Monthly Archives: February 2015

Where are the Female Contemporary Archaeologists?

Citational communities can be at turns fascinating, infuriating, and utterly destructive. Literature is easier than ever to search for, but there’s also an unholy amount of it out there–while I was finishing my thesis on digital archaeology I had to cut off my research references at 2011 or else be crushed under an unending tidal wave of words. It’s worse when you do very interdisciplinary work, and even worse when you move between two very large research communities, USA and Europe, and get reviewed by scholars from all over the world. I’m glad I don’t deal much with other languages or I think I’d run off into the Pennines, never to be seen again. It’s deadening. Impossible. Right?

So it’s tempting to cite Latour, five of your good friends, then send your work off to the journal, figuring that the peer reviewers will ask you to cite THEIR research as well, and be done with it. There’s constant snide struggles between academics at even the top levels who intentionally do not cite each other, and perpetuate this onto their students, who advance within an echo chamber, only occasionally stumbling on the other work later down the road. It’s disheartening.

But sometimes it’s just citational communities–when I took my methods & theory class at UC Berkeley, the professors teaching it told us that they were making us Berkeley Archaeologists, giving us their particular take on current literature. I deeply appreciated this. Still, when we reach outside of our citational community, we tap the works of the Great Thinkers and pat ourselves on the backs for being such fashion-forward interdisciplinary academics, truly expanding the field.

Then you see yet another volume of archaeologists talking to each other without referencing anyone outside of their small circle.

Then you see a talk that provides a survey of a particular subfield where not a SINGLE woman is referenced.

Then you see a whole panel of editors for a new journal without any women.

And this doesn’t even take into account indigenous scholars, people of color, non-Western scholars, etc, because that’s so utterly depressing that I can’t even start.

So it was with great interest that I read Zoe Todd’s “An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn” who articulates this so much better than I ever could:

So, for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways. Decolonising the academy, both in europe and north america, means that we must consider our own prejudices, our own biases. Systems like peer-review and the subtle violence of european academies tend to privilege certain voices and silence others.

She provides a “cheat sheet,” a list of people who have been thinking about, in this case, the Ontological Turn for decades. Brilliant.

In this spirit, I’ve started a list of Female Contemporary Archaeologists, for our own “cite this, not that” list. When I emailed the list to a few colleagues to get it started, there was the recognition that a lot of these women don’t have positions in the academy, were not able to operationalize non-standard archaeological practice into so-called “real jobs.” Still, many continue to publish and contribute to archaeology and do fantastic, citable work. The list is editable, please add publications, names, keywords, anything you can think of:

Female Contemporary Archaeologists

I encourage you to set up your own “cheat sheets” and edit them, share them, and consider accordingly evaluating the next hiring decision, the next conference–heck, scan the references of the next paper you write. Who is your citational community? Are you perpetuating a hetero-normative, racist, colonialist, male-dominated academy, even while speaking in emancipatory tropes?

How Savage is Your Savagery?

After receiving some rather chilling feedback regarding the name of my blog, you know, Middle Savagery, I took a step back to think about it a little bit more. I thought it was obvious to everyone, that it was reclaiming an arcane, racist category for classifying ancient societies in a reflexive, anthropological way. I shouldn’t have assumed.

While I had been blogging since 2001, I started my archaeology-based blog in 2004, after taking Sam Wilson’s excellent The Archaeology of Complex Societies class, wherein we had to directly address what complexity means. It was one of those game-changing classes for me, a rigorous exploration of archaeological literature on complexity that revealed my own assumptions about social organization a moment before blowing them completely away. In it, we learned about the history of categorizing ancient societies, including Lewis H. Morgan’s system of progression through savagery, barbarism and civilization, with gradations of Upper, Middle and Lower for each category.

So when I heard that the name was not well received, I was taken aback. By now Middle Savagery feels worn-in, well-used, easy–perhaps lacking the sharpness of critique, an archaeological in-joke on a blog that has grown far beyond the original intended audience of friends and the handful of archaeologists communicating online at the time. I thought about transitioning to a new blog, but I’m torn. I might still. Lacking that, I re-wrote my rather glib About page to include the following:

The name of this blog is from Ancient Society written in 1877 by Lewis H. Morgan. In a very racist, colonialist way, he categorized all societies within an arcane hierarchy, ranging from Savagery to Civilization. In a fit of reflexive angst brought on by sharing the last name Morgan, in 2004 I named this blog after one of these categories, “Middle Savagery,” to highlight the ludicrous nature of ranking ancient and modern societies along such lines. It is not meant to perpetuate or codify these categories in any way, but for us to highlight the suspect history of anthropological and archaeological thought.

Even as archaeological blogging has grown vast and somewhat mundane, I hope that I can keep up a little outpost here at Middle Savagery. That, and we’re finally publishing the papers from my 2011 SAA Session on blogging in the excellent, Open Access Internet Archaeology–look for it in the coming months.

Art, Archaeology, and Fonts at the Van Eyck

The Jan van Eyck Academie felt otherworldly, a precise, modern shadowbox surrounded by winding medieval streets. Artists wandered in and out of studios, only vaguely curious as to what a gaggle of archaeologists was doing at an art institute in Maastricht, Holland.

I was almost too distracted to notice. I about to give the keynote lecture for the NEARCH meeting, on Archaeology and the Image, and navigating between the two audiences I would be addressing was making me nervous. Very prominent, senior academic archaeologists and cutting-edge contemporary artists would be hearing all about archaeological photography, modernity, and representation. Or my take on it, at least.

Art/Archaeology at the Van Eyck! #holland #nearch

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So when I came across this pair of doors leading into studios, I had to laugh. What better description of life as a postdoc? “Super confident, always worried” indeed. Except in my case those two doors would lead to the same office.

Touring the incredible @jve_academie print studio.

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Later, we’d go on a tour of the Van Eyck, including the print workshop where artists and scientists print and bind beautiful catalogues and single, masterful pieces. I knew that they specialized in older, analogue printing techniques and yet I couldn’t conceal my delight when the cabinets of heavy typeface were opened. As a child I toured a print shop where they were switching over to digital printing and I was given my initials in letterpress lead block caps, all in slightly different sizes: C.L.M.


The print master showing us around had twinkling eyes and a million inks spread across his work shirt–I couldn’t resist asking him about the Van Eyck’s particular, casually stylish font. Apparently it was traced from the remains of the work of the sign painter, Pierre Bonten, who painted the “no parking” signs outside the Institute. It was clever; the font combined an appreciation of the past of the institute, a nod toward craftmanship, and the interplay between analogue and digital forms of expression.


This artistic, archaeological font is named Bontepike, Here’s a video about the process: