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Oceania Publications, University of Sydney

Theory and the Development of Historical Archaeology in Australia

Author(s): Tim Murray and Jim Allen
Source: Archaeology in Oceania, Vol. 21, No. 1, Papers Presented to John Mulvaney (Apr.,
1986), pp. 85-93
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Oceania Publications, University of Sydney
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Accessed: 07/09/2014 11:43
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Theoryand thedevelopment
in Australia
Over the last decade, but especially in the last five
years, the material remains of human action in
Australia have begun to assume a greater importance in the minds of many Australians. Increased
public interestin Australian historyhas meant that
heritagehas become big business. Nevertheless,in
the academic arena, research into a wide range of
material remains has, with few notable exceptions,
provided littlemore than supplementaryillustrative
materialto a range of historicaldisciplines.
Interestin the historicbuilt environmenthas also
been translatedby groups such as the National Trust
conservationlobby. The recent
into a highlyeffective
outcry over the future of the First Government
House site in Sydney is testimonyto this. Indeed,
such is the zeal for heritage that ersatz 'historic
- and
places' can be established almost at will
process satisfied customers. The public delight in
such places shows no signs of slackening.
The same period has seen increased government
funding for museums (both indoor and outdoor),
with some, like the Museum for Applied Arts and
Sciences in Sydney,having an avowedly social history approach to the interpretationand display of
Viewed superficially,the rise of 'heritage consciousness' seems to guarantee a bright futurefor
historical archaeology in Australia. Legislation
protectinghistorical material remains is either in
place or pending in most Australian States and
Territories.But while funding has increased for
archaeological contributionsto the recording,analysis,and restorationof historicstructuresand works,
the question remains: just how much impact has
nearly twentyyears of research into Australian historical archaeology had on the 'heritageconsciousness' of the AustralianPeople?
Our paper reviews some of the recent developments in Australian historical archaeology against
this background of increasing interest. Noting
changes in the orientationof historywriting,and
comparing the practice of historical archaeology in
Australia with that in the United States, we argue
that despite growth in the funding of heritage
surveysand impact mitigationexcavations,historical
archaeology has not yet realized its potential to
provide a unique and importantperspectiveon the
historyof Australian society.
Instead Australian historical archaeology,now 20
years old, continuesto justifyitself(in rare moments
of critical self-reflection)in terms of the aims of
other disciplines. By contrast, during the same
period in the United States it has been claimed that
'historicalarchaeology has been able to make conLa TrobeUniversity,

tributionsthat would not be possible through any

other avenue if inquiry'(Deagan 1982:153).We need
to ask why similar contributions have not been
made in Australia. In this paper we will suggest
several strategies that will encourage better professional and public understandingand acceptance
of the unique possibilitiesof historical archaeology.
Ultimately, however, this can only be achieved
throughaction and demonstrationin the field.
The contextofAustralianhistoricalarchaeology
Two long standing factors have strongly influencedthe contextof Australian historicalarchaeology, shaping the identityof, and the politics of
discourse about, the field. First,there has been no
substantial increase in the numbers of full-time
archaeologists in universitiesover the last decade,
and secondly,the primacy of 'preservation'as justification for action has continued to dominate the
approaches of these practitioners.When these factors are linked to the short history of historical
archaeology in Australia,and the lack of a tradition
supportingthe significanceof Australian historical
material remains (eitherin termsof antiquarianism
or anthropologicalarchaeology) the singular history
of Australian historical archaeology becomes easier
to explain.
Despite the fact that the first excavations of
Australian historical sites demonstratedthe possibility of studies of such world-wide processes as
colonization and imperialism,the essential feature
of the historyof Australian historical archaeology
has been the restrictionof research options to those
of local historical supplementation,and the reconstructionof local industrial processes and technologies. We argue that the successful developmentof
historicalarchaeology in Australia can only occur if
research options are expanded throughthe development of clearly defined archaeological problems of
greaterthan local significance.
With the advantage of hindsightit can be argued
that it was the posing of questions having a broad
scope (whetherthese concerned the archaeological
significanceof militaryoutposts or the sociological
significance of Georgian architecture)which provided the stimulus for the preservationof material
remains in the Australian landscape, and thus the
rationale of preservationists.Such a process has not,
of course, been confinedto European Australia and
its material remains. Indeed, providinga convincing
basis for writing history from archaeological
materials has been a major challenge for archaeologists since the discipline was founded in the
nineteenthcentury.In this sense the value of archaeology as a discipline, and the value of the material
remains of past human action fromthe point of view
have been inextricably
of the culturalpreservationist,


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linked forover a century,not just the last 20 years in

