Michael Brian Schiffer. Archaeology’s Footprints in the Modern World. 397 pp., 38 b&w photos, notes, refs., index. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017. $26.95 (paper), $22 (eBook)
Does archaeology matter? Scholars at various levels of the academic ladder have grappled with the need to explain the significance of their research to non-academics. Among one another, scholars can certainly explain the intellectual merit of their work. However, in the US, archaeologists have increasingly come under public scrutiny for an apparent lack of relevance in contemporary society. Parents ask, why pay thousands of dollars for their kids to shovel dirt? Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) targets archaeological projects as scapegoats for apparent bad spending by the National Science Foundation. The random stranger asks “what is left to find?” Through forty-two succinct case studies, Schiffer examines how archaeological research has impacted a broader world. By mustering examples that span the history of archaeological inquiry, he argues that archaeologists have reshaped various aspects of contemporary societies and how people think about the past. Schiffer demonstrates that “[a]rchaeology’s impact on modern societies reaches far beyond the media and college courses” (xv). He provides a “panorama” of archaeology’s unique footprints in the modern world (xv). In his words, “[f]rom the many case studies, I hope you will acquire a deeper understanding of what [archaeologists] do and why we do it and will come to appreciate that archaeology is as significant as it is cool” (xxiv).