The best books revealing the history of archaeology

Alice Beck Kehoe Author Of Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession
By Alice Beck Kehoe

Who am I?

Observant of the world around me, and intellectual, I discovered my ideal way of life at age 16 when I read Kroeber's massive textbook Anthropology, 1948 edition. Anthropologists study everything human, everywhere and all time. Archaeology particularly appealed to me because it is outdoors, physical, plus its data are only the residue of human activities, challenging us to figure out what those people, that place and time, did and maybe thought. As a woman from before the Civil Rights Act, a career was discouraged; instead, I did fieldwork with my husband, and on my own, worked with First Nations communities on ethnohistorical research. Maverick, uppity, unstoppable, like in these books.

I wrote...

Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

By Alice Beck Kehoe,

Book cover of Girl Archaeologist: Sisterhood in a Sexist Profession

What is my book about?

Girl Archaeologist recounts Alice Kehoe’s life, begun in an era very different from the twenty-first century in which she retired as an honored elder archaeologist. She persisted against entrenched patriarchy:  her Harvard professors refused to allow her to write a dissertation in archaeology. A senior professor tried to rape her. Universities paid her less than her male counterparts. Her husband refused to do housework or childcare. Working in archaeology and in the histories of the American First Nations, Kehoe published groundbreaking books and articles. Although she was denied a conventional career, she gained a wide circle of collaborators and colleagues through her unconventional breadth of research and empathy with First Nations people. CHOICE, the university librarians' organization, chose Girl Archaeologist as a 2022  Outstanding Academic Title.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A History of Archaeological Thought

Why did I love this book?

Bruce Trigger worked in Egypt on the Aswan Dam salvage of Nubian ruins, and in his native Canada on the archaeology and the documented histories of Canada's First Nations, especially those in the Iroquois area. Pioneering the post-colonial approach of melding archaeology and history, Trigger soundly critiqued nationalist and White Supremacy archaeology, showing us how to read between the lines. A great scholar and kind, generous man, Trigger's history of archaeological thought lays bare the political associations behind Western scholarly histories, the how's and why's of what gets excavated. He was one of the few leading archaeologists who always respected me, a woman, as his colleague.

By Bruce G. Trigger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A History of Archaeological Thought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In its original edition, Bruce Trigger's book was the first ever to examine the history of archaeological thought from medieval times to the present in world-wide perspective. Now, in this new edition, he both updates the original work and introduces new archaeological perspectives and concerns. At once stimulating and even-handed, it places the development of archaeological thought and theory throughout within a broad social and intellectual framework. The successive but interacting trends apparent in archaeological thought are defined and the author seeks to determine the extent to which these trends were a reflection of the personal and collective interests of…

Book cover of Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest

Why did I love this book?

Out of the feminist movement in American archaeology came this thick testament to the number and importance of women archaeologists and ethnographers who worked in the American Southwest before the U.S. Civil Rights Act made discrimination illegal. As a woman who had been ignored and even brutally put down by men archaeologists, reading of these hardworking, persistent, and some of them brilliant women thrilled me. Over and above the revelations of great researchers who often collaborated with First Nations people, the book is a treasure of stories about pioneer conditions in the Southwest, discoveries of famous ruins, and early anthropologists breaking through into native communities.  

By Nancy J. Parezo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hidden Scholars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Women scholars, writers, curators, and philanthropists have played important roles in the study of Native American cultures of the Southwest. For much of the twentieth century, however, their work has been overlooked. The essays in this book, which grew out of the landmark conference known as Daughters of the Desert, help to rectify the appropriation, erasure, disparagement, and invisibility that many women anthropologists have suffered.
A number of essays are biographical or intellectual histories, such as Parezo on Matilda Coxe Stevenson, Hieb on Elsie Clews Parsons, Babcock on Ruth Benedict, Lamphere on Gladys Reichard, and Lange on Esther Goldfrank. Others…

Book cover of A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romanticism in the American Southwest, 1846-1930

Why did I love this book?

Read this book along with the other handsomely published book, Hidden Scholars, and we have a pair that opens up the idealized Southwest and the ideology of White Supremacy behind it. Schemes and sufferings, deals and derring-do abounded in the territory that now boasts our U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Laguna Pueblo citizen Deb Haaland. Don Fowler and his wife Catherine Fowler are themselves archaeologists/ethnographers in the Southwest borderland, my longtime good friends and colleagues, with an eye for arresting details and a story-telling style that make this book a gripping account of how the Romantic Ruins and fascinating Pueblos were created out in America's desert.

By Don D. Fowler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Laboratory for Anthropology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Initially published in 2000, this beautiful paperback reprint of respected archaeologist Don Fowler's A Laboratory for Anthropology tells the sweeping history tells of an idea, "The Southwest," through the development of American anthropology and archaeology.

For eighty years following the end of the Mexican-American War, anthropologists described the people, culture, and land of the American Southwest to cultural tastemakers and consumers on the East Coast. Digging deeply into public and private historical records, the author uses biographical vignettes to recreate the men and women who pioneered American anthropology and archaeology in the Southwest. He explores institutions such as the Smithsonian,…

Book cover of Tracing Archaeology's Past: The Historiography of Archaeology

Why did I love this book?

I was at the landmark conference in 1987 that legitimated critical analyses of archaeological work and the socio-cultural parameters in which it takes place. We were all surprised at the numbers, range of interests, range of professional standing of the participants, and enthusiasm––all reflected in the papers in this book.  Dipping into it startles with the diversity of persons and places and times affecting the history of archaeology. Feminist concerns were loud and clear and critiqued from a supportive standpoint. Pair this with Trigger's magisterial history to see how he distilled a multitude of disparate activities oriented to the past, into his deeply discerning long story.  

By Andrew L. Christenson (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tracing Archaeology's Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 17 critical essays, the first book to address the historiography of archaeology evaluates how and why the history of archaeology is written.

The emphasis in the first section is on how archaeologists use historical knowledge of their discipline. For example, it can help them to understand the origin of current archaeological ideas, to learn from past errors, and to apply past research to current questions. It can even be integrated into the new liberal arts curricula in an attempt to instruct students in critical thinking.

The second section considers the sociopolitical context within which past archaeologists lived and worked…

Book cover of Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism

Why did I love this book?

Palace of King Minos at Knossos on Crete seized the imaginations of scores of modernist writers, artists, psychoanalysts, and philosophers as wealthy English archaeologist Arthur Evans had its ruins disinterred and reconstructed with reinforced concrete, a novel building material in the early twentieth century. Evans' imaginative palace complex is today mobbed by tourists (I recommend going off-season in January, as I did) who revere the Aegean as the birthplace of Civilization. Gere ties it in to Modernist projects rejecting Victorian overstuffed ornamentations in favor of supposed ancient purity. Her fascinating documentation of culture leaders from Freud to Le Corbusier buying into Evans' myth of an idealized past embeds archaeology in arts and humanities fashions that still confuse speculation with history.

By Cathy Gere,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spring of 1900, British archaeologist Arthur Evans began to excavate the palace of Knossos on Crete, bringing ancient Greek legends to life just as a new century dawned amid far-reaching questions about human history, art, and culture. With Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, Cathy Gere relates the fascinating story of Evans' excavation and its long-term effects on Western culture. After World War I left the Enlightenment dream in tatters, the lost paradise that Evans offered in the concrete labyrinth - pacifist and matriarchal, pagan and cosmic - seemed to offer a new way forward for writers, artists,…

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