German Historical Institute London
Christina Bueno. The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico. 280pp., 23 illus., 3 maps, notes, bibl., index. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2016. $95 (cloth), $29.95 (paper), $29.95 (eBook)
Christina Bueno’s The Pursuit of Ruins provides an engaging and comprehensive account of the development of archaeology as a national, modernizing project in Porfirian (late nineteenth and early twentieth century) Mexico. The volume is well-researched, extremely readable, and resonates well with much of the scholarship on the history of archaeology that has emerged in recent years. I recommend it as an introduction not only to the history of archaeology and “the past” in Mexico, but also as a useful comparative work for scholarship on the history of archaeology elsewhere in the world, which often seems to ignore the discipline’s development outside of Euro-America, the Mediterranean, and South Asia. As Bueno notes, debate about whether Latin American countries “are postcolonial nations” is ongoing (8). The Pursuit of Ruins reveals the merits of a postcolonial perspective in the Mexican case.
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, 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.
The history of archaeology, as a field, has always seemed (to me) to be playing catch up with work in the history of anthropology. 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?