Anthropology, Archaeology, Space, Historic Preservation

Every once in a while, someone writes an extremely detailed and well thought out comment on PiP. Since I am unsure of how many people read comments I post, I like to share them with all readers by making it a separate post. Here is one such example.

First, read the Landmarks Shaping Me post. Now, to the comments. Kristin Landau is a PhD student at Northwestern University in Illinois; she studies anthropology and archaeology as reflected by her comments. Often Kristin draws connections between anthropology and historic preservation. See below and feel free to continue the conversation:

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I think what’s most interesting about space/place [space being a mathematical function and place being infused with meaning, cf. de Certeau] is exactly as you say: we shape and are shaped by space/place. Conceptions of space/place are thus recursive or dialogic and they are multiscalar. We influence and are influenced by, make and are made by, places at all levels – individual, familial, community, societal, regional, hemispherical, etc. So the group of us who spent a lot time in Mrs. Morahan’s room made that room what it was – gave it its meaning. The room, in turn, shaped our last few years of high school, on an individual and group level as you demonstrate, Kate.

More challenging is getting at notions of space/place in other cultures (e.g., Japanese mobile [shoji] screens, which act like dividers rather than walls in a house) and how they change (or not) over time and geography. In archaeological contexts for example, concepts of space/place are inferred by referential linguistics (when/if written language exists) or representations of space (i.e., murals and iconography) or settlement patterns and elements of city planning. I would argue that universally, notions of space/place are primarily structured by so-called astronomy as well as the geographic landscape. The movements of the sun, moon and stars from and with the Earth’s perspective is formative. This would do well to explain the similarities – and differences – among creation stories the world over.

Within archaeology, the subfields of landscape and cognitive archaeology (and more generally British social anthropology) assess critically notions of space/place. For a long term paper this year I am working on explicitly incorporating these two fields with archaeoastronomy – the study of the practice of astronomy in culture. I argue that studying another culture’s astronomy (or astronomIES) will lead us to a better understanding of how they thought about things, how they conceived their landscape and how they made sense of and ordered their universe (i.e., worldview and cosmology). And we would also approach a more refined understanding of concepts of space/place and place-making. This, in response to some who have stated the futility and irrelevancy of archaeoastronomy for anthropology.

Nevertheless, your points bode well Kate, and it seems like historic preservation and anthropology intersect and can be mutually informative in the realm of space/place.