Book Review: Introducing Postmodernism By Appignanesi and Garratt

Theory in any discipline can be extremely difficult to grasp.  Bring in postmodernism and many students are completely lost.  This book helped me understand the postmodernism movement when I was first introduced to historical and archaeological theory.  Appignanesi and Garratt answer such questions as, what on earth is false postmodernism?  Eclectic postmodernism?  The Anthropic Principle?  Introducing Postmodernism is a great companion to any theoretical textbook/compilation of works for an undergraduate theory class.  I found myself pulling out this book even for my graduate anthropology theory class.

Through cartoons and brief but concise explanations, the authors trace the complexities of the postmodernist movement in art, theory, science, and history.  Reading original texts by Derrida and Levi-Strauss can bring on massive headaches—this book, however, breaks down such authors’ concepts into something understandable.  After reading about major postmodernists and their thoughts brought to life via drawings, I was then able to tackle some of their writing.  Although, Derrida still has me scratching my head.

A Layered Cake: Cologne Cathedral

The city of Cologne, Germany has a long and interesting history.  When I visited the city, everywhere I looked there was some reminder of ancient and Medieval cultures.  Much of Cologne was destroyed during WWII, but an impressive amount remains.  And, nothing is quite so impressive in Cologne as the Kolner Dom/Cathedral.  Beyond being an excellent example of Gothic architecture, as well as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a beautiful building.  Construction began in 1248 to house the reliquary of the Three Kings (a giant golden box supposedly containing the bones of the Biblical Magi) but the cathedral remained incomplete until the 19th century.  Consequently, the Dom has a multilayered history from the ground-up.  The interior of the Dom is everything you could possibly want from a cathedral: beautiful stained glass windows, mosaics, murals, ornate altars, etc.  After exploring every inch of the nave, you can actually hike up one of the towers and lookout on the city (I can’t imagine doing that climb more than once).

Around and underneath the Dom are Roman ruins of various sizes, from a random wall or arch to larger architectural remains.  Just meander over to the parking garage near the Dom and you’ll find a lovely bit of Roman ruins.  Within the Cathedral Treasury, which houses an amazing assortment of ecclesiastical robes and jewels, you can also view the grave goods of two Frankish burials of a woman and a boy.  Ah, a structure to fulfill every need of a history/archaeology nerd.

To learn more:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292

Moon House Ruins, Bears Ears National Monument

This well-preserved cliff dwelling, located on Cedar Mesa within Bears Ears National Monument, was built by the Ancestral Puebloans sometime between 1150 and 1300 AD.  The pictographs and painted walls are what draw visitors to this beautiful site.  I was able to photograph the interior of Moon House, but the lighting was too poor to capture the pictographs.  I highly recommend hiking this area and exploring the archaeological sites.  As ever, be respectful of the site: do not touch the rock art, do not sit on or lean against the cliff dwelling walls, do not take any artifacts, etc.  This fragile site is just another example of why this area deserves the preservation and protection that can be provided under a national monument.

General Information/How to Get a Permit:

https://www.blm.gov/visit/kane-gulch-ranger-station

Women in Archaeology Podcast: History of Badass Women in Archaeology, Part II (Episode 46)

You can listen to the podcast on the Archaeology Podcast Network (Click Here), or download the episode on iTunes.

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On this episode, the hosts return to one of their favorite topics – the amazing women who have helped make archaeology the field it is. We’ll talk about some of our personal heroes, women who definitely don’t get enough credit, and how archaeological drawing is super hard and becoming somewhat of a lost art.

Check out the Women in Archaeology blog!

https://womeninarchaeology.wordpress.com/

Living History Museums, Part 1: An Introduction

My brother and I were exposed to history, museums, and living history museums early on in our childhood; it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise that I ended up as an archaeologist, and he, a Medieval history scholar.  I loved reading about the past and viewing artifacts of daily life.  My family often visited the Ohio Village, which is a reconstructed town presenting daily life during the Civil War.  As soon as I turned thirteen years old, I was old enough to volunteer at the Ohio Village alone—and I jumped at that opportunity.  I had a wonderful period costume, hoop skirt and bonnet included, and I would demonstrate different activities in a third-person interpretation, as well as provide information about all kinds of facts about the Civil War and how people lived through it.  When I got a little bit older, I was the school teacher, the village feminist, a pharmacist’s daughter, a German barrel maker’s grand-daughter, presenting in both the first and third person.  I loved it!  This love of educating the public about the past continued into college, where I studied the background research, interpretation type, archaeology, and historiography of three early American living history museums: Jamestown Settlement, St. Mary’s City, and Plimoth Plantation.  So, why living history museums?  What makes this museum format special?

