Saturday May 20th,  2017 Morning Sessions - 9am-12pm


Session: "And now what? Archaeology as resistance"


 Session Organizer:


Yannis Hamilakis ,Joukowsky Institute of Archaeology, Brown University


And now what? This is the anxious question that torments many of us, based in North America, in the present social and political moment, the moment of Trumpism. While as citizens and activists we can mobilise on various fronts, our engagement with materiality and temporality as archaeologists offers us a different perspective, perhaps an important advantage that can prove both intellectually and political fruitful. For a start, we may wish to emphasize duration and continuities as well as ruptures, the historicity of the present moment; stress in other words that current developments bring into sharp relief the long term structural inequalities, the class divides, the colonial present which has never left us, racism, as well the latent nationalism often hiding under “patriotism”, and one which for far too long, archaeologists and other scholars considered as too exotic to be of relevance to North American societies. We may also wish to subject current public and political discourse to scrutiny, foregrounding historical moments and contexts from the past, both the recent as well as the more “distant” one, occasions that belie statements on matters such as migrants and refugees, borders and border walls, human interactions with landscapes, the climatic impact, or the enclosure and destruction of the commons. Further, as specialists on materiality and on things we can produce a forensic and thus highly affective analysis of the material, sensorial and bodily effects of contemporary policies, statements and rhetorical pronouncements. We can dissect and thus demystify the material and sensorial assemblage that produces illegality at borders and checkpoints, that engenders a deportation regime, that shutters and fractures lives, families, and communities. We can disassemble the material apparatus of exclusion and deprivation, and engender the material and sensorial force, the ordinary affects of daily, deeply felt experiences, beyond and against the carefully choreographed and staged spectacles of power. More positively and hopefully, as archaeologists we can provide countless examples where powerful regimes had failed, often spectacularly and monumentally, we can point to the cracks in carefully constructed edifices, we can outline strategies of resilience and resistance. Archaeology can and should provide important lessons in the current climate. We invite archaeologists, archaeologically and materially minded anthropologists, other scholars from all backgrounds to think through collectively the above issues, and to work out together a fluid and flexible strategy for the years to come.





Individual papers:




“Realists of a larger reality”: human pasts and the archaeological imagination


Felipe Rojas (Brown University)


Archaeology, at least etymologically, is rooted in the past and in coherent discourse. Yet much discourse, in today's academic and political environment, feels like dogma or noise: rallying cries for posthumanist perspectives and manifestos for object-oriented approaches conveniently allow scholars to shift archaeology’s focus (from the past to the present, from the human to the thing), rather than critically examining the challenges and value of knowing about human pasts. This paper argues that one of the aims of archaeologists today should be to probe how people in other times have explored and explained their own pasts, even when they differ radically from the strategies favored by archaeologists. The aim is not to satisfy a perverse sense of nostalgia, nor much less to adopt those strategies in our own investigations, but rather to remain aware of the range of what has been possible. In this paper, I marshal theories associated with contemporary Amazonian anthropologists and explore their resonances and dissonances with evidence from ancient Anatolia. Ultimately, this paper is an invitation to examine other ontologies and temporalities and to imagine archaeologists as what the science-fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuinn has called “realists of a larger reality.”




Landscape archaeology in the Anthropocene: a call for political ecology as field practice.


Ömür Harmanşah, University of Illinois at Chicago



The current academic debates and public anxieties on climate change and environmental crisis on the global scale and the onset of the proposed new geological epoch of the Anthropocene present brand new challenges to those of us working in the humanities and social sciences. Only within the last decade or so, the implications of our planetary predicament has become clear, and calls have been made by scholars such as Dipesh Chakrabarty, Catherine Malabou, and Daniel Smail, for a complete rethinking of the way historians make sense of the past. A new form of history is necessary since the planetary crisis introduced an entirely new sense of time, requiring us to consider the previously incompatible temporalities (geological time, deep time, historical time, human time, etc) to be reconciled and the role of the human as a geological or a biological agent taking part in the ecological processes to be reconsidered. The collapse of the humanist distinctions between prehistory and history, natural history and political history, and the dissatisfaction with the emphasis on the anthropocentric concerns such as freedom and technological progress are important aspects of our extraordinary moment. The debate around the Anthropocene is then an intensely political and cultural debate, especially involving the politics of sciences embroiled with scenarios of environmental crisis, the governance of the planet, and the role of late capitalism in the present predicament. Landscape archaeologists have been well equipped to understand deep time in spatially well contextualized ways, especially through their collaborations with paleo-environmental sciences. Through ecologically sensitive perspectives armed with techniques of survey fieldwork and geomorphology, they have largely engaged with the landscapes of the Holocene, where human-environment relationships are usually characterized as harmonious and interdependent. These are considered nostalgic landscapes of global human heritage that carry narratives of humanity since the beginning of settled life. Focusing their attention to the study of pristine or better-preserved landscapes, survey archaeologists have rarely engaged with landscapes of the Anthropocene (with the exception of salvage archaeology), i.e. those ruined and contaminated landscapes of industrial modernity, sites of mining and extreme extraction, and late capitalism’s disposable landscapes. These landscapes are at the same time intensely political ecologies where human rights violations, environmental injustice, and expulsions of local communities take place. In this paper, I call for an alternative form of landscape fieldwork: political ecology as field practice that requires an intimate political engagement with the defense of place at contexts of late capitalist development, and one that develops a certain regime of care for local communities when their livelihood, their land, their resources, and their heritage are threatened.