What seems clearer now is that historicalarchaeologists may have inadvertentlybeen caught up too
much in only one part of the equation, siezing too
quickly upon preservation as justification./ We
surmise that the influenceof the preservationethic
in Australian prehistoricarchaeology,the resources
and personnel of which have increased by at least
an order of magnitude since 1965, has had a more
profoundeffecton the historyof Australian historic
archaeology than previously recognised. **The
essential differenceis thatin prehistoricarchaeology
it had prior academic and intellectualjustifications.
In our view, historical archaeologists have been
too quick to justifytheir activitiesin terms of the
restrictedareas of cultural resources management,
historical supplementation or human geography,
without considering the over-archingqualities and
distinctivenessof historicalarchaeological data that
transcend any of these particular areas. We must
recogniseand demonstratethis distinctivenessin its
own terms. Our basic data are material results of
human action and natural site formationprocesses.
These we deal withby using archaeological methods
to clusterdata into archaeological entitieswhich we
then interpretin a frameworkarchaeological in its
perceptionsas well as its procedures (Clarke 1968:
Historical archaeologists have the advantage of
additional data bases - particularlywrittendocuments and oral histories- but too often(so far)we
have been seduced into tryingto fit the material
remainsinto the intellectualstructuresof those bases
ratherthan perceivingthat we are dealing with two
or more independentbases which may be compared
or tested against each other. By extension,people
who reconstructsteam engines,locate the exact site
of the Eureka Stockade, or collect bottles are not
historical archaeologists,however much they claim
to be, if this is all theydo. They do not employ the
methodologies and skills of archaeologists on archaeological materials in order to produce archaeological conclusions to archaeological questions.
In general,knowledge and understandingexpand
as new theoriesare developed for the interpretation
of data. The productionof that knowledge,and the
possibilityof more,has been one of thejustifications
forthe culturalsignificanceof prehistoricremainsin
Australia.This has not been the case in the studyof
historic remains, where development has occurred
only at the level of method and technique. Here the
search for knowledge and the demonstration of
potentialhave taken place predominantlywithinthe
categories and research agendas of diciplines cognate with archaeology - history, architecture,
economics, sociology,and geography.
We have already suggestedthatone reason forthis
is that full-timearchaeologists actually working in
the field are few,and are in a minoritycompared to
the numbersin these cognate disciplines. Exemplars
of practice and explanatory ideals are more often
historicalor architecturalratherthan archaeological.
Low numbers are not conducive to
political clout,
and this situationhas been exacerbated
by the fact
that in Australia, historical
archaeology has had


only method to justifyincursionsinto the traditional

of the historian,geographeror architect.
Notwithstandingthese explanations forthe shape
of discourse in the fieldto date,we consider thatthe
need to preservethe archaeological record has been
perceived wronglyto be the single most important
factorin definingthe possibilitiesof the field.What
has happened is that in seeking to support this
preservation philosophy Australian historical
archaeologistshave relied on the more highlydeveland hence the greaterplausibilityof
oped structures,
the claims to knowledge,of these cognate disciplines,
ratherthan developing archaeological justifications,
whethertheoreticalor substantive.Jack (1985) and
Birmingham and Jeans (1983) indicate support for
this view.
Some historicalspecifics
Our argumentcan be illustratedby examiningthe
history of Australian historical archaeology. The
three pioneering excavations at Port Essington
(Allen 1973),Irrawang(Birmingham1968,1976),and
Fossil Beach (Culican and Taylor 1972) demonstratedthe potential richness of the archaeological
data base, and, by extension,argued forthe valuable
contributionarchaeology could make to the writing
of Australian history.
However, much of the drive of historical archaeology during the 1970s and early 1980s was redirected towards research that would allow us to
establish the scope of the historical archaeological
record in Australia (Birminghamand Jeans 1983:4,
Jack 1985, Frankel 1972), because archaeologists
rightlyargued that it is impossible to preservewhat
is unknown. These heritage surveys gathered sufficient evidence about the scope and physical
condition of the recordto supporteffectivelobbying
for preservationlegislation at the Federal and State
levels. The search fordefinitionhas also resultedin
increased research into relevant historical written
documents. Since the introductionof the National
Estate Grants Programme,recording and preliminary investigation have accelerated and large
numbers of sites are now known (Wesson 1983,
Thus in the early 1970s the two central aspects of
historicalarchaeology- researchdesignedto locate,
interpretand explain sites and contexts,and the
needs of culturalresourcemanagers,became closely
entwined.For several reasons they have since been
hard to separate. Again importanthere is the small
number of practitioners,because it has been very
much a matterof 'all shoulders to the wheel'. Consequently research independent of the needs of
preservation,the spur to Port Essington and irrawang, was seen as superfluous or sell-indulgent
(Birminghamand Jeans 1983).
But while establishing the significance of archaeological resources is important to resource
managers as a justification for preservation decisions, such a need does not, and never did,
comprise all potential interests in the historical
archaeological record. However, because of the
immensityand seriousnessof the managementproblem, those few archaeologistsinterestedin historical
archaeology but working outside the management

