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. A senior male professor attempted to quash Kehoe’s career by raping her. Her Harvard professors refused to allow her to write a dissertation in archaeology. Universities paid her less than her male counterparts. Her husband refused to participate in housework or childcare. Working in archaeology and in the histories of American First Nations, Kehoe published a series of groundbreaking books and articles. Although she was denied a conventional career, through her unconventional breadth of research and her empathy with First Nations people she gained a wide circle of collaborators and colleagues. 

The books I picked & why

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A History of Archaeological Thought

By Bruce G. Trigger,

Book cover of A History of Archaeological Thought

Why 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.


Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest

By Nancy J. Parezo,

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

Why 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.  


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

By Don D. Fowler,

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

Why 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.


Tracing Archaeology's Past: The Historiography of Archaeology

By Andrew L. Christenson (editor),

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

Why 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.  


Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism

By Cathy Gere,

Book cover of Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism

Why 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.


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