Archaeology of Empires

NES 2615/ANTHR 2015/ARKEO 2015

 The word “empire” today evokes modern, capitalist, European, even American experiments in expansion and unequal relations of power.  Empires—British, French, Spanish, Russian—established the current world order, and contemporary politics finds itself still dominated by problems, from the local to the geopolitical, that empires left in their wake.  But where did this peculiar form of expansionary polity come from and why has it proven so singularly enduring?  This course considers the precursors to these modern imperialisms, from the ancient Assyrians to the Aztec, and thus strives to set the problem of empire within a cross-cultural and historically deep frame of reference.  Moreover, the course approaches the comparative study of early empires of the Old and New Worlds from an archaeological perspective.  That is, we are particularly concerned with the role of material culture and built environments in the maintenance of empire.  The course confronts broad theoretical problems—what are empires, where do they come from, why do they work, why do they fail—and addresses these problems through archaeological interventions into such topics as ideology and religion, political landscapes and power, economic exploitation, colonialism and cultural encounter, resistance and collapse.  Is the very concept of empire as a construct of political, social, or historical analysis useful across time and space?  What is archaeology’s contribution to the study of these complex, expansive, and messy socio-political phenomena?  How does our archaeological reflection upon ancient empires re-shape our understanding of imperialism today?

Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

NES & JWST 2610, ANTHRO & ARKEO 2010

This introductory course to the archaeology of the ancient Near East offers an analytical survey of approximately 10,000 years of human history, from the first appearance of farming villages to a time when empires dominated large swaths of the ancient world. Covering modern-day Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, and neighboring lands, the focus of this course is on past material worlds—built spaces, landscapes, objects, and visual media.  It tacks back and forth across related disciplinary approaches to the study of materiality, from the archaeological to the art historical.  Although broadly chronological, at various points we depart from this diachronic orientation to look at key themes, such as gender, materiality, and memory.  In addition, throughout the course, we periodically fix our gaze on the methods of archaeology and the theories of archaeological interpretation, particularly as they have been brought to bear on the study of the Near East.


Archaeology of the Everyday: The Near East and Beyond


What is everyday life?  Some theorists have regarded it as one of “the most self-evident, yet the most puzzling of ideas.”  It is a term invoked often, both within and outside archaeology, yet one rarely scrutinized for its analytical capacities to make critical sense of social and political life.  This is in part because it seems to resist scrutiny.  Its boundaries confound detection, in so far as everyday life seems to reside everywhere and nowhere.  Yet if this elusive concept is to be analytically productive, it cannot claim as its referent the entirety of the social world.  Over the course of its long history in social thought, the everyday has taken on a range of meanings.  In the main, it is seen straightforwardly as the arena of the habitual, the ordinary, the mundane.  But to some, the everyday is profoundly problematic—a site of contradiction between oppressively monotonous routines and the extraordinary occurrences that take everyday forms.  If the everyday indeed “belongs to insignificance”, then how are we to grasp it at all, let alone through the epistemologies of archaeology?

At the heart of this seminar are three questions:  Why should archaeology concern itself with “the everyday”?  To what extent can we already speak of such an arena of inquiry, both in the Near East and beyond?  And what forms might such an archaeology take if it engaged deeply with the critiques of the everyday offered by social thought, and the theories of practice, embodiment, quotidian space, and ordinary things offered by sociology and anthropology?  In other words, our task in this course is not to develop an intimate understanding of an established arena of inquiry within archaeology.  Rather, it is to pull together a number of distinct conversations that call themselves by other names (like “household archaeology” or “archaeology of the body”), and ask what fundamental theoretical dispositions and empirical approaches do, or should, bind them under a critical archaeology of the everyday.

Ceramic Analysis for Archaeology

NES 4544/ANTHRO & ARKEO 4011

This course explores theoretical and technical approaches to the study of archaeological ceramics. It is organized broadly into two parts.  In the first half we examine key moments in the life cycle of ancient pots, beginning with their initial invention. The biographical examination of the production, use, and discard of ceramics concentrates in large measure on the relationships between the potter and his/her craft and between pots and their users.  In exploring the factors that influence the structure, form, and appearance of ancient pottery we engage with such themes as the role of choice in the pottery production process, the meaning of style, and the relationship of style to technology and culture.  Our concern is equally to understand the ways in which archaeologists attempt to reconstruct the stages in the life of a pot and the decisions of those who made and used them through ethnoarchaeology and the techniques of material science.  In the second half of the course we turn our attention to the kinds anthropological questions that ancient pottery has been marshaled to address, concerning matters of culture, social organization, economic organization and exchange, politics and power relations, identity and social life.  The course combines seminar discussion with a laboratory component that involves hands-on work with ceramic study collections.

The Archaeology of Orientalism

NES 4620/ANTHRO & ARKEO 4120

What role has archaeology and its peer disciplines played in the making of “the East”?  And how has the material and visual world been implicated in the genealogies of discourse, from ancient texts to modern media, that collectively conjure the East into existence?  This course probes the archaeology of Orientalism in three parts.  Part one is an extended examination of Orientalism’s multiple origins and origin myths, as a construct of critical analysis in the humanities and social sciences, a discursive disposition of antiquity, and a mode of early archaeological practice in the Near East.  Part two approaches the themes of aesthetics and civilization from various angles.  We are concerned here with the kinds of cultural representations that have resulted from particular archaeological and art historical forms of knowledge production, and the ways in which such representations have been received and consumed by popular audiences, past and present.  Part three considers alternatives to an Orientalist archaeology of the Near East, beginning with Orientalism’s antipode, nationalism, and concluding with a look at still other modes of archaeological practice, grounded in notions of world heritage and community engagement.  At its broadest, this course is a study in the cultural politics of archaeology in the Near East from the nineteenth century to the present.

The Caucasus: Captives, Cultures, Crossroads

NES 4530/ANTHR 4030

The Caucasus occupies a distinctive place within both the ancient and modern imagination. It is a region long anchored to tropes of captivity, disobedience, punishment, and redemption. It is also a place in which liminality, at the crossroad between Europe and Asia, endures as both a perceived geographic imaginary and an experienced condition in the detritus of imperialisms past. The Caucasus’s extraordinary diversity in languages and ethnicities has generated a deep suspicion of it by those surrounding the region, and has sparked profound social tragedies. But it has also stimulated a curiosity that has generated meditations on culture, identity, and social life.

This course examines the entanglement of the region’s history and cultures with its internal and external representations in order to get a sense of the array of forces shaping the Caucasus today. We chart a broadly historical trajectory beginning from Russia’s early nineteenth century encounters with the region, and continuing through the Russian imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet eras.  Complementing this broadly diachronic orientation is a number of key thematic concerns: ethnic conflict, geopolitics, religion, post-socialist economies, urban space, and the politics of the deep past.  Through a multidisciplinary approach that combines anthropology, history, political science, and literary analysis, the course also explores how different forms of knowledge production can be brought to bear in the intensive study of a single world area.