Friday, 9 November 2018

Some forthcoming talks, November 2018-April 2019

Image: a wooden powder flask from the 1868 British Seige of Maqdala, Ethiopia, acquired by E.A. Henty and purchased by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1902 (1902.69.1)

Some forthcoming talks, November 2018-April 2019

I'm giving a number of talks - about various aspects of understanding the ethnological museum in postcolonial perspective, from current work on the Calais "Jungle" to re-thinking historic museum collections - during November-April 2019. The talks are in London, Berlin, Tübingen, Brussels and Oxford. Details are below - more details on some of these nearer the time.

Thursday 15 November 2018, Seminar Room 4, Victoria and Albert Museum
Practices of Engagement with Contested Heritage Collections: Past, Present and Future
In Conversation: Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes and Dan Hicks
A conversation between Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes (CNRS/Chef de projet, Labex Les Passés dans le present, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense) and Dan Hicks (Professor of Contemporary Archaeology, University of Oxford).
Part of the AHRC-funded conference Practices of Engagement with Contested Heritage Collections: Past, Present and Future.

12 December 2018
18.00-20.00, Sonderforschungsbereich, University of Tübingen
Die Vergangenheit als Resource: Beispiele aus postkolonialen Museumssammlungen und der zeitgenössischen Archäologie (Dan Hicks)
A research seminar for the ResourceCulturesDialogue Sonderforschungsbereich at the University of Tübingen

13 December 2018 
10.00-12.00, Sonderforschungsbereich, University of Tübingen
Round Table: Die Vergangenheit als Resource (Dan Hicks)
A round table for ResourceCulturesDialogue, discussing the theme of the lecture from the previous evening.

20 March 2019
18.00-20.00, Université libre de Bruxelles, Campus du Solbosch.
LANDE : la "Jungle" de Calais et au-delà. Une archéologie contemporaine de la “crise” des réfugiés.
A talk for the Séminaire d’archéologie du Centre de Recherches en Archéologie et Patrimoine (CREA)

29 March 2019
Private View and Opening Event for LANDE: the Calais “Jungle” and Beyond

30 April 2019
18:30-21:30, Technische Universität Berlin.
A Conversation with Kokunre Eghafona-Agbontaen and Felicity Bodenstein on African museum collections in post-colonial perspective.
A conversation for Translocations: historical enquiries into the displacement of cultural assets at Technische Universität, Berlin, with Prof Eghafona-Agbontaen (Associate Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Benin, Nigeria).

Monday, 5 November 2018

Three Fully-Funded Collaborative Doctoral Awards

Image: hand-written labels from the Pitt Rivers Museum
Three Fully-Funded Collaborative Doctoral Awards

With my colleagues Dr Sadie Watson, Dr Priyamvada Gopal and Dr Christo Kefalas, I am co-supervising three new collaborative AHRC-funded doctoral awards which will run from October 2019. These are operating through the new Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Programme. Two are based in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, and are partnerships with the National Trust and Museum of London Archaeology. They are both concerned with Archaeology and Photography - Counter-Memories: Photographs of Empire in Country House Collections and The Photological Past: contemporary archaeological photography as visual culture.

The third is based in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum. This is on the theme of Writing the Ethnological Museum

For students who meet AHRC residency requirements, the full award covers university fees plus a maintenance grant at the RCUK minimum doctoral stipend rate (currently £14,777 pa), adjusted on a pro-rata basis for part-time students. For students ordinarily resident in an EU country other than the UK, the award is fees-only.

The application deadline for the Cambridge Ph.D. is 3 January 2019 and the deadline for the two Oxford opportunities is 25 January 2019. You can see the full range of opportunities on the OOC programme website.

Counter-Memories: Photographs of Empire in Country House Collections
DPhil based in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford in collaboration with the National Trust.
Supervisory team: Professor Dan Hicks (Archaeology, Oxford) and Dr Christo Kefalas (Curator of World Cultures, National Trust)

Almost all National Trust country house properties have historic photographic collections. These photographs are usually associated with family members who lived at the houses. Among them are many images of the British Empire. Some albums relate to personal, family or business travel, while others derive from military or administrative service overseas. These colonial images range from the touristic to the anthropological, from leisure to expedition, and from exoticism to the domestic.  This project offers a unique opportunity to undertake a ‘visual archaeology’ of these virtually unstudied photographic collections. The aim of the research is to explore the relationships between empire, knowledge and regimes of photographic visuality in post-colonial perspective, through studies of historic photographs as zones of contact or conflict in the past and as ongoing legacies and aftershocks of colonialism in the present. 