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sphere behaved as if this was not the case. Nowhere

is this more apparentthan in the general enthusiasm
forthemes and checklists.
Following the 1974 Conference on Historical
Archaeology held in Canberra, an eleven person
committee was established to advise the Interim
Committeeof the National Estate on questions regarding the nature of this resource (historic sites)
and questions of site recording.Heavily influenced
by recent trips to the United States and Canada,
members of the InterimCommittee asked that this
committeeformulatedraftthemes and checklists.It
is apparent fromthe committeereport(Allen 1978)
that, although it included five archaeologists with
experiencein historicalarchaeology,littleconsensus
emerged from extensive discussion on the relative
meritsof themes and checklists,and that the problems associated with either, in particular the
of the boundaries of interpretation
by theiruse, were great.
Pearson (1979, 1981) has outlined the historyof
these tools, indicating their close association with
the management role. He has stressed their usefulness in matters of site identification,and the
establishment of supra-site categories of archaeological significancewhich could allow a rational
solutionto the problem of what was to be preserved.
Pearson (1979:97) argued that the checklists were
lists of expected site typeswithin any area and that
their greatest use was in the compilation of 'an
inventoryof historic sites in any area, as they
provide a frameworkfor the basic classification of
It seems that Pearson implicitlyaccepted that the
formof the checklistwas the result of some theoreticalperspective,howeverunderdevelopedit might
be. Clearly, inventoryand significance assessment
cannot take place in a theoretical vacuum. The
themes actually listed by Pearson make the sources
of that theory,and the theoreticalpreoccupations of
the last decade, slightlyclearer.
For Pearson (1979:97) thematic lists organized
sites into 'broad historicalcategories'which 'may be
used as an aid in explaining the historical significance of a region's sites, and as an aid in planning
the conservationand managementof sites' (1979:97).
Thematic lists are, unlike checklists, problem or
question specific hence theirusefulnessas a basis
for interpretationand explanation. Given Pearson's
perspective as a cultural resource manager, it is
understandable that he saw the real value of the
thematiclist as allowing forthe selection of a broad
sample of sites(type,function,historicalassociations,
etc.) within the state of N.S.W. Themes such as
exploration,primaryindustry,convicts, and colonisation also represented what historical archaeologists regarded as being meaningful and susceptible to theoreticalformulation.
Here the link between the need to explore the
potentialof the archaeological record and the desire
to develop defensibleclaims for the significanceof
the data from a management perspective,is most
apparent. The themes selected by the Interim
Committeeof the National Estate (Pearson 1979:97)
cover an extraordinarilybroad range, but it is importantto note thattheywere not developed beyond

the initial argumentthatthe significanceor meaning

of sites mightbe established throughthem. Putting
this into practice remained the task of historical
archaeologists,whethermanagers or academics.
The continued enthusiasm for themes and checklists and the lack of any rationale forthe interestsof
groups other than managers, has meant that until
the last three years these tools appear not to have
been transformedbeyond their management role
into a set of specificproblems and questions,as they
were originally intended (Allen 1978:7). This is
despite the great increase in the number of sites
recorded, and increased research into production
processes and technologies. Other users of the
archaeological data such as university-basedhistorical archaeologists, architects, historians and
human geographers, members of preservation
societies, and other members of the general public
- those who search for
meaning and significance
outside the management sphere - have neither
developed, changed, nor expanded this framework.
The lack of formaltheoreticaldevelopmentof the
field has meant that the interpretationof sites and
contextshas tended to stop with the assignmentto a
theme or congeries of themes. Meaning has continued to reside in categories that are as yet
theoreticallyunarticulated by archaeologists. As a
consequence, few anomalies have been detected
between the categories and our experience of
classifyingthe archaeological remains in theirterms.
The categories of Australian historical archaeology
have remained essentially inviolate - predefined,
uninvestigated,and privileged sources of archaeological interpretation.
This situation can be directlyrelated to a concentrationon recording at the expense of analysis
and interpretation.Very little of the published
productof Australian historicalarchaeologydemonstrates willingness by practitionersto accept the
unique command the field has over all the contexts
of human behaviour. Instead of articulating'spoken
word, writtenword, preserved behaviour, and observed behaviour' (Schuyler 1979) into archaeologically based reconstructionsof past ways of life,
or processual analyses,historicalarchaeologistshave
contented themselveswith establishing significance
largelyon the groundsof historicalsupplementation.
This is both a failure to recognize how we can
realize the potential of the record,and a failure to
understand that theorybuilding is the key to both
preservationand understanding.Until recent years
we have, throughour disregardfor the need to put
an archaeological dimension explicitly into our
historical categories,been locked into the implicit
theoryof the themes and checklists.
If the primary context ot historical Australian
archaeology has been the need to support the
preservationor conservation of the data base, the
most imprtant sources of interpretationand significance "(hence of justifications for preservation)
have continued to be disciplines such as historyand
human geography.Archaeologistshave added little
or nothing to this store. Yet one of the original
justificationsfor the significanceof the historical
archaeological record in Australia was the potential
richness of its contributionto the writingof Aus87

