This Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Monograph derives from a conference held in 2008 at Leicester University with the aim of stopping what the editors describe as the disturbing and potentially harmful fragmentation of post-Medieval archaeology into factions.
The ecumenical mission of the conference was to remind everyone that the strength of post-Medieval archaeology derives from its broad-church appeal, uniting academics, field archaeologists, amateurs, specialists and generalists. The resemblances to an Anglican synod are never far away in references to ‘schism’, ‘big tents’, ‘celebrating differences’ and achieving ‘unity in diversity’.
All 30 papers are at pains to address this issue of unity. Ranging from big picture studies of global trends (capitalism, colonialism and class formation) to detailed studies of individual human lives (excavation of the late 17th-century Hagg Cottages, Alderley Edge, and interviews with people who lived in the cottages prior to their demolition in the 1950s), the common thread is an explicit attempt to explain what each study contributes to the big debates in post-1550 archaeology, characterising and explaining the Industrial Revolution and the evolution of post-Medieval towns and countryside, for example.
Putting them together in one volume enables cross currents and connections to be perceived, and reminds us of the benefits of working together and learning from each other, rather than talking only to ‘like-minded’ individuals; but one is left wondering why then have a ‘post-Medieval’ archaeology at all? Is not 1550 as arbitrary a concept as the division between history and prehistory? In fact, the editors are one step ahead on this point and acknowledge that this is not just arbitrary, it is also ‘a legacy of a post-colonial mindset’, because it is based on the concept of cultural change being driven by cultural contact between Western civilisation and ‘primitive’ indigenous peoples.
What matters, they conclude, is not silos, boundaries and precise dates, but ‘archaeological narratives that are well grounded in thorough analysis yet contextualised on a broad enough level to ensure that the relevance of the work is apparent’.