Friday, 7 December 2018

Losing the 'Idea of archaeology': PAS Antiquitism as Scissors and Paste Archaeography [UPDATED}

In the UK, the PAS is supposed to be doing value-for-public-money archaeological outreach to the British public. What it does in its social media use is (gatekeeping other people's finds) concentrate largely on show-and-tell use of loose artefacts as illustrations of historiography, rather than as a contexted source in their own right. Here we have another egregious example:

The text: "An unusual George III shilling, issued by the South Sea Company 
(see initals on the reverse) and made c.1722 from silver they discovered
and shipped from Indonesia. The SSC is famous for South Sea Bubble 
economic  collapse and it's [sic] involvement in the 
This is scissors-and-paste artefactology and nothing else. I see a parallel with the discussion in his seminal The Idea of History (1946) by R.G. Collingwood of what constitutes historical evidence. He criticised “scissors and paste” historians. These are those who construct history merely by "excerpting and combining the testimonies of different authorities" (p. 251). Such historians are those who first “decide what we want to know about and then go in search of statements about it, oral or written, purporting to be made by actors in the events concerned” (p. 257). Collingwood then goes on to discuss the fact that historiographers who engage in this practice fail to ask why a particular statement was made at the time and take it as self evident that it relates to the historiographer’s own ideas. These historians are not seeing the context of the items they are using as evidence, merely picking those that fit preconceived ideas about the past. Furthermore, in order to facilitate fitting recorded words into a pre-existing scheme, the scissors-and-paste historiographer always wants more 'testimony' to bolster up the picture they want to paint (p. 279):
So, however much testimony he has, his zeal as an historian makes him want more. But if he has a large amount of testimony, it becomes so difficult to manipulate and work up into a convincing narrative that , speaking as a mere weak mortal, he wishes he had less [...]. The scissors-and-paste historian protects himself from seeing the truth about his own methods by carefully choosing subjects which he is able to ‘get away’ with [...]. The subjects must be those about which a certain amount of testimony is accessible, not too little and not too much; not so uniform as to give the historian nothing to do, not so divergent as to baffle his endeavours to do it. Practiced on these principles, history was at worst a parlour game, and at best an elegant accomplishment .
The FLO here is mimicking the coineys and duplicating their efforts. His 'archaeological' text differs in no substantive way from theirs. We don't need this.

Perhaps PAS might spend less time on parlour games and pandering and more time on a more substantive archaeological outreach.

UPDATE 8/12/2018
Instead of actually answering the point made about how he is using loose artefacts in social media outreach the PAS FLO merely tries an ad hominem:
...or 'archaeologist' with a processual 1970 mindset uses Culture History to accuse PAS/FLO of Antiquarianism....
First of all, he has failed to see the difference between antiquarianism and the term I used (and I do not know why it is capitalised in his non-reply), secondly I am totally at a loss to see where my blog post above 'uses Culture History' in any way or form. Thirdly, I would point out that in certain basic aspects, initiatives like the PAS database, like the CCI and others that it is based upon, are indeed reflections of the processual data-accumulation mindset and all that goes with. Note the scare quotes, obviously an archaeologist that questions the PAS and its consequences cannot be a 'real' archaeologist for this FLO.

The FLO in the end (past midnight it seems) thanked David Knell for his correction of "George III" to George I, allowing teh story he told to make more sense.


David Knell said...

However, I'm not surprised that Ben Westwood is excited about this find. He has discovered a "George III" shilling minted sixteen years before that king was even born!

It certainly proves that PAS finds can indeed revise our understanding of British history. When I was at school we still thought 1722 was during the reign of George I.

David Knell said...

It gets worse. Apparently, Des Murphy and Ben Westwood saw nothing strange in stating that the coin "was minted in Britain in 1723" while also stating that it was "issued [...] in the reign of George III, AD 1760-1820" on the same PAS page.

I have to wonder if some FLOs live in a Doctor Who time warp totally divorced from the reality other people live in. How can anyone take the PAS seriously if some of its members are intent on making it a laughing stock?

David Knell said...

Incidentally, the coin is clearly dated 1723 (as all coins of that issue are). It is conceivable that they were actually minted in 1722 but why not simply stick to the official date for a Twitter post?

Paul Barford said...

Ha! I was so annoyed at seeing another bit of PAS fluff that I did not notice the glaring error in the Feuding FLO's text. Anyhow the coiney I cited gets it right "Great Britain: silver "South Sea Company" shilling of George I, 1723", so Coiney 1: Arkie 0... The PAS database record does indeed also read George III, so that's more "fake news" on the PAS database. He's now teasing me with (misquoted) 1960s Foucault to try and deflect discussion away from the point I made about what archaeological outreach is and what is 'parlour games'.

David Knell said...

I was also somewhat bemused by such sloppiness.

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