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tralian history.We will now explore the implications

of this situation.
Recently, historical archaeologists themselves
recognizethatthe fieldhas only produced data to act
as grist to the mills of the historians,geographers
and architects(see Birminghamand Jeans 1983:4).
No interpretative
theoryhaving been produced by
the archaeologists,these otherdisciplineshave fallen
back on what they had before the whole process
started.Given that practitionersof these disciplines
have a strong legitimate interest in the material
remains,it is unfortunatethatthese data are used by
themwithouttheirneeding to account forinterpretations produced fromthe archaeological perspective.
In other words, the operations of checklists and
categories of significanceappear not to have been
substantially altered or expanded through their
application to a differentdata source. This means
thateitherthe resourcesof historicalarchaeologyare
not as potentiallyrich as we firstthought,or, as we
believe, archaeologists have not yet demonstrated
this potential.
It is our view that the organizing power of the
theme and checklisthas been uncriticallyaccepted
by historical archaeologists as the theoreticalbase
forthe field - not simplyas a substitutefortheory
building, but as theory itself.We do not wish to
argue thatthe perspectivesor problems of historians
or human geographersare irrelevantto this process
of theorybuilding - clearly they formpart of the
conceptual and data boundaries of the historical
archaeologist.Yet they do not provide the totality.
This lack of attentionto theorybuilding has had a
number of unfortunateconsequences.
First, it has generally meant that historical
- that
archaeologyhas been frozenin a single role
of historical supplementation.
use of themes and checklists does not ordain that
this should take place, indeed their critical use
should have forced historical archaeologists to
develop other roles for the data base. While it is
accepted that the archaeological data can plug gaps
in the writtendocumentaryrecord (therebyhaving
some value), it seems that historical archaeologists
have been unwillingto realize that the onus of any
and explanation also restswith them.
archaeology appears to have
had very little impact on the writingof Australian
history,historical sociology,and human geography.
The Interference' of archaeologists in heritage
projectsconsidered to be properlyunder the control
of architectshas also been mentioned (see Lewis
1984,Mulvaney 1981). Jack (1985) among othershas
complained that historians seem unwilling, or
unable, to articulate material evidence into their
accounts - relyingon the traditionalinterpretative
primacyof the writtendocument.This may well be
true,but have historicalarchaeologistsdemonstrated
the potential of material remains? Once again the
data can plug gaps and thereforehas a direct and
essentiallyunproblematicuse. Yet we recognize thai
some branches of historywriting,particularlysocial
history,require something more than this. Australian historical archaeology has not provided
behavioural interpretations
of relictmaterialswhich
could allow the historian, socioloeist. or human

geographer to first gauge their usefulness and

validity, and then articulate the social or semiological implications of material culture into their
own analyses. Little wonder that historywithout
objects is still the dominant formof historywriting
in Australia.
Thirdly,the uncriticalmaintenance of historians',
geographers',or architects'categories and research
agendas seriously undermines the development of
the archaeological significanceof the archaeologal
data base. This is because significancehas to be
demonstratedbefore it can be effectively
and the only demonstrationsto date have been of
the hole-pluggingkind. In the followingsection we
discuss the implications of this point, but it is
important to note here the potentially harmful
effectsthat an abnegation of the need to build
theory might have on the sample of the archaeological recordwe can preserve.
The context of Australian historical archaeology
still comprises a small population of full-time
practitioners whose professional goals and explanatoryideals continueto be shaped by the needs
of culturalresourcemanagers,and by a subservience
to the methodologicaland interpretative
history,human geography and architecture.However,thereare indications that this situationmay be
about to change. Some historical archaeologists
(notably Birmingham and Jeans 1983 with their
Swiss Family Robinson model) recognize the consequences of these problems and the availabilityof
It is significantthat while this change parallels
new orientationsof American historicalarchaeology
which are beginning to pose new professionalpossibilities and emphasize the need for theory
building, it appears to be a genuine Australian
response to a local need. As well, the increase in the
numbers of full-timecultural resource managers,
and in the sizes of their budgets, has begun to
release some archaeologiststo pursue research not
based strictlyon managementneeds. Finally, recent
changes in the orientationof historywritingtowards
a greater concern with the historical potential of
material remains are acting to develop existing
historical categories along more materialistlines.
These changes in contexthave meant thatthe shape
of discourse in Australian historical archaeology is
no longer unproblematic and tacitly agreed-upon.
The nature of the field itselfhas become a central
object of analysis.
In the last few years Australian historical archaeology has become more criticallyself-reflective.
Six recent papers (Bairstow 1984a, 1984b, Birmingham and Jeans 1983,Connah 1983,Jack 1985,Megaw
1984) collectivelyillustratea move to increase the
scope of discussion beyond site reports, artefact
analysis, excavation techniques, and issues of cultural resource management.While these traditional
areas of interestare still the preferredsubjects for
publication, practitionersnow more readily discuss
issues of theory building in general and methodology in particular.
The major result of these discussions is that