From Plato to NATO: 2,500 Years of Democracy and The End of History


Despina Lalaki, NYU


On the occasion of his recent visit to Greece, President Barack Obama’s remarks – protracted echoes of familiar pronouncements about the end of history and ideological evolution, endorsements of laissez-faire economics and the individual freedom that our Western democracies purportedly serve – not unexpectedly were uttered against a background of Doric columns and numerous invocations to the ancients. Appropriately if rather predictably, President Obama drew from history and stressed the strong connections between his country and his host, emphasizing the political culture shared between Greece and the United States. What caught my attention, however, was the American President’s explicit reference to President Truman, whom he briefly quoted from his famous 1947 speech in the Congress, a speech that encapsulated the post-war US foreign policy of containment and became known as the Truman Doctrine.


Despite the new Republican president-elect’s statements during the campaign, Obama’s trip to Greece, more than anything else, was meant to affirm the U.S. commitment to transatlantic ties and NATO. The insistence that the message would be delivered against the historic backdrop of ancient Greece – allegedly it was the President himself who resolved to visit Greece on his final state tour – is the topic of this brief paper. Here I wish to unpack and further problematize the symbolisms employed to illustrate and operationalize the relationship between the two countries following the end of the Second World War, and raise a few questions regarding the uses of cultural heritage and cultural representations as well as the relationship between history and political imagination.



Bodies at Contact Zones: Museum Guards, Customs and Immigration Agents, and the Nation


Katina Lillios, University of Iowa


In a 2013 paper in Museum Anthropology, I explored, using archival evidence, how the everyday practices of the first guards to work at the Museu Etnológico Português, in Lisbon, Portugal, were instrumental in creating new understandings of the Portuguese nation. As intermediaries between the public, the museum’s collections, and the museum staff, the museum guards occupied a contact zone, to use the term coined by Mary Louise Pratt, or “a social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power.” In the early years of the museum’s history (1893-1929), the guards functioned primarily as agents for marking social boundaries, and only secondarily, as individuals charged with protecting the physical security of the museum’s collections. In this exploratory paper, I compare the practices of these guards with the role of US immigration and customs enforcement in maintaining national boundaries in a (fragile) transnational world, with attention to their increasing powers in the post-Trump era. I consider the intellectual possibilities and social justice potentials for an archaeology or ethnography of US border maintenance



From Trump to trigger warnings: teaching an engaged archaeology in times of trouble


Andrew Dufton, Brown University


As we ask ourselves ‘and now what?’ the opportunities presented by archaeology — its material and temporal foci, its long and troubled history of political influence — make the discipline a natural fit for activism. Yet for responses to the current regime to be truly effective this resistance must touch not only upon our individual scholarship or institutional reactions, but also the ways in which we teach archaeology to our students. Expounding on the question posed by the session, we might ask and now what in the classroom? What courses should be offered to encourage an informed opposition to cuts to heritage and the humanities? How do we impart the skills needed to help speak out against current injustice? And how can we restructure existing curricula to encourage our students to take a more activist approach to the material world?


This paper interrogates how we as a community can adjust our pedagogical practices to create a new generation of engaged, citizen archaeologists. Content, delivery, and methods of assessment will each be explored, drawing on both classroom examples and the many potentials — and pitfalls — of a growing ecosystem of online education. The past will continue to be invoked as a means to justify current systems of inequality and oppression, and those presenting a knowledgeable, contradictory view may increasingly find themselves the direct targets of ideological suppression or control. This paper and the resulting discussion will begin a much needed dialogue on how we can best respond to the troubles of the contemporary political climate by making changes to the way we teach and communicate archaeology as a discipline.