William Carruthers

carruthers@ghil.ac.uk / German Historical Institute London

‘Artefacts of History’ by Sudeshna Guha

Sudeshna Guha, Artefacts of History: Archaeology, Historiography and Indian Pasts. xiii+273 pp., 15 illus., bibl., index. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2015. $59 (hardcover)

Sudeshna Guha has written a book that not only complicates the history, but also provides a searing critique, of the practices and historiography of archaeology and heritage in India. Artefacts of History is required (and perhaps uncomfortable) reading for anyone interested in that history, questions about the global circulation of knowledge, issues surrounding the role these practices have played in the making of the pre- and post-partition Indian nation-state, and the conduct and role of archaeology and heritage in ‘postcolonial’ countries more generally. Furthermore, Guha makes the reader rethink the history of Indian archaeology in ways that question the writing of that and other archaeological histories. Similar to the recent work of Christina Riggs on the history of Egyptology,[1] her volume also prompts renewed consideration of the role such histories might play in helping to constitute archaeological and heritage practice that actually interrogates the categories and taken-for-granteds upon which it relies.

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Entangled Tensions

The history of archaeology, as a field, has always seemed (to me) to be playing catch up with work in the history of anthropology.[1] Yet, reading the contributions to HAN’s “Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks” Special Focus Section suggests to me that the histories of archaeology and anthropology now operate on the same plane in terms of the tensions that drive their production. Anyone working on archaeology’s history should be willing to grapple with the many tensions inherent in acknowledging the field’s geopolitical entanglements in the same way as historians of anthropology. Indeed, these shared but distinct histories of knowledge production can be put to good analytical use. As their investigations are driven by similar—and often entangled—tensions, are bounded categories like ‘the history of archaeology’ or ‘the history of anthropology’ still useful?

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Special Focus: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

Read the full Focus Section here.