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largely implicit understandings of approach and

practice have become more explicit. This has
revealed that there are divergent positions on core
theoreticalissues in the field,both in termsof the
proper approach to theorybuilding and of methodology (see, for example; Bairstow 1984a and 1984b
attacking substantive aspects of Birmingham and
Jeans 1983). In this instance,implicitagreementhas
turned to explicit disagreement when particular
approaches and their justifications are made
However, a perception of increasing divergence
withinthe communityof practitionershas not been
the cause of the current vogue of introspection.
Rather, it is the un-looked-forresult of it. One
is that
popular justificationforcriticalself-reflection
historical archaeology has now been practised in
Australia for twentyyears, and it is felt that some
stocktakingis necessary as the field entersits third
decade (e.g. Birminghamand Jeans 1983).
Anotherjustificationseems to be that the motivation for so much of the recordingand research of
the last two decades, the widely-perceivedneed to
findthe dimensionsof the recordin Australiabefore
too much was lost or destroyed,is now recognised
not to have exhausted the analytical potentialof the
material remains of human action in historic
periods (see Birminghamand Jeans 1983,Jack 1985).
Greater attention to theory building is therefore
considered necessary.
The thirdjustificationstems from a growingdissatisfactionwithin the communityof practitioners,
and some of the academic and governmentconsumersof our product,withthe lack of substance,let
alone theoreticaldirection,in Australian historical
archaeology. But where is this substance to come
from,and how do we release ourselves fromtacitly
accepted practice?
A concentrationon description,to the exclusion of
explicit archaeological investigation of implicit
frameworksof understandingand problem generation, can be traced to a narrow reading of
conservationphilosophy,namely that the recording
of empirical data is the primarygoal of the conservationarchaeologist.True to form,not even this
narrowreadinghas receivedexplicitcharacterization
or defenceuntil recentyears (see Connah 1983).
While this approach to conservationarchaeology
emphasizes the specificallyarchaeological methods
of excavation,fieldsurveyand artefactclassification,
it largelyneglectsthe factthat the translationof this
data into 'significantculturalproperties'is itselfthe
result of interpretationsand questions which are
part of the unexamined cultural baggage of the
Critics of this narrow reading (e.g., Birmingham
and Jeans 1983, Murray 1984) have drawn support
for a broader approach from American cultural
resource management archaeology (Schiffer and
Gummerman1977) and fromthe increasingrange of
and explanatoryoptions provided by
the growthof theoreticalarchaeology over the last
twentyyears. They have argued that the critical
assessmentof questions and interpretations,
the process of theory building, is essential to the
growth of the field and the preservation of its