Specific material that could be form the focus of the research ranges from well documented collections at Polesden Lacey in Surrey or Packwood House in Warwickshire to many other little-understood collections at other properties. The sheer richness and unstudied nature of the material means that most regions in which 19th- and 20th-century British imperialism operated could form the geographical focus of the research – from the Caribbean to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. This geographical focus will be agreed between the supervisors and the students before the research begins.  The project offers a unique opportunity for the geo-political dimensions of these neglected and provincial colonial archives to be explored, for example through the creation of new connections with places and descendant communities beyond the country house. 

Research themes developed by the research student around this material may include questions of ‘race’, class, gender, genre and representation, objectification and orientalism, visibility and silence, and knowledge and memory, ranging from what Marie-Louise Pratt called the ‘transculturation’ of ‘imperial eyes’ to the ongoing status of the colonial gaze of these visual pasts in contemporary, postcolonial Britain. Though the embedding of the studentship in the ongoing operation of National Trust properties, the ‘Counter-Memories’ project will foreground for the student the practical challenges of exploring unseen pasts through visual culture.  

Applicants will normally have an academic background in an Arts, Humanities or Social Science discipline such as Archaeology, Anthropology, Art History, Museum Studies, or History.

To apply for this opportunity: Apply through the standard route to read for a DPhil in Archaeology at the University of Oxford, for the 25 January 2019 deadline. You also need to upload the OOC DTP Supplementary Questions Form as an additional document when applying.

The Photological Past: contemporary archaeological photography as visual culture
DPhil based in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford in collaboration with Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA)
Supervisory team: Professor Dan Hicks (Oxford) and Dr Sadie Watson (MOLA).

This research will re-assess the status of the photographic image in the practice of archaeological fieldwork and documentation in the digital age. Studying the tens of thousands of photographs taken and archived by MOLA in the course of more than 40 years of professional practice on development projects from the City of London to national infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2, the research will apply approaches from the study of photography in the History of Art and Visual Anthropology to the study of historic archaeological photography and the reflexive study of archaeological fieldwork and the creation of archaeological knowledge of the human past. The subjects of photographs will range from excavations of prehistoric, Roman, medieval or modern sites to standing buildings, artefacts, or fieldwork in process.  The study of historical and changing contemporary practices, genres and norms of archaeological photography offers a unique opportunity to study the place of visual culture in the production of knowledge of the past. The research will address the idea of “photological knowledge” in relation to questions of time, archive, and objectivity – moving beyond longstanding literatures on the social construction of heritage in order to look at the visual enactment of the human past through the photography of archaeological deposits – soils, scales, artefacts, and so on.  The collaborative nature of the project will facilitate research that is genuinely embedded within field projects across the UK, from London’s Square Mile to rural landscapes. This will make possible a unique extended case study for observing and reflecting on photography as a practice in the field, and its afterlives both in the museum archive and both formally and informally across social media. Particular themes may include the different modes of ‘working shots’, technical field photography as ‘preservation by record’, and reportage or journalistic photography; tensions between fieldworkers’ photos and ‘professional’ photography; the changing presence of the human subject in the frame of archaeological photographs; new drone technologies creating new forms of aerial photography; and archaeological approaches to the sheer scale of the digital record, and its preservation. The researcher will have full access to the unique photographic archive of MOLA, as well as the ongoing production of photographic images in fieldwork through the organisation’s contemporary practice, and may also choose to study the use of archaeological imagery in museum displays and publications.

To apply: Apply through the standard route to read for a DPhil in Archaeology at the University of Oxford, for the 25 January 2019 deadline. You also need to upload the OOC DTP Supplementary Questions Form as an additional document when applying.

Writing the Ethnological Museum
Ph.D. based in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge in collaboration with the Pitt Rivers Museum
Supervisory team: Dr Priya Gopal (Cambridge) and Professor Dan Hicks (Pitt Rivers Museum)

This collaborative project uses the historic inscription practices of the Pitt Rivers Museum as a lens through which to study the history and ongoing legacies of the knowledge made through colonialism in the context of the ethnographic museum. Primary material includes all writing practices involved in the functioning of the anthropological museum as an institution from 1884 to the present day: from vocabularies of people and thing to museum labels as a genre, a narratology of annual reports and accession books, a close reading of the card index and database, and the study of the diversity of practices of writing on objects. The hands of particular curators and collectors and the re-writing of museum displays will be put into dialogue with a broader set of questions about the relationships between objectification through material culture and representation through text.  In a cross-disciplinary perspective that brings literary analysis into dialogue with linguistic anthropology through material culture, the research  will involve a literary study of language, writing and speech acts as imperial technologies of objectification in the academy in the past, and a consideration of the scope for rereading and revision today.  Case studies will be drawn from across the geographical, temporal and disciplinary scope of the Pitt Rivers, from Asia and Africa to the Americas and Oceania, with regional or thematic focuses developing from the student’s own interests.  

