Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dumbarton Oaks and Surface Surveys

During the Q&A following my paper at the Dumbarton Oaks Spring symposium, I showed a map of the Peloponnese outlining the location of 16 archaeological surveys that have taken place between the pioneering 1968 Minnesota Messenia Expedition and the present. I also made a comment that, interestingly enough, Dumbarton Oaks had not financially supported any of these projects. As I might have anticipated, my comment solicited some further discussion at the conference and over email. Below, I have compiled some of my thoughts and clarifications on the subject, namely the lack of Dumbarton Oaks' interest in archaeological surface surveys in the late 20th century. I hope these observation will not be seen as confrontational but as the opening up of a larger discussion. The map comes from my dissertation, "Monuments of Rural Archaeology: Medieval Settlements in the Northwestern Peloponnese" (2003), p. 467, fig. 69.

In the last few years, I have been researching the history of Byzantine archaeology, exploring the wonderful personal friendships and motivations that bring scholars to the discipline. The research began with studies of Gabriel Millet, the American School of Classical Studies and Anastasios Orlandos
(in the DO paper) . With historiography in mind, I've been especially vigilant over the role that collections of individuals and corporate bodies have made in shaping the direction of the field. Dumbarton Oaks has of course been a major supporter of archaeological projects. But an institution's identity, I believe, can also be gauged by the kinds of projects it does not support just as much as by the projects it does support. And in this respect, Dumbarton Oaks has had a specific identity that ultimately reflects the intellectual horizons of its senior fellows. During the 1960s, archaeology experienced a theoretical revolution known as New Archaeology or Processual Archaeology, placing the discipline on its own methodological foundations and away from its traditional role as a "handmaiden" to text-based or art-based histories. This movement developed new principles, methods and field practices particularly in studying settlements and the landscape; these methods had began to be developed in North American archaeology during the 1930s. The discipline flourished in the Peloponnese with the pioneering Minnesota Messenia Expedition, known today as the grandfather of field surveys. My comment about DO's patronage referred to a map showing the location of the 16 regional surveys that have taken place in the Peloponnese since 1968. These were all "intensive" rather than "extensive" surveys, meaning that they started with an experimental hypothesis and collected data indiscriminately rather than seeking out known sites, monuments, or works of art. My comment, that Dumbarton Oaks had not financially supported any of them, is true.

DO's lack of interest for this kind of field project as opposed to all the other kinds of projects it has sponsored is historically interesting. The one way I can explain the omission has to do with the senior fellows who make the granting decisions. Most of them and especially the archaeologists, I believe, were never part of this tradition. The archaeologists had been trained in historical or art-historical traditions and, therefore, would have not been trained in archaeological theory post-1968 especially in North America. In my limited exposure to Dumbarton Oaks, I believe that some senior fellows were even explicitly hostile to this tradition and went out of their way to block it. I remember conversations with Angeliki Laiou, for example, giving me this distinct impression. In all her brilliance, Dr. Laiou had some archaeological blinders. My experience as co-director of the Morea Project has also been negative. The repeated rejection of DO support over the course of a decade seemed too consistent to be accidental; I never saw this as personal, but rather as disciplinary. Another important situation to consider is national scholarships. New Archaeology was an Anglo-American development. If you belong in a French, German, or Greek intellectual tradition, you might have missed surveys altogether. To this day, survey archaeology is an Anglo-American specialty, rarely practiced by continental archaeologists unless connected to Anglo-American mentors (e.g. medieval archaeology in Italy, Holland, etc). I remember being amused in the 2005 DO symposium, where Johannes Koder applied central-place theory, a concept so foundational in survey archaeology. David Clarke's 1968 "Analytical Archaeology" made central-place theory part of every American undergraduate textbook. But unless you were an American undergraduate in archaeology or anthropology (not in art history), you might have not even heard of it. Exposure to archaeological discourse varies even in the United States. None of my friends with PhDs from the NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, for example, have had the slightest exposure to it (despite grand projects like Aphrodisias); same goes for Princeton or Harvard, in contrast to UPenn, Brown (as of recently), Michigan, UT Austin, Ohio State, or Stanford.

I have great respect for all the projects that Dumbarton Oaks has financed and even greater respect for its directors and personnel. As the surface surveys of the 1970s-1990s are now finally getting published, however, it has become impossible to ignore this tradition. Hence it is unacceptable to do settlement archaeology, rural archaeology, or landscape archaeology without it. And I've been critical of projects and publications on settlement archaeology that ignore it. Producing architectural drawings for buildings may also be called survey, but it's an 18th-century method quite different from what we mean by archaeological survey today.

