Adam T. Smith
Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University;
Co-Director of the American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies (Project ArAGATS);
Co-Director, The Aragats Foundation;
Board of Directors, American Research Institute of the South Caucasus.
The central preoccupation of my research and writing is the role that the material world—everyday objects, representational media, natural and built landscapes—plays in our political lives. Our social worlds, from the ancient past to the modern present, are forged upon a dense thicket of objects, from the spaces and places we move through to the plethora of things that orbit around us. Yet rarely do we pause to understand how this material world has shaped our political procedures and values. This neglect is particularly surprising since at root, the two dominant political traditions of the modern era—liberalism and socialism—are as concerned to define our relations to things (or at least to property in the abstract) as they are to describe our ties to one another as fellow citizens. The canny recognition that in order to reshape the political community we must start by remolding our ties to the tangible world around us hints at, but does not explain, the depth of our entanglement with material culture. How did we arrive at this intimate relationship with a material world that in the last two centuries has attained unprecedented ubiquity and complexity? And what are the implications of this avowedly archaeological view of the polity for the way we understand the principles and priorities of political association? These are the primary questions that thread through my scholarship and my current research seeks to advance this broad project in theoretical, historical, and empirical terms.
My first book, The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities (2003, Univ. of California Press), examined the role that the experience, perception, and imagination of space played in the formation and reproduction of authority in three cases of early political complexity: Old Babylonian Mesopotamia, The Kingdom of Urartu, and the Classic Maya. My most recent book, entitled The Political Machine: Assembling Sovereignty in the Bronze Age Caucasus (2015, Princeton) examines the political mediations of objects in the South Caucasus over the two millennia of the Bronze Age. The focus of my field research is in the South Caucasus where I co-founded Project ArAGATS, a collaborative program of archaeological investigation documenting long-term socio-political dynamics in the region. Volume 1 of the ArAGATS reports detailed the foundations of research and the results of our regional survey in the Tsaghkahovit Plain.
Our work has expanded since 2015 to include a major heritage initiative led by The Aragats Foundation in the US in collaboration with the Aragats Cultural Heritage Foundation in Armenia. These organizations seek to harness the region’s archaeological resources to improve education, to foster economic development, and to conserve sites for future generations.
My teaching concerns orbit around my research themes, with classes that address issues from the rise of early complex polities and “civilizations” to the political lives of things and places. In addition, I teach courses on the archaeology and anthropology of Eurasia and the Caucasus as well as the history and current state of archaeological theory.
Some of my recent edited books and articles include:
2017 The Kurgans of Gegharot: A preliminary report on the results of the 2013-14 excavations of Project ArAGATS (with R. Badalyan). Aramazd 2017: 11-28.
2016 A Preliminary Report on the 2008, 2010, and 2011 Investigations of Project ArAGATS on the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Republic of Armenia (with R. Badalyan, I. Lindsay, L. Khatchadourian, A. Harutyunyan, A. Greene, M. Marshall, B. Monahan, and R. Hovsepyan). Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 46: 149-222.
2015 Objects in Crisis: Curation, Repair, and the Historicity of Things in the South Caucasus (1500-300 BC) (with L. Khatchadourian). In Counternarratives and Macrohistories: New Perspectives on the Archaeology of Complex Societies, edited by G. Emberling, pp. 231-258. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
2014 Divination and Sovereignty: The Late Bronze Age Shrines at Gegharot, Armenia (with J. Leon). American Journal of Archaeology 118: 549-563.
2012 Regimes and Revolutions: Materiality and Authority Across Eurasia from Past to Present. Co-edited with Charles Hartley and G. Bike Yazicioglu. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
2012 The Caucasus and the Near East. In Blackwell Companion to the Archaeology of the Near East, edited by Daniel Potts, pp. 668-686. Blackwell, Oxford.
2011 Archaeologies of Sovereignty. Annual Review of Anthropology 40: 415-432.