The Archaeological Imagination

See now – a new summary – [Link]

We are all archaeologists now, sharing a sensibility, certain dispositions towards things, creative ways of reanimating the past, and with care for the future. This is the archaeological imagination.

Here is a definition.

To recreate the world of ruin in the land, to reanimate the people and the sherd of antique pottery, to bring alive the past-in-the-present, as in an historical novel, to cherish and work with fragments of the past, what remains of the past-in-the-present, that we might find orientation, tracking what becomes of what was as we build our futures. This is the work of the archaeological imagination – a creative impulse and faculty at the heart of the discipline of archaeology, but also embedded in many cultural dispositions, ways of thinking and talking, ranging from personal memory to institutions like museums and archives.

A fertile ground for the archaeological imagination is the heritage industry – businesses, media networks, government ministries of culture and non-government organizations, communities and interest groups that share the somewhat overwhelming concern with what we have inherited from the past. This vast and sprawling industry is everywhere now – taking in Disneyland, city planning, tourism, the latest car from General Motors that reminds you of the great days of American motoring in the 50s and 60s.

But rather than celebrating the creative agency that can encompass the archaeological imagination, the heritage industry is a particular configuration of this actuality of the past-in-the-present, this memory function. The heritage industry is mostly concerned with cultural property, cultural ownership of goods such as works of art, historic sites, traditions and customs that are held to distinguish different groups of people. The concept of the archaeological imagination emphasizes the creative process of working with traces and remains, in crafting present-pasts.

The archaeological imagination is rooted in a sensibility, a pervasive set of attitudes towards traces and remains, towards memory, time, the very fabric of history. The focus of this sensibility and constitutive imagination is the persistence of the past into the future, the articulation of remains of the past with possible futures, re-collecting, as a memory practice, bringing what is left of the past before the present, making it live again.

Click below for a link to my book of 2012.

Archaeological Imagination

Selections (PDFs at [Link] [Link] [Link]

A summary (published 2020)

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