Archaeologies that hurt; descendants that matter: A pragmatic approach to collaboration in the public interpretation of African-American archaeology

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Citation: McDavid, Carol Archaeologies that hurt; descendants that matter: A pragmatic approach to collaboration in the public interpretation of African-American archaeology. World archaeology 34.2 (2002): 303-314 (RSS)




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Summary:

McDavid examines an archaeological project about 18th sugar plantation in Brazoria, Texas based on pragmatic philosophical framework, and discusses how effective this approach brings new way to access and interpret archeological data. Some ideas of pragmatism influence the way archeologists interpret human’s past, for example, ideas of anti-essentialist, plural point of view about truth, and contingency of historically and socially constructed categories. In archaeology, human interaction was treated as historically contingent and pluralistic conversation. In addition, this approach believes there is no singular truth or explanation and encourages the public to express their voices.

In this paper, oral history and folklore were also thought as other ways of understanding the past. McDavid and his collaborators create a website for the public presentation of archeological research, including African-American, European American descendant and other community members. They viewed this website as a contingent and historically constructed conversation instead of presentation by archaeologists. There are four elements which serve as structuring principles for the website, including reflexive, interactive, multivocal, and contextual. Reflexive means we should be aware of the ideologies behinds assumptions we made and be critical for these assumptions. Moreover, we should recognize that archaeology depends on history, ethnography, and continuities and conflicts between past and present, which indicates different contexts involve in archaeology. For the people who does not use computer, they conducted oral history interviews. McDavid thinks himself as collaborators rather than authorities and he asks for permission to put public information before they put on the website to show respect for the descendents.

Finally, he evaluates this project by examining qualitative and quantitative data gathered from website, questionnaires, and automated software. The results show that the website is successful to be an open platform; however, it is not useful to create a space for democratic communication because seldom people questions the authority of archeologists and the public who were interested in this project are limited to certain kind of groups relevant to this project.