The research will be conducted at the intersection between a series of present themes in postcolonial literary and museum studies, including thinking about ‘voice’; the politics of representation/self-representation; technologies of writing; the making and unmaking of cultural, racial and gendered identities; archival silences and archival traces; reparative histories; the construction of narratives of self and other; the politics of the ‘contact zone’ and encounter and the question of ‘culture wars’; aesthetics and politics; the constitution and/or reframing of the archive; the politics of the particular and the universal; authority and authorship; narrative strategies and ‘narrativity’; (re)reading against the grain; and resistance, dialogics and rewriting.  

The contemporary politics of empire and colonialism and their ongoing legacies will be central to the project, but in supple ways which allow for considerations of resistance, reflexivity and reconstitution. It might be possible, for instance, to consider the ways in which texts can function as colonial disciplinary and governance mechanisms while examining the possibilities for radical rewriting and re-imagining in the wake of empire. 

A number of questions might govern a study:  
Can colonial documents/collections/practices be deployed towards new political claims or imaginings of community? 
What forms of ‘epistemic co-operation’ might be possible in the reconstitution of collections or archives? 
Can the collection(s) in question at all enable a revisioning of the relationship between the particular and the universal? 
How might the voices of resistance be found in the interstices or margins of colonial knowledge? 
Do the collections entrench epistemic scepticism or can they serve to provide reparative histories and knowledges? 
In the process of ‘objectification’, does the ‘subject’ disappear entirely? 

The student will have a background in literary studies, and a demonstrable interest in any aspect of postcolonial studies, archival studies, or anthropology. 

To apply for this opportunity: Apply through the standard route for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Cambridge, while also completing the OOC DTP Supplementary Questions Form and uploading it as an additional document when completing your application through the portal.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Museum of Capitalism: "Politics and Heritage" Seminar in Oxford

Image: Center for Tactical Magic/Museum of Capitalism, Magic(k) Wands, 2009
Museum of Capitalism: "Politics and Heritage" Seminar in Oxford

Politics And Heritage is a new termly seminar series convened by Dan Hicks (School of Archaeology and Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford) and Mike Rowlands (Anthropology, UCL). Beginning in November 2018, it will hold three seminars per year — once per term — alternating between London and Oxford. The seminars will explore the different ways in which anthropological and archaeological approaches to the material world can inform our understanding of the forms of politics that emerge around heritage.

The first seminar will take place from 2pm-4pm on Friday 23 November 2018, in the Lecture Room of St Cross College, Oxford. Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau from Oakland, California will speak on the topic of Capitalism as Artefact - exploring their Museum of Capitalism project, and its relationships with the political dimensions of contemporary archaeology, contemporary collecting, and the politics of museum display.

To attend, please sign up through Eventbrite (free):

And to keep up to date on future Politics And Heritage seminars, please join the email list for this blog here:

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Four forthcoming talks (Denmark, London, Paris)

Image: some members of the Torres Strait Expedition at Mabuiag, 1898, including William Halse Rivers Rivers (left), with (l-r) Seligman, Ray, Wilkin and (seated) Haddon). 
An update on some forthcoming lectures. I'm giving a series of talks this autumn, in Denmark, London and Paris. These include giving the 3rd Annual Moesgaard Lecture at Aarhus University which is about my current GCRF-funded project Architectures of Displacement, and a short talk at the British Museum on the occasion of my receipt of the Rivers Medal.
I'm then giving two lectures in Paris during my Visiting Professorship at the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac. I'm also giving four seminars at the Quai Branly, every Thursday during October, and curating a small exhibition in Paris in May 2018. More details are below.

Friday 8 September, 1pm-4pm
The 3rd Annual Moesgaard Lecture. An Archaeology of Impermanence: current work on the material culture of the European Refugee Crisis

Friday 15 September, 4pm
Rivers Memorial Medal - British Museum
I’ll be awarded the Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute , and giving a short acceptance talk, at the Annual General Meeting of the RAI before the Curl Lecture (which will be given by Dr Andrea Migliano) at the Clore Centre in the British Museum. The Medal is named after W.R.R. Rivers (see image above) and is awarded annually for "significant contributions" to Anthropology.