resource base. Conservation archaeology conducted

withoutthis perspectiveis thoughtactuallyto inhibit
our ability to conserve a meaningfulsample of the
archaeological record. Following fromthis it can be
proposed that if archaeologists continue to use
theories of interpretationwhich cannot be convincingly connected to the empirical data of the
record,the archaeological significanceof those data
is reduced to a rump of information,acquired
throughthe use of archaeological methods,but given
whatever significancethey may have only through
the methodologies or interpretativemechanisms of
other disciplines. These may be at best dissociated
from archaeology and at worst, inimical to its
Lying beneath the surface of these issues are
problems that were, and to some extentstill are, the
subject of acrimonious debate in the United States.
They centre around the issue of the identityof the
field (Cleland and Fitting 1968, Dollar 1968,
Fontana 1965. Harrington 1957, Noel Hume 1969,
Schuyler 1970,Walker 1967).
Historical archaeology is peculiarly prone to
disagreementsabout what its 'proper' orientationis
(or should be) and what mightbe considered to be
its core concepts, categories and preoccupations hence the identityof the field.One reason forthis is
that historical archaeology shares much of the
instabilityof general archaeology,which is the result
of nearlytwo decades of hard-foughtbattlesover the
methodologyof the discipline, and the purpose of
studyingthe material residues of human behaviour.
Despite the rhetoric of proposal and counterproposal, the community of archaeologists has
remained divided, and unconvinced that any
single approach encapsulates the identity of the
discipline. We regard Bairstow's (1984a and 1984b)
critique of Birmingham and Jeans (1983) as an
example of these more general debates.
While major conflictshave resultedfromdiffering
interpretationsof the nature and implications of
scientific discourse in archaeology, appropriate
theories of society and culture, and defensible
grounds for explaining change and variability in
human action, furtherdivisions have also arisen
between 'academic' and cultural resource management archaeology. These conflicts have made it
increasinglydifficultto point to a body of concepts,
categories, and methodologies that are held to be
indisputable, right or 'proper'. Historical archaeologists naturally have found it difficultto argue
forcefullyfor the value of an archaeological perspective when the methodology and purposes of
archaeology itselfare so much in dispute.
Archaeologists and researchers in cognate disciplines have responded to this difficultyby
questioning whether historical archaeology can be
considered to be a discipline in its own right,and
whetherits developmentin Australia should be fosteredby some broader field of inquirythat also has
legitimateinterestsin the archaeological data base
- be it history,prehistoric
archaeology, sociology,
geography,engineeringor architecture.
The disciplinary distinctiveness of historical
archaeology is an issue not only in Australia.
Deagan (1982:156), for example, when speaking of

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the American situation has said: The firstformal

recognitionin this countryof historicalarchaeology
as a discipline came in 1960,with the establishment
of the Conferenceon Historic Sites Archaeologyand
the publication of its proceedings'.Yet she spends
the bulk of an importantand useful surveypaper
arguingthe varietyof positions American historical
archaeologistshave taken on this presumably nonnegotiable claim. In the end Deagan decides that
historicalarchaeologyis in the process of becoming:
Although Schuyler's question 'is historical archaeologya techniqueor a discipline?'(1979:202)cannotbe
finallyand conclusivelyansweredtoday,contemporary
advances suggestthat a distinctdiscipline is indeed

Importantly,those contemporaryadvances relate to

the building of interpretiveand explanatorytheory
to solve problems that have been clearly defined
by historicalarchaeologists.
It is thus still a moot point whether historical
archaeologyneeds to become distinct(in termsof its
disciplinary structure) from prehistory, history,
geography or any other perspective on human
material behaviour. However, we do agree with
Deagan that the ability to produce singular interpretationsforthe materialit aspires to controlhelps
to establish the equality of historicalarchaeologyas
a field of inquiry with its more established competitors.We consider that a perceptionof equality is
vital to the growth of the subject, not the least
because it discourages a subservientattitudeto the
perspectivesof other disciplines on data which are
also in the purview of historical archaeology, and
which may well be linked to general archaeological
issues. This does not necessarilyentail the rejection
of external theories or understandingssimply because they come from outside the field. Rather, it
means that their value for the interpretationof
archaeological data, and the solution ol archaeological problems, should be established and
defended,instead of simplybeing assumed.
Explaining the rise of new disciplines is more
complicated than tracingthe search for an identity
that can be taken seriously.To become disciplines,
subjects such as historicalarchaeologymust develop
in two ways. First, the field must be widely
recognized as the source of a body of specialized
knowledge and skills. Secondly, the field should
develop into a political institution- demarcating
areas of academic territoryand arguing for claims
on resources.In this second aspect disciplines shape
the professionalidentityof practitioners,
of problems, methods and explanatoryideals. The
genesis of new disciplines is often the result of
solutions being found to the very problems that
currentlyface historicalarchaeology in Australia identity,significance, and general acceptance of
Australian historical archaeology has not successfully followed either pathway to disciplinary
distinctiveness.Until recentlythe abnegation of the
need to build theoryhas largely taken care of the
first aspect, and the extremely slow growth in
has militatedagainst the
other. At present there are no full-timeteachers of
the subject, despite the fact that the Universityof

