The Arbitrariness of Power

Here are some photos from the first week of field school. Lots of fun in hand.

Sifting dirt through a 1/4 inch mesh screen.

Using Munsell color system to determine soil color and a nice paper bag to collect artifacts.

Shovel Test Pit, screen, 5 gallon bucket, ruler, sheet of plastic, Munsell book, journal, pile of dirt

Soil sample from Shovel Test Pit (STP).

A brick or pottery sherd with lead glaze and arching score marks.

Returning after a hard day at the site.

I am intrigued by the idea behind Ferdinand de Saussure’s “the arbitrariness of the sign.”
These are some basic notes to myself.
What are the goals?

Surround sound.
We are watching each other.
You watch me while I watch you.

In field school this spring we are looking not only at power but the oppressed. In one of the articles for the first week’s reading we learned about Dr. Mark Leone’s idea surrounding his model of ideology. Leone’s ideology is a construct of ideas for a period of time, re-presenting a particular present time in the past. In this present it is simultaneously reproducing its past with all of what is good and bad as part of this snapshot. It is a package. In the colonial package we have the power structure, an economic system, bondage and freedom, capitalism and the birth of a wealthy and powerful state, let’s say Maryland, where the cost of production that produces this package in itself contains a puzzle and a problem.

The problem is that the oppressed enslaved individuals are the laborers and producers of a large portion of this wealth for this slave-plantation driven economic system. The irony is that while this democratic republic experiment has created a system of independent governance without a king, it is producing its wealth by a slave economy. This time period is often referred to as the Renaissance, the rebirth of the hegemonic republics of Rome. More specifically, geographically when we dig up dirt in Annapolis we are looking at a segment of the steam engine driven American Renaissance of the United States. We have industrial farming, no motor cars, no iPhones or Android devices, no plumbing, women do not vote and are considered property, the only voters being property owners, and no air conditioning. What we do have is an American Renaissance coming of age out its former Age of Reason. (I need to research this more.)

Zooming into a rationalizing model of this experiment we have The Paca Garden. The Paca Garden is an active embodiment and demonstration of this rational thought, an early form of scientific thought, maybe not as highly scrutinized scientifically driven journalistic thought we have today but a birth of scientific reasonableness applied to nature. We learned this week in our required reading the mistake made in mistaking ideals of belief in nature for nature and that the ideals the colonists were living by was anything but “natural.” They probably were trapped in this puzzle and were somewhat aware of it.

The printing press is another tool manufacturing this thought process, reproducing itself, by dissemination and translation. It must have been an impressive zeitgeist. The press did not exist in this manner before, newspapers did not exist before, and hence, this particular thought process never existed before. It is thinking through reproduction by means of the printing press that made it possible for an idea of nationalism. Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities writes:

“In the course of the nineteenth century, and especially in its latter half, the philological-lexicographic revolution [because of dictionaries] and the rise of intra-European national movements, themselves the products, not only of capitalism, but the elephantiasis of the dynastic states, created increasing cultural, and therefore political, difficulties for many dynasts (Anderson, p. 83).”

This was the ideology creating a networked system of complexity where the footprint of the printing press was the size of its circulation simultaneously happening wherever a printing press existed at the time. Nothing had ever existed similar to the printing press except for maybe food, pottery, clothing, and money as manufactured commodities. This is a commodity of the idea. And the manufactured idea, the reproduced idea, is a powerful idea. It is the birth of reproductive propaganda at a level of power not foreseen. Anyone with a printing press was an ideological demagogue.  Ironically we were stuck in a trap. A “democracy” wrapped in slavery. Europe has already freed their slaves half a century before the United States. This is the setting of the archaeology in Annapolis.

Today’s discussion period at the end of the week was a lessons’ learned session supplemented by required reading of three different sources. One thing I am particularly interested in is the level of complexity, utility, and function a small city of early Annapolis with a population of 2000 could wield and how it was so incredibly powerful while at the same time so small. In colonial times Annapolis was surrounded by tobacco plantations. It was and continues to be governed out of this small city. Now it is not only a tourist attraction but the Naval Academy training facility for our active military of roughly 1.4 million, not including subcontractors, that traverse the entire globe.

It’s always a time for discovery. Now it looks like we have lost histories to discover. The monumental architectures clutter the streets embalming a past when scrutinized is a propaganda for those who “won.”

It feels as if it is the archaeologists role to help the financial entities fairly represent the wealthy independence of the state with socially responsible goals in order to make people feel safe at home. In the case of archaeologist’s responsibility if following the code of ethics of the American Anthropological Association, our job is to fairly represent everyone involved in the process of creating educational materials for the public and at the same time build a fair and truthful representation of the past not imbued by propagandistic chest beating or we could end up turning into a nightmare like industrial lie serving a few at the expense of the living “free” people.

One of my questions about archaeology is, is archaeology a monumental architecture of the state whose power is derived solely from those who win financially? How does it contribute positively to history? I do not want to be cynical but optimistic in a Foucauldian sense of power, that this reproductive power is not only discursive but creative.


Leave a Reply