Saturday 21 October
Musée du Quai Branly, Paris
Rethinking 'Typology': General Pitt-Rivers and Ethnological Displays.
Presentation at the conference Ex-situ : faire vivre l’archéologie au musée et dans les expositions (Organised by Dominique Poulot (Paris 1), Felicity Bodenstein (Musée du Quai Branly), Delphine Morana Burlot (Paris 1))

Tuesday October 24, 4pm
University Paris-Nanterre
Excavating Anthropology: Towards a Comparative Archaeology of Ethnological Knowledge.
Weekly seminar of the Anthropology Department of the UniversityParis-Nanterre, in association with the Laboratoire d'Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative (Lesc-CNRS). 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Why the A303 is a Crucial Part of Stonehenge's Landscape

"Stonehenge has a traffic problem. But a £1.4 billion Bypass and Tunnel is not the solution. " This piece by me on Stonehenge is republished from The Conversation: you can read the original article here.

Stonehenge has a traffic problem. The A303 has been the UK government’s preferred trunk road from London to the West Country since 1958 – but it runs within 165 metres of the 5,000-year-old monument. Narrowing to a single carriageway, it slows many a summertime car journey. The bottleneck brings noise and pollution, and presents a barrier to exploring the landscape on foot.
On January 12, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced plans for a Stonehenge Bypass, transforming the A303 into an “Expressway to the South West”. It involves building a dual carriageway and tunnel across the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage Site. As Highways England launched a six-week public consultation on the plan, the estimated cost of £1.4 billion was heralded by Historic England as “the biggest single investment ever made by government in this country’s heritage”.
But the Stonehenge Bypass is absolutely not in the best interests of cultural heritage.

Map of Stonehenge World Heritage Site with route of the proposed bypass and tunnel. Highways England

Two old ideas

The Stonehenge tunnel is, in fact, an old idea. Proposed in the 1989 Roads for Prosperity government White Paper, which launched the last major programme of roadbuilding in England, over the subsequent three decades arguments over a variety of schemes have multiplied, at an estimated cost of £30m in consultants’ and lawyers’ fees.
This time around, the project is billed as in the best interests of cultural heritage. The existing road “spoils the setting of Stonehenge”, suggests Highways England. A new road would “improve our understanding and enjoyment of the Stonehenge monument,” chimes the joint National Trust and Historic England statement.

Another old idea is being revived hand-in-hand with the tunnel – heritage restoration. The focus is the stones, not their landscape. Stonehenge is reimagined as a Stone Age exhibit untouched by modernity. The A303 would be grassed over at the stones while a new road twice as wide is cut across the World Heritage Site, but tunnelled within the paying visitors’ view. The aesthetics of this “Stonehenge Restored” are determinedly Georgian. A stately monument within rolling lawns from which shuttles run along a new coaching-road between Bath and London. That carriageway hidden from the monument, so customers can stroll an “authentic” landscape of the past, never glimpsing the present.

A living monument

Why bury a road? The bypass plans turn back the clock to the kind of temporal connoisseurship widely dismissed since John Ruskin argued in 1849 that:
Neither by the public, nor by those who have the care of public monuments, is the true meaning of restoration understood. It means the most total destruction … a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed.
In Ruskin’s alternate vision of a “living monument”, the qualities of age-value and patina emerge through layers built up and eroded through human life and the passage of time. In the 1870s, this became the logic of William Morris’s “Anti-Scrape” movement – the world’s first heritage campaign. Ruskin and Morris understood that erasing later features to restore traces of some imagined original period leads not just to Georgian follies, but to downright misrepresentation.
The 21st-century “scraping” of Stonehenge would conjure the illusion of an unchanging Neolithic relic. But the monument has been a centre of gravity attracting human activity throug five millennia. The mosaic of henges, cursuses, round barrows, inhumations, settlements, enclosures, field systems – and even buildings and roads – represents an ongoing sequence of movement, building, living, and deposition. It’s the prime example of what WG Hoskins famously described as the “palimpsest” of the English landscape, a layered document repeatedly written over.

Approach to Stonehenge in 1930, from the east: A303 running to the left, A344 (closed 2013) to the right. National Archives

This story encompasses the A303’s own history: laid out in the early 1800s as the “New Direct Road”, a coaching route from London to Exeter. It was less used from the 1840s with the railway boom, then became a major road from 1933, being defined as a trunk road by the Ministry of Transport in 1958. Stonehenge is not a site or an artefact, but an ever-changing landscape.
Driving west on the A303 today, we glimpse the monument. This modern view is endangered. Since the 1960s, archaeology’s Rescue Movement has defended our past against the threat of destruction from the present day. Today, it is Stonehenge’s modernity that is under threat from a narrow vision of the past.
Hiding the road from the stones would hide the stones from the public. Some 1.3m people will pass through the Stonehenge giftshop this year, but perhaps ten times that number will witness the monument from a passing vehicle. Those thrilling, often unexpected views may not be celebrated among the iconic experiences of global prehistory, but they are surely among the most democratic. Through these encounters, Stonehenge lives on as a public space. Year by year since the 1980s, public access to Stonehenge has been gradually restricted. This bypass would deal another blow to any chance of seeing the monument without paying the £15.50 entrance fee.