Historical facts need a certain level of interpretation to be comprehensible in a modern context.  Outside of the archivist, archaeologist, and historian, there are few who venture into the archives or archaeological sites.  To reach a wider audience, these facts can be weaved into popular historical fiction novels or epic films.  There are historical documentaries about popular periods of history such as the Civil War or World War II.  Modern society receives much of its information via visual media, from the news to the History Channel.  Therefore, it makes sense that if historians and museum curators wanted to draw in the public they would try to present historical information that is accessible and participatory.  Unlike docudramas and documentaries, as well as history exhibits, visitors to living history museums must become part of the presentation of the past.  One cannot simply watch: there are various smells, demonstrations, with history talking back at the visitor at museums like Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg.  The visitor is experiencing heritage!

There is space at this type of museum for both the public and scholars to engage in the past.  For scholars, it can be a space for experimental archaeology and public outreach.  For the public, which is used to visual stimulation (i.e. television), a three-dimensional reconstruction of an archaeological site allows for greater interaction, and, consequently, a better understanding of the past; visitors tend to remember what they see and touch, rather than what they read.  Not only are living history museums interactive and informative, the public can also relate the present to the portrayed past.  Women today can note how women in Plimoth Plantation fit into the social hierarchy, realizing how far society has progressed and where there is still room for improvement.   So, what does every living history museum need to do get started? First, there must be a commitment to the Truth (yes, with a capital ‘T’) and a commitment to presenting that truth to the public.  There must also be a large reserve of resources, especially scholarly resources and well-trained interpreters, to re-create the environment of the settlement.  And, most of all, the museum must make sure that a compelling narrative is being told.

[Keep an eye out for ‘Living Museums, Part 2: A Brief History’]

Lovely Lorsch: The Abbey of Lorsch, Germany

My brother is a medievalist professor, which can be a dangerous thing if he spots his favorite Carolingian abbey while zipping along the autobahn in Germany.  He yelled, “LORSCH!” and swerved towards the exit—I gripped my seat in terror.  At least The Abbey of Lorsch and the town are absolutely lovely.  The Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most important pre-Romanesque-Carolingian style buildings in Germany.  The Abbey was founded in 764 AD and consecrated in 774 AD—Charlemagne was there! The library and scriptorium made Lorsch one of the cultural centers of Germany during the ninth century.  The entrance to the abbey (what you see in the photographs) is considered one of the best examples of Carolingian architecture.  It is a truly a beautifully preserved monument to the past.

Learn More:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/515

Textbook Review of ‘The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome’ by Chris Scarre

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If you need the entire history of the Roman Empire reduced into a nutshell, with fantastic maps and photographs of archaeological ruins and busts, then this is the book for you!  The history of Roman civilization is a huge topic to tackle, especially in the span of a semester.  As a Classics minor, I had a difficult time remembering the major dates, people, and places figuring from 800 BC to 540 AD, from the origins in Rome, to fall of the Western Empire.  The Atlas provides a visual depiction of the rise and fall of Rome.  I personally like being able to see a broad depiction in order to better understand the major themes of a civilization.  Scarre provides detailed maps of important places of expansion, as well as information on trade, literacy, and cultural life in different periods.  The timelines are excellent; the timeline is broken down into The Roman State, Building and Construction, Literature and Philosophy, and Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean.  This book, however, cannot stand alone since it is a broad overview.  It is a great companion to classical texts and textbooks on the Roman Empire.  It is also perfect for a quick overview before an exam.  For those simply interested the rise and fall of Rome, the Atlas provides a great overview with fantastic images.