Thank you for enduring through this long elaboration explaining my comment on DO's lack of support for the great surveys of the Peloponnesian countryside through the 60s-90s. The state of archaeology is something very dear to me and a topic that I discuss at every opportunity. I feel passionate about promoting medieval and post-medieval archaeology because it has finally reached a moment of maturity, even self-sufficiency. Every year, during the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meetings, a Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology group meets and discusses the state of the field. Our goal is to create an intellectual forum, share data, sponsor colloquia and generally promote the field. The meetings are well attended (about 20 people every year) and the discussion often takes stock of where the discipline stands. We have always respected DO's contribution to archaeological research, but the consensus among American archaeologists working in Greece right now seems uniform: DO seems to be tied down by a very art-historical definition of archaeology and has missed the excitement of New Archaeology over the last half century. In that sense, I felt that my reading of DO's relationship to surface surveys is not entirely idiosyncratic but reflects a more general opinion. This of course is already a backward looking observation. The situation at DO at this moment might be entirely different. The inclusion of three survey archaeologists in last week's symposium painted a completely different picture, different even from the 2005 symposium on Anatolian settlement archaeology (that was organized by text historians). I am very optimistic about the future.

Actually, this is an interesting time for survey archaeology in general because the age of large regional projects has almost eclipsed. The grand surface surveys that boomed in the 1980s and 1990s are simply not possible anymore. The generation of pioneers, like Tim Gregory (in the Korinthia), John Bintliff (in Boeotia), Jack Davis (in Messenia; now dir. of the American School in Athens) and others, are now close to retirement age. Their projects required large groups of student personnel; field walking is labor intensive and requires large data sets (in order for the analysis to be statistically meaningful). Both the financial resources and the student interest are waning. The younger, or second, generation also lacks the heroic fervor of the first generation, who invented the discipline out of scratch. As products of the 1960s, the first generation was very utopian about the power of their methodology. Many were attacking 19th-century traditions entrenched in classical archaeology and they brought a little bit of the renegade flair. Processualism, moroever, has waned under the critics of Post-Processualism.

Most of the large survey projects in Greece are now finished. Smaller projects are trying to carry on the tradition with more limited goals. Another interesting issue has to do with the material (mostly pottery) that was collected in the first generation of surveys. It survives in bags, in basements of archaeological services; the material has now accumulated its own age, some of it has been moved, the plastic bags have began to deteriorate, tags are starting to disappear, etc. Since much of the material may need to be reconsidered (or published for the first time), there is the difficult question of reconstructing its meaning. I know Archie Dunn is dealing with this issue in Thisvi -- and thanks for pointing out that Archie has indeed received support from DO. Tim Gregory had surveyed the territory in the 1970s (I believe) but the material was not published. So it's being revisited and revamped. The new method has become old.

This is probably more than anyone wanted to know about surface surveys. I should have pointed out an additional reason why surveys may have escaped DO's immediate radar. Given their undiscriminating collection principles, surface surveys are diachronic. By covering prehistoric to modern periods, the projects were not explicitly conceived under the umbrella of Byzantine Studies. For a quick taste of the diachronic scope, I recommend "Beyond the Acropolis: A Rural Greek Past" by Van Andel and Runnels (1996), a very accessible book by the Stanford Argolid Survey. And as publications move into the 2000s, the Byzantine/Frankish/Ottoman material becomes ever more focused. Ioanita Vroom's dissertation on the pottery from the Boeotia Survey is as good as it gets ("After Antiquity," Leiden, 2003). One interesting side-effect of the diachronic focus is that prehistorians and Byzantinists got to know each other and discovered that they were equally marginalized by antiquity in the middle. So they teamed up and ganged up against the classicists.

In making a comment about the 16 Peloponnesian surveys, I did not seek to express any personal animosity towards Dumbarton Oaks, or perpetuate any battles from the previous generation. I felt it was a matter of fact that needed to be ever-so-slightly underscored. Dumbarton Oaks has single-handedly created a discipline of rural studies and a focus on every day life. We would be nowhere without it. This great accomplishment has been carried out through the careful study of primary texts, works of art and monumental architecture. Somehow, the discipline of survey archaeology, however, has slipped through the cracks. Perhaps the fault lies on us, its practitioners, for not making the data more accessible to scholars in other disciplines. Perhaps DO's art collection has aligned the institution philosophical closer to museums like the Getty or the Metropolitan and further away from contemporary archaeological theory and ethics. DO must come to terms, for example, with holdings of problematic provencance (such as the Sion Treasure from Turkey and other controversial Meso-American artifacts). I don't really know. And by no means can I claim any familiarity with the institution; I'm only an outside viewer looking in and mostly someone who enjoys trying to make sense of the recent past and scholarly

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Kostis Kourelis

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