‘Stonehenge under threat’: the iconic image of the 1970s Rescue movement. © Rescue, The British Archaeological Trust.

Save the A303!

“Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires,” wrote visionary archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes in 1967. What do we desire for Stonehenge today?
For some, the tunnel is the best compromise. New excavations would add to our understanding of the landscape (and bring jobs for archaeologists). Others call for a longer tunnel. And some dismiss the project as a destructive “time-bomb”. After all, with sliproads and dual carriageways, the project could result in a net increase in road surface within the World Heritage Site.
One promising idea is to make the A303 one-way westbound, building an alternative route for eastbound traffic away from the monument – cutting traffic at Stonehenge in half while saving millions. In preserving the A303, that solution reminds us of the ongoing lives of our ancient monuments in the modern world.
Stonehenge’s value lies not just in its prehistory, but also in its modernity. Today, the A303 is a crucial part of the monument’s setting. Yes, we must reduce the traffic. But why hide the stones from the world?

Dan Hicks, Associate Professor and Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum and School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Here's why you should care about the scrapping of A-level anthropology

Image: Watercolour painting of a Haida painted wooden mask. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford 2014.89.1a

I published this article about A Level Anthropology this week in The Conversation. The opening paragraphs are below.

Here's why you should care about the scrapping of A-level anthropology

With the refugee crisis, Brexit, and the rise of populist extremism, we must defend the teaching of anthropology. And in doing so, we might expand and rethink our understanding of "the humanities".

At first the voices were predictable. With art history and archaeology announced as the latest A-levels set to be scrapped, TV presenter Tony Robinson condemned this “barbaric act”. The Council for British Archaeology warned of a national shortage of archaeologists. And sculptor Anish Kapoor complained that “the humanities are under assault”.

Of course the old accusations that art history serves only a cultural elite were trotted out by the Guardian. But gradually more unexpected responses developed – and questions of equality, culture, and creativity were raised.

I teach three subjects to undergraduates at Oxford University: archaeology, art history and anthropology. And all three – along with classics and statistics – face the axe from the A-level syllabus as part of exam board AQA‘s latest reshuffle.

But as a petition to Save A-level archaeology approaches 15,000 signatures, and the 38 Degrees petition for art history reaches almost 20,000, given that the decision to axe anthropology was taken well over a year ago, there has been no comparable outcry at the potential loss of anthropology.

The reasons for the silence are complex....  Continue reading the full article at The Conversation.

Friday, 21 October 2016

On the Treatment of Dead Enemies (Public Lecture in Glasgow, 1 November)

Image: A large-format drawing on paper of "Anthropologist Edward H. Man with two Nicobar Islanders", made by Alfred Robinson for lectures by E.B. Tylor in the Pitt Rivers Museum, c.1885-1890  (Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum; Accession Number 1944.1.34)
I'm looking forward to giving this public lecture and masterclass on Tuesday 1 November in Glasgow. It's for for a newly-formed graduate programme for material culture research titled Collections: an Enlightenment Pedagogy for the 21st Century, which is led by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanties at the University of Glasgow, in partnership with the Hunterian Museum and the Leverhulme Trust.

Full details are below. The lecture is in the Kelvin Hall Lecture Cinema, and the event is from 5pm to 7pm. You can sign up for the event, which is free on the eventbrite page here.

Here's the lecture outline from SGSAH: 