Sydney has set.up an Historical Archaeology unit

within the Faculty of Arts,and limited courses are
regularlyofferedat La Trobe Universityand at the
Universityof New England. These arrangements
have meant that multi-yearcourses, so necessaryto
the developmentof an adequately trained cadre of
professionals, have not been possible. Although
large numbers of students have enrolled in postgraduate study (especially at the University of
Sydney),only a handful of PhDs have been completed or are nearing completion.
The situation is somewhat better on the public
side of historicalarchaeology.Organizationssuch as
the National Trust have long been involved in
heritage surveysand have also attemptedon more
than one occasion to formalize the procedures
connected with these activitiesand to develop the
rationale of the field (see Birmingham and James
1981). The Australian Society for Historical Archaeology has held regular conferences at which
practitionersof the diverse sub-fields of historical
archaeology have been able to meet to discuss
techniques and approaches and gain some measure
of agreementover policies.
of HistoricalArchaeology,3l place for the regular
publication of refereedpapers has been found.Other
of the
papers are published throughthe Newsletter
Society and, fromtime to time,in AustralianArchaeology. Finally, in those States that have passed
legislation designed to preservethe non-Aboriginal
heritage,there has been a growth in numbers of
historical archaeologistsconnected with the recording, assessment and management of cultural
resources. Employment prospects and professional
are improving.
The continued expansion of archaeological training forstudentsof historicalmaterialremains is one
way of developingthe political structureof the field,
of being able to defend archaeological incursions
into the territoriesof the prehistorian,historian,
geographeror architect.Unfortunately,
is also the
repositoryof specialized knowledge and skills,such
incursions are likely to come to nothing.The legitimation of historical archaeology can only occur if
its practitionersexpand theirintellectualhorizons by
demonstrating the unique value of the archaeological perspective on historic material remains.
This means that strategiesneed to be developed
which allow the meaning and value of the data base
to be expanded beyond historical supplementation.
The building of new theoriesand the rigoroustesting
of existingones are obvious strategies.
The formulationof the Swiss Family Robinson
model by Birmingham and Jeans (1983), despite
defectsadmittedby the authors,and noted by others,
is the firstreal attemptto do this. While the model
shows strong theoretical influence from human
geography, the archaeological data assume some
importanceas the basis on which the predictionsof
the model will ultimatelybe confirmedor rejected.
Birminghamand Jeans have signalled the need for
explanation, and the explicitdevelopmentof understandingsthat have been abroad in the community
of practitionersfor over a decade. They have also


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clearly defined a problem that effectivelylifts the

contextof Australian historical archaeology beyond
the level of describing single sites. Although objections to substantiveand theoreticalaspects of the
model have been telling and severe, no model as
general as this one can hope to completelysatisfy.
Models are to be used, theirlimitationsdetectedand
dealt with, and modifications made, rather than
simplybeing rejectedout of hand.
The Swiss Family Robinson model is just one
explanatory exemplar, and one which may not
address issues considered to be important by all
historical archaeologists or other consumers of the
historical archaeological record. Support for alternative questions and approaches has been provided
by developments in American historical archaeology, and by importantchanges in the orientation
of historywriting.These developments have provided us with the source of other models and
theories to test, and the justificationsfor different
and explanations.
American historical archaeology has developed
into a diverse field that includes familiar orientationssuch as historicalsupplementation,as well as
particularist studies into past ways of life and
cognitive structures,more general inquiries into
culturalprocess,and assessmentsof the contribution
of historical archaeology to archaeological science.
The potential value of archaeological data, and of
the archaeologist'sprimarygoal of plausibly interpretingand explaining it, has been realized through
the breadth of the studies and the scale of the
archaeological contribution to the expansion of
knowledgeabout the historicpast.
Although there are severe shortcomingsin these
approaches, American historical archaeologistsnow
address problems that directlyimpinge on historical
sociology,social history,ideology,and semiologyin
their search for explanations for the relationships
between people and material things. This broad
construal of the territoryof the historical archaeologist provides an exemplar other than the search
for disciplinary distinctiveness based on rigid
demarcationof interestsand approaches.
Although Deagan (1982:171) has remarkedthat it
'is the veryquality of relevance to a wide varietyof
problems that is both a unique strengthand inherent danger to historical archaeology' it is clear
thatthe expansion of horizons is more importantfor
the developmentof the field and the preservationof
its data base than some quixotic search for disciplinary distinctivenessthat would seal-off historical archaeology from external influences.These
recent developments in the United States have
shown that historicalarchaeologistsshould feel free
to roam throughwhateverterritoryseems likely to
provide solutions to clearly defined archaeological
problems.The definitionof those problems,and the
defence of the theoryselected to provide the basis
of their solution, are the crucial aspects of the
practiceof historicalarchaeology.
Australian practitionerscan also find support for
the expansion of their intellectual horizons somewhat closer to home. In recent years the subject
matterof historywritinghas been broadened by new
forces that have changed the context of plausible

historical interpretation.
While an emphasis on the
analysis of documents has remained as the basic
skill of the historian,the task of interpretationand
explanation has been expanded by the introduction
of sociological and environmentalperspectives(see,
for example Tilly 1981). New time scales for history
writinghave also been used, most notably by the
Annales historians in France. Broader categories
such as class, gender,and the 'world economy' have
begun to receive more attention.At the same time
historians have also sought an understanding of
smaller-scale loci of human action such as the
family,the suburb,cityor region.
The general attack on logical empiricismthat has
been so much a featureof post-war social science
has also carriedover into history,where the previous
empiricistemphasis that securityof knowledgecould
be guaranteed only by direct appeal to empricial
data, has slowly been replaced by the view that
theoreticalknowledge also has securityand internal
coherence. Accordingly,historians have begun to
feel that the analysis of abstract categories such as
society,ideology and culture can also be practically
defended, as well as being meaningful. Historians
have begun to see the importance of theory,the
crucial role it plays in problem selection, analysis
and interpretation.
History has become more varied in its subject
matter.It has been broadened by its encounterwith
sociology,psychology,economics, semiology and, to
a lesser extent,archaeology. For the sake of convenience rather than strictaccuracy, these changes
can be generalized as social history. Asa Briggs
(1984:8) has described social historyas the historyof
society,being concerned with 'structuresand with
processes of change'. The foci of analysis - subsistence, technology,social organization, trade and
communication,cultureand demography,reflectthe
search for structureand process. Part and parcel of
this change in emphasis is a change in the data base
of history.No longer are writtenhistorical documents enough. Other sources of data such as
material remains need to be articulatedin analysis.
The territoriesof the historian and of the historical
archaeologisthave begun to shade into one another,
and the importance of the archaeologist's emphasis
on the behavioural interpretationof those remains
consequently increases. Historical archaeologists
should seize this opportunity.
In Australia social historyalso means Aboriginal,
women's, oral, medical, sports,immigration,urban
and labour history;popular culturehas also become
an importantfocus (e.g.,Alford1984,Davidson 1984,
Osborne and Mandle 1982, Sampson 1979, Spearitt
and Walker 1979, Sydney Labour History Group
1982). Trends towards social historyare also visible
in human geography(e.g., Jeans and Spearitt 1980,
Linge 1979). The search for interpretationin these
various facetsof Australian historyprovides another
spur to the developmentof archaeological problems.
If historians now recognize the importance of
other data bases, such as those of sociology and
archaeology, this surely implies that archaeologists
have even more reason for expanding the terms of
their investigationof that data. This is much more

This content downloaded from on Sun, 7 Sep 2014 11:43:37 AM

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

because the data

than historicalsupplementation,
before the historiancan
have to be interpreted
employ them in analysis. In other words, the
categoriesof the themesand checkliststhat have
been so dominantin the historyof Australian
now urgently
requirearchaebothforthehistorianand the
archaeologist.The needs of the historiansmake
to influencefromthearchaeologists,and historicalsignificanceof a greater
benefitrangeof materialthingsbecomesmanifest,

Our goal in this paper has been to supportthe

in hisrecenttrendtowardscriticalself-reflection
by broadeningthe discussionof
we concludethathistoricalarchaeologyis notyeta
distinctdiscipline,we see no reason why this
detractsfromthe veryreal progressthathas been
and stillis beingmade towardsthe development
botha bodyof skillsand congeriesof problemsthat
enhance the importanceof studyingthe material
cultureof historicperiods.We considerthat this
progresscan be reinforcedif the significanceof
researchin historicalarchaeologyis demonstrated.
We do notarguethatthisshouldexcludetheneedsof
thatthesecan and should
managers- rather
be placed in a contextwhichis beneficialto both
of hisand research.The development
of its data
toricalarchaeologyand the preservation
base dependon the expansionof the interests
the buildingand deactivitiesof the practitioners,
and throughthesethe demonvelopmentof theory,
stration of the significanceof archaeological
problemsand methodologies.
we have offered
no 'magicpotion'of
specifictheorieswhich mightbe used by the histhe architect,or even the
torian,the geographer,
to achievetheintegration
all thesecognatedisciplinesin a full-blown
on thenatureof materialbehaviour.Thereare none
available,a theoreticalvacuum which is
shared with prehistoricarchaeology.While the
currenttheoriesfound in historicalarchaeology,
and in studiesof popularcultureremain
vagueand underdeveloped
theyare stilltheoretically
plausible. Despite the fact that theyhave so far
provedresistantto empiricalverification,
serveas a useful,and presently
the most obvious,
pointto demonstrate
historicalarchaeologyand initiatecross-disciplinary
It willbe no easytask.

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