Thursday, September 16, 2010

Michael Dietler's "Archaeologies of Colonialism"

Michael Dietler is Director of the University of Chicago Center in Paris and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago as well as the author of Consumption and Colonial Encounters in the Rhone Basin of France.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France, and reported the following:
I'm afraid the "page 99 test" fails miserably in the case of Archaeologies of Colonialism. This page contains two photo illustrations and only five lines of text. From these, a clever reader could intuit that the book involves archaeology and that the ancient wine trade plays a significant role in the story -- and both of these surmises would be correct. But these facts reveal relatively little about the book as a whole.

The book is an exploration of the ancient colonial encounter that occurred in Mediterranean France between the indigenous Celtic-speaking peoples of the region and Etruscan, Greek, and Roman colonists during the first millennium BC. But more than this, it is also an analysis of the role that this series of encounters played in the development of modern European culture, identity, and colonial practices (think of the Renaissance, German Romantic Hellenism, and the “civilizing mission” of European colonialism, for example), and how these features have affected the way that archaeologists and ancient historians now approach these ancient encounters. The book attempts to find a way around the numerous problems that this complex cultural and intellectual legacy presents for understanding the past, and it does so by using archaeological data and ancient texts to analyze patterns of consumption (especially wine and food), violence, and architecture and urban life through the lens of anthropology. What it shows is that the native peoples of the region were actually not particularly interested in or impressed by the cultures of these foreign colonists, but that their highly selective taste for wine led to a series of complex entanglements with unintended economic, political, and cultural consequences for all the parties involved in these encounters. The book is written not only for archaeologists: it targets equally readers interested in colonialism in general and in the history of the ancient Mediterranean. But, with apologies to Ford Madox Ford, I’m afraid page 99 would be one of the least enlightening pages in the book to which one could turn.
Learn more about Archaeologies of Colonialism at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue