Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Rethinking Modern History Volume 51 Number 5, September/October 1998
by Kathleen Deagan

Historical archaeologists have long recognized that only by integrating history and archaeology could they generate new questions and new answers that would be unobtainable through either discipline alone. This realization has led to a powerful new archaeological perspective that, at its most exciting, has told us not only about ourselves, but also about the dynamic and edgy connections between us and others. It is the only area of archaeology that has a truly global perspective, transcending and integrating Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Much historical archaeology in this tradition emphasizes the impact of colonialism and capitalism in local settings, allowing for the first time a two-sided version of cultural contact, plantation economy, and slavery.

Formal written history defines who we are and who others are. It has traditionally been concerned with the literate members of past societies or the perspectives expressed by literate people. The anthropological orientation of historical archaeologists, on the other hand, has led many of us to study people who have often been denied a voice in traditional history because of illiteracy, race, class, or gender. This interest coincided with a general societal concern during the 1960s and 1970s with questions of social inequality and ethnic pride. It has inspired not only archaeologists, but also the people whose forebears we study, to challenge traditional interpretations of the past. In many cases, it has also provoked our historian colleagues to ask different kinds of questions of their written sources.

KATHLEEN DEAGANis a distinguished research curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History and adjunct professor of anthropology and history at the University of Florida.
© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America