On the Treatment of Dead Enemies
Dan Hicks, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford
What do the objects in ethnographic museums tell us about anthropological knowledge? The discipline of Anthropology gradually from the 1920s, turned its back on practices of collecting and exhibition in favour of the production of field notes and monographs. From the 1970s, in the wake of the civil rights movement and the emergence of post-colonial studies, ethnographic museums were the most visible public sites in which the loss of authority of an anthropological voice was made clear.
Today, ethnographic museums across Europe are experiencing a renaissance in public interest, but generally remain disconnected from current anthropological thinking and knowledge, perceived as museums of museums, mere relics of empire.
Beginning with the famous case in the Court of the Pitt Rivers Museum, titled "On the Treatment of Dead Enemies", this talk takes stock not just of what Anthropology left behind in the process of leaving the museum and material culture behind, but what it carried with it in terms of practices and attitudes in fieldwork and knowledge.
Considering the changing place of anthropological material culture studies in interdisciplinary studies of materiality, the paper will reassess the significance of the collections of ethnographic museums today in the context firstly of calls for the decolonization of the academy, and secondly of the challenges and importance of understanding other ways of living and of thinking for European society today.
Dan Hicks FSA, MCIfA is Associate Professor and Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum and School of Archaeology, University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. Dan teaches Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at Oxford, and has published widely on Museums, Heritage, Material Culture, and the Archaeology of the Modern and Contemporary World. His books include The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (2010, edited with Mary Beaudry) and World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum (2013, edited with Alice Stevenson). Dan is the University of Oxford's Junior Proctor Elect for 2017-18. Dan's current research activities include a programme of research into the archaeological activities of General Pitt-Rivers (funded by Arts Council England and ESRC), and a cross-disciplinary study of the temporary architecture of the refugee crisis in Europe (funded by a £300,000 grant from AHRC and ESRC, in partnership with the Refugee Studies Centre, from November 2016). You can follow Dan on Twitter: @ProfDanHicks and you can read much of his writing at

Monday, 5 September 2016

Review of Patina by Shannon Lee Dawdy

Cover of Patina: a profane archaeology (Chicago 2016)
My review of Shannon Lee Dawdy's new book Patina (Chicago 2016) is forthcoming in Sculpture Journal. The first paragraphs of the review are below - and you can download the full review on my page

Shannon Lee Dawdy, Patina: A Profane Archaeology. Chicago, Chicago University Press, 2016, xv+195pp, 24 b&w illustrations, $82.50, ISBN 9780226351056.

The path, the intensity, and the human impact of a tropical cyclone are, like a change in the intellectual climate of a discipline, notoriously difficult to forecast. Shannon Lee Dawdy’s storming new book is about a hurricane from the near past. But at a moment when so much archaeological thinking is dead in the water, it is a straw in the wind suggesting that the new, vital, cross-disciplinary contributions that have started to condense in one disciplinary subfield – Contemporary Archaeology – are reaching a new velocity.

Patina presents an archaeological account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where canal levees and floodwalls were catastrophically breached on 29 August 2005. Dawdy puts her knowledge gained through a longstanding involvement in the historical archaeology of the city to new uses, documenting and reflecting upon the shock of this natural disaster for its cultural life. The rationale for using archaeology to study the modern and contemporary world is made clear at the outset: the processes of “weathering” that one would find at an ancient site occurred here too, but unfolding over days and weeks rather than centuries and millennia. 

The hurricane ‘ruptured’ time. ‘Now,’ one resident explained, ‘everything’s before and after Katrina’ (p.18). Amid the devastation, people complained of ‘Katrina brain’, renamed their transformed city ‘K-ville’ – and described the physical traces of the storm as ‘Katrina patina’. Katrina’s contemporary stratum, formed through the action of floodwater and mould, was found everywhere: on buildings, on possessions, on the human body, and even on museum objects recovered from the floods. But as Dawdy’s book deftly shows, this vernacular conception of patina offers a smudged lens through which to understand human attitudes to change, loss, culture, endurance and time.

"A Post-Katina house" from Dawdy 2016, p. 3
Across six highly readable chapters, a rich variety of human stories reveal Dawdy’s main argument: New Orleans has been a kind of ‘antique city’ since its foundation in 1718, with a longstanding vernacular ‘fixation on old things’. Katrina’s was thus only the most recent of many layered patinas with which its citizens have lived. Dawdy subjects patina – that much neglected notion that lies somewhere between verdigrised decay, aesthetic desuetude and applied distress – to a new, ambitious and innovative theoretical treatment.

A gloriously light and superficial layering of keywords from the history of Anthropology and Cultural Studies provides patina with a new sheen of its own. We move at speed from Durkheimian mana to the Freudian fetish; Ruskin’s Lamp of Memory to Proust’s mémoire involontaire; Levi-Strauss’ sociétés à maison to Foucault’s heterotopia; Rosaldo’s Imperialist Nostalgia to Said’s Orientalism; Munn’s use of the Peircian qualisign to Nora’s milieux de memoire; and so on. The book also relies on key concepts developed by some of the leading thinkers in Contemporary Archaeology, including Cornelius Holtorf’s notion of ‘pastness’; Alfredo González-Ruibal’s account of ‘heterotemporality’; and Laurie Wilkie’s transgressive archaeological analysis of the beads thrown at Mardi Gras (Strung Out on Archaeology; Routledge 2016).

