Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Book Note

I believe that some of you might enjoy Marilyn Johnson's new book, Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. It's a book written by an objective outsider looking in at archaeologists, their interests, motivations, and careers. Johnson has written two previous books on other "odd" professions, This Book is Overdue! about librarians and The Dead Beat about obituary writers.

I think she does a good job catching onto why us archaeologists are attracted to the field, how we do our work,  and also does a good job describing a number of the quirks in the culture of archaeologists (she can't get over that we are so fond of beer!). However, I think she paints an unnecessarily dire picture of the economic and career prospects of archaeologists. Most of us working in North America can make a reasonable living working as consultants in cultural resource management. Johnson talks some about CRM archaeology, but chose to focus on academia and government agencies, where jobs are few and far between and what I like to call "monastic" archaeologists. By that term, I mean those in the field (and there are a number of them) who become so completely captivated by a research area or topic, that they are willing to work on it for free and in fact, are willing to sacrifice other viable career alternatives in the field to do so. It's as though they have taken vows of poverty.

The book isn't nearly as well-publicized as it should be - I only found out about it in an ad for a book-signing she did here at The Tattered Cover, that I unfortunately had to miss because of a schedule conflict. I also found it interesting that she only talked with one archaeologist that I know personally. We are a fairly small field where most everybody is only a degree or two of separation apart, but we are somewhat geographically divided. Johnson is based in New York, and most of her contacts were in that region.

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