, his work has much broader, interdisciplinary significance. For my part, I have been interested in the links between ecological psychology and ecological anthropology. One of the nice things about the book is the clarity with which it is written: proof that it is possible to write about the most complex and intractable issues without bamboozling the reader with ghastly neologisms or labyrinthine syntax. Another thing is that since Gibson comes from a background in experimental psychology, it is never hard to see how his theoretical ideas might be put into practice through empirical observation. His is an example worth emulating.
Ingold, T. 1986. Evolution and Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tim Ingold is Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami (Lapp) people in northern Finland, and has written extensively on hunter-gatherer and pastoral societies, evolutionary theory, and human ecology. His current research deals with issues of environmental perception and the anthropology of technology.
© Tim Ingold 1997
Return to top
Five books? I live in a house that is wall-to-wall books, everything from a complete set of Pevsner's Buildings of England to Gary Larsen and Schultz! Five books which I would recommend to a research student; well, I suppose the best way to start is to read what others have chosen. Hmm, interesting, even leading archaeologists don't seem to recommend archaeology books; I am in good company. Five books, a surprise, at least three of my choices have already been taken – Eric Wolf's The People without History, David Lowenthal's The Past is a Foreign Country, Stephen J. Gould's various collected essays, although I would probably have gone for The Mismeasure of Man, just as an example of how wrong you can be when pseudoscience is in the ascendant. Maybe I am just a sucker for a good title.
Five books, five different books ... no doubt, the first choice has to be Charles Darwin, no not the Origin, that's bloody hard work, if not pretentious. The Voyage of the Beagle – it's amazing how far you can get on the top of a kennel – more properly Journal of the Researches during the Voyage of H.M.S. "Beagle". I first came across this through Alan Moorhead's Penguin Darwin and the Beagle (1969), but then picked up a Collins' 1860 edition on Crewe Market for 10p, probably been sitting there since it was published. Even this slightly edited and bowdlerised version conveys much of the excitement of discovery and every page is so full of ideas and astute observation, whether it is ice rafting as the origin of the biota of the Azores, or the religion of the Fuegians. As someone who spends most of his time researching the origins and fate of island faunas, I still muse on the idea of how different things might have been had Fitz Roy's voyage taken him to the Northern Ocean and not the South ... maybe he would not have shot himself (although it did run in the family) and Alfred Russell Wallace might have got more of the credit that he deserved ... well, probably not, wrong socio-economic class and not married to a Wedgwood heiress.
Five books, one down and four to go ... unfortunately Philip Rahtz in his intensely amusing Invitation to Archaeology beat me to the best deliberate misquote of a philosopher, Hegel, "the one thing we learn from archaeology is that we never learn from archaeology". The same applies to palaeoecology. I work with what Man (and I use that term deliberately, because it is most unlikely that even the most ardent ecofeminist would want to claim liability for the destruction of more than half the planet) has created; the battered fragments of creation – I see no reason why this term should be abrogated by a bunch of largely American loonies – are often most evident in island ecosystems. I am torn between Stephan Budiansky's Nature's Keepers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995) and Alfred Crosby's classic Ecological Imperialism The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1986). Budiansky ... a bit conservative, sorry republican, but heart in the right place over the need to manage effectively what's left. No, I'll stick with Crosby, if I can't have a Wolf, even if he is falling from grace as the apologist right strikes back ... pass me a fiddle, an American one of course, whilst CO2 emissions cause Rome to burn. I am writing this whilst listening to Stravinsky's Firebird on the evening of November 5th...
Five books ... two down, well, I should include some real literature. Selma Lagerlof's The Story of Gosta Berling (Karlstad, 1982) arrived in our house in Birmingham as a present from the Swedish wife of a long-standing Icelandic friend when my wife was ill. We were both so wholly taken with it that it is still fought over to read again, and perhaps it's why our elder son now lives in Sweden. It is the most amazing story... the trials and tribulations of a defrocked drunken priest taken in with a bunch of reprobates by the lady of the estate ... maybe this sounds too much like an excavation by the Central Unit? The underlying sense of the supernatural in the dark spruce forests in winter ... the sledge chased by wolves, the ice breaking the dam, and ... well, I do not wish to spoil the story...
Iceland: I have spent part of every summer and some winters too in its cold, beautiful landscapes. It's more like home than polluted Sheffield where some days an inversion traps down the car fumes such that I can hardly breathe. I should recommend a saga, again in translation of course, like most Brits I am still, to my shame, a linguistic moron ... Grettissaga, the failure of a man because of a short temper, lack of tact, honour and fear of the dark? No, he is too familiar. The remarkable character of Guorun in Laxdaelasaga, as she watches her world unravel around her and her cryptic final comment, "I was worst to him that I loved the most". No, too much of an overlay of Christian themes of sin and redemption; maybe it's the same for Gunnar and Njal in Njalssaga? I cannot say the same for Egil Skallagrimsson, although he still brews good ale in Reykjavik. No, it has to be a sideways and wickedly funny – at least to someone who knows Icelanders – approach to the sagas. Halldor Laxness' Under the Glacier (Vaka-Helgafell 1992) combines the interplay between reality and the supernatural amongst squabbling farmers in Eyrbyggjassaga with a world only recently lost and still lurking in some remote fjords and valleys; who was Ua, and why do I always come away from Iceland feeling like the Bishop's emissary? I am afraid that you will have to read the book to find out. Despite his Nobel prize for literature, excellent translations, and a certain topicality in books like Salka Valka, Laxness is difficult to get in Britain.
And finally ... an English writer, G. K. Chesterton wrote his Napoleon of Notting Hill in 1904 (London: John Lane) when a complacent Europe thought it had achieved stability yet teetered on the brink of chaos. Why should I be so taken with it? Well, it reminds me of archaeology. A man with a hare-brained theory, to reconstitute the glory of the original independent London boroughs through a fictitious history, is elected king and proceeds to put his theory into practice. All goes well until he meets up with someone who actually believes it. The result is descent into civil war ... I wonder which department that might be? Well actually, it has already been several. The final meeting between Chesterton's two, now dead protagonists, can be summarised: "We are most necessary to this world, you and I, the visionary and the fool". The jury is still out as to where the post-processualists and the neopragmatists stand, but I suspect after this, I shall be out with Lear.
Paul Buckland is a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, at the University of Sheffield, UK. A geologist by training but archaeologist to keep the wolf from the door, he has an uncommon fondness for insects, the subtitle to a recent volume of essays which he helped to edit, Quaternary Proceedings 5. His principal habitat is in wetlands, in whose conservation he believes passionately, but he may also be occasionally sighted on a number of Atlantic islands, provided they are sufficiently cold. Perhaps surprisingly, he has also published on building stone, Roman pottery and the diet of the chough.
To the uninitiated, the chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, is the rarest member of the crow family resident in Britain, with a sleek black plumage, red legs and a red down-curving bill; it feeds predominantly on insects! [Ed.]
© Paul Buckland 1997
Return to top
Go on, e-mail assemblage today!
© assemblage 1997