What emerges is a fragmentary Benjaminian archaeology of ‘profane illuminations’, lit up by flashes of past in the present in which ‘patina is aura made curiously concrete’ (p. 11). The book’s quasi-ethnographic and anecdotal descriptions of historic preservation, ghost stories, heirlooms and antique collecting elegantly describe the everyday practices of living with the past in New Orleans, from which three main conclusions about the use and effects of patina are drawn.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Two talks on the Future of Ethnographic Museums, Past and Present

Image: "Totem Pole from Masset Village, Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia (Pitt Rivers Museum)" Frontispiece to Man volume 2 (1902) to accompany E.B. Tylor's paper "Note on the Haida Totem-Post Lately Erected in the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford" Man 2: 1-3

I'm speaking at two conferences on the theme of ethnographic museums in late September/early October. First, on 29-30 September I'll be in Paris among a range of international speakers at the colloquium UN MUSÉE À IMAGINER: Le musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac 10 ans après. Un musée à imaginer, reflecting on the first decade of Paris' ethnographic museum the musée du quai Branly.

The organisers' overview of the meeting is as follows:
What was the project of the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac? How was it implemented, and how has it evolved? How does it affect museum conceptions in other parts of the world, and how has it changed conservation and research practices? 
This international conference looks back at the museum’s history since its opening, focusing especially on the issues it has faced during this period. It will examine the museum’s exhibition policy, the place of research and its connection with the museum’s collections, the methods and stakes of its relationship with audiences, and finally, the challenges presented by the evolution of relationships between museum institutions and the communities from which the objects originate. 
The conference is not intended as an overview of the museum’s legacy, and even less as a pretext for self-celebration. Instead, it looks at the museum’s place in a landscape of art and anthropology museums which has undergone deep transformation in the last fifteen years. 
The contributors will attempt to identify the role played by the musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac as an object of reflection and criticism for institutions around it. Without claiming to cover everything, this conference will bring together major witnesses of the museum’s genesis and construction, people who work in its different sectors, researchers and observers from here and further afield, and representatives of the audiences and communities concerned by the museum and its collections. 
Rather than a string of speeches, the conference sessions will take the form of either round tables or discussions between two or three speakers, reacting to questions from informed facilitators and the audience. Its ultimate aim is to consider and imagine the museum of tomorrow.
The speakers in Paris include Anita Herle, Nick Thomas, Philippe Descola, Wayne Modest, Maurice Godelier, Gaye Sculthorpe, Hamady Bocoum, Boris Wastiau, and James Clifford, as well as a wide range of leading scholars and curators from the Quai Branly itself. The full programme for the meeting is online here.

Then on Thursday 6 October I'm speaking in London at the Science Museum at the 2016 Museum Ideas Conference, in a programme that also includes JiaJia Fei (Jewish Museum, NYC); Ken Arnold, (Medical Museion, Copenhagen); Onur Karaoglu (Museum of Innocence, Istanbul); Shyam Oberoi (Dallas Museum of Art); and Gravity Goldberg (Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco). 

The conference is on the theme of The Future of Museums in the Era of Participatory Culture, and I'll be speaking about some aspects of the paper that was just re-published in Museums ID magazine: Pitt Rivers AD 2065: The Future of Museums, Past and Present

Friday, 26 February 2016

Two forthcoming seminars in Sweden

"Irish Bill-hooks"from Pitt-Rivers' publication of excavations at Mount Caburn, 1881
I'll be giving two departmental seminars in Sweden, at Uppsala and Stockholm, this April. The outline for the paper I'll be giving - which is about using Victorian archaeological thinking to develop a new theory of the archaeological present - is below, along with the details of the times and locations:

Tuesday 19 April. The Typological Method: Mimesis and Prophecy from Stockholm to Wiltshire. Departmental seminar, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University

Wednesday 20 April. The Typological Method: Mimesis and Prophecy from Stockholm to Wiltshire. Departmental seminar, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University

The Typological Method: Mimesis and Prophecy from Stockholm to Wiltshire (Dan Hicks)

This paper puts 19th-century archaeological thinking about time and change into conversation with current questions about how we think about time in historical and contemporary archaeology. It begins with considering Pitt-Rivers' contention, in his classic statement on "the evolution of culture", that "there is nothing but unbroken continuity to be seen in the present and in the past" (Lane Fox 1875). Re-visiting Pitt-Rivers' 1891 lecture "Typological Museums", the paper aims to trace an unexplored and unexpected dimension of the Begriffsgeschichte of the development of the idea of "typology" in archaeology, and its significance today.

