Post-modernist hyper-relativism unexpectedly rears its ugly dying head in the form of a call for papers from one Tera Pruitt for the otherwise respectable Archaeological Review from Cambridge. Note the scare quotes around the words truth and valid claims.
Call for Papers (April 2009 Issue)
Beyond the Facts: Invention and Reinvention in Archaeological Practice
The Archaeological Review from Cambridge invites papers on the theme of invention and re-invention in archaeology. The past quarter century has seen a rich academic debate about the nature of archaeological interpretation. Post-modern theories such as constructivism and relativism have encouraged archaeologists to debate the nature of ‘truth’ and to re-evaluate the influence of their own biases and judgments on the past. The topic of invention and reinvention in archaeological methodology has also proved insightful. Experimental archaeological methodologies give a great deal of room for imagination and invention. In archaeological theory and practice, it appears that many 20th century archaeological epistemologies might be ‘reinventions’ of earlier methods used by professionals in the past: archaeologists like Matthew Johnson, for example, have claimed that ‘phenomenology’ may be a ‘reinvented’ tradition from the British Romantic landscape studies. The discipline of archaeology has also promoted better awareness of alternative perspectives on the past, such as the recognition of indigenous values or notions of the sacred; however, lines are still uncertainly drawn between ‘valid’ claims of the past and other, ‘less valid’ fringe theories. In many cases of post-colonial archaeology, post-conflict heritage, or identity studies, the past is a debated realm. Meanings are often constructed, manipulated, invented or re-invented through the use of material culture. Professionals have also been more attentive to the role of the public in propagating myths and folklore, and the relationship between media and pop-culture to professional archaeology.
I trust we’ll never see themed volumes about “Chemistry: Beyond the Facts”, “Botany: Beyond the Facts” or “Musicology: Beyond the Facts”.
In my opinion, archaeology should leave the beyond-the-facts bit to historical novelists. Because if the public gets the impression that archaeologists are just uncommonly boring fiction writers, then our funding will dry up real fast.