The conventional account is well known, running from Hildebrand (1873) and Montelius (1903) forwards, via Flinders Petrie to the linear historiographies of typological seriation that were relied upon first as data by the culture-historical archaeology, and then as theory by the social evolutionary archaeology. Taking a different path, this paper moves sideways and backwards from Pitt-Rivers' vision of the educational museum "in which the visitors may instruct themselves", in contrast with "a museum of reference",  "of research", for "savants", of which the British Museum, little more than a "large store of antiquities", was his preferred example. In this other kind of museum, where "casts, reproductions, and models are preferable", and where sequences are displayed sometimes where "there is actual evidence of the dates" but mostly by series created from type, Pitt-Rivers vision of archaeological typology can be retraced as a distinctive form of mimetic practice, of temporal thinking and of archaeological interpretation and exegesis.

Travelling from numismatics, to Evangelical figuralism, to the idea of ethnographic analogy, to the idea of morphological type in comparative philology and the anthropology of race, unexpected parallels emerge: between the Oxford Movement and Oxford's Museums, Pre-Raphaelitism and Lubbock's Pre-Historic Times, between geological time-consciousness and Victorian self-consciousness,  between Kitto’s Pictorial Bible and Shelley's Hellas, and even between "object lessons" and biblical prophecy,

In Stockholm, we may possibly be right to suggest that in 19th-century archaeology ‘typology was the archaeological equivalent of evolution’ (Lucas 2001: 80). But in Wiltshire things were more involved. In Pitt-Rivers' practical commitment (following Max Müller) to relocating the study of human culture and "the arts of life" within the field of science (alongside "the works of God") rather than history (which studies only "the works of man"), a distinctive theory of archaeological time emerged. The paper argues that there was another dimension to the typological method within "the evolution of culture" - one concerned with mimesis, with prophecy, and with "Object Lessons".

Building on a line of argument developed by Laurent Olivier (2011), the fragments of this alternative past of the idea of typology represent today fragments with which we might reconstitute aspects of a  Victorian theory of the archaeological present. This theory was concerned with survival, with reflection, with secular knowledge of the non-biblical past, and it imagined archaeology to be a prefigurative technique, grounded in the conceit of "unbroken continuity" through which "The coming age is shadowed on the Past / As on a glass". 

The paper concludes by considering what all this might mean for how we think about Contemporary Archaeology - and how we do it.

Hildebrand, H. 1873. Den vetenskapliga fornforskningen, hennes uppgift, behof och rätt. Stockholm.
Lane Fox, A.H. 1875. The Evolution of Culture. Journal of the Royal Institution 7: 357-389.
Lucas, G. 2001. Critical Approaches to Fieldwork. London: Routledge.
Montelius, O. 1903. Die typologische Methode. Stockholm : Im Selbstverlag des Verfassers.
Olivier, L. 2011. The Dark Abyss of Time (trans. A. Greenspan). Lanham: Altamira.
Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. Typological Museums, as exemplified by the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, and his provincial museum at Farnham, Dorset. Journal of the Society of Arts 40: 115-122.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Contemporary Past Revisited: A Conversation between Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas

The Contemporary Past Revisited: A Conversation between Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas

Tuesday 3 November, 2pm-4.30pm
Lecture Room, Pitt Rivers Museum

On Tuesday 3 November, we'll be hosting a conversation between two leading archaeological thinkers, Professor Gavin Lucas (University of Iceland) and Professor Victor Buchli (UCL). 

Chaired by Dan Hicks, the conversation will revisit Victor and Gavin's seminal edited volume Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (Routledge 2001), before tracing the overlapping and distinct lines of thought that have developed in their work over the past 15 years. 

The conversation will explore Gavin's books The Archaeology of Time (2004) and Understanding the Archaeological Record (2012), alongside Victor's works An Anthropology of Architecture (2013) and most recently An Archaeology of the Immaterial (2015).

Spaces are limited, but if you're interested in attending, please email

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Temporality of the Landscape Revisited in Gothenburg

Trench locations for A435 road scheme in Warwickshire, Spring 1993
The Temporality of the Landscape Revisited in Gothenburg

I'll be giving a seminar in the Department of Historical Studies at Gothenburg University on Friday 16 November, from 13.15 to 15.00 (Hall C.402). The title for the seminar is The Temporality of the Landscape Revisited. Drawing on a programme of archival research into late 20th-century rescue archaeology in southern England, the paper will revisit and reassess Tim Ingold's 1993 paper The Temporality of the Landscape from the perspective of landscape archaeology as seen through the museum collection, exploring the potential for new forms of documentary archaeology. Further details are available from Christian Isendahl.

Update: you can now read the full published paper based on this talk, with responses by Tim Ingold, Matt Edgeworth, and Laurent Olivier, in Norwegian Archaeological Review or on my page here