Deetz and Gundaker

At first glance, this week's readings seemed to have little in common. But after delving into both "Tradition and Innovation in African American-Yards" by Grey Gundaker and In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life  by James Deetz more deeply they both made arguments about the ways Material Culture can elucidate facets of the lives of low-income people and minorities who do not leave traditional archival records. Deetz argues that archeology, and by extension material culture, is most useful when used in concert with written material. However, Deetz then goes on to discuss how archeological findings have allowed unprecedented access to the types of structures people lived in, the type of food they ate, their housing patterns and other knowledge that would be unavailable in archival records. Deetz points out the knowledge gained by excavating sites of slave quarters. Much of the records on slavery come from the records of slave owners and these don't often include exhaustive descriptions of everyday life. Deetz makes clear that using archeology reveals the details of everyday lives of enslaved people in a new way. In many ways Deetz argues for the role of archeology in social history. "Tradition and Innovation in African-American Yards" by Grey Gundaker argues for the role of objects and decoration in African American yards in African American culture. Gundaker argues that yard decoration is communicative. Gundaker also traces the origins of these practices to Kongo charm. They also create communicative spaces and play roles as spaces in African African culture. Gundaker does fail to very self consciously identify the fact that the yards he studies are located in the South. Gundaker does not discuss regional difference beyond a brief analysis of the varied dimensions of African American yards depending on their spatial layouts. While Gundaker's analysis at first glance seems very different from that of Deetz, it also argues for the use of objects in studying the lives and practices in historically  underrepresented populations. Because many African Americans did not traditionally leave archival records, analyzing African American yards can reveal much about their culture that would otherwise be unknown. Both of these articles elucidate the possible relationship between social history and material culture and show the limits of narrow interpretations of material culture that focus on wealth and aesthetics.

These articles are very useful for the interpretation of my object, a D.A.R.E T shirt. While my T-shirt is certainly not an archeological find, I plan to use it, combined with documents and written records, to discuss the effect of a government agency on African Americans and other vulnerable populations. These texts both elucidate the value of the study of objects talking about African American culture and they also illustrate varied ways of reading and interpreting objects.


Discussion Questions:

How could/should Deetz's study be updated in recent contexts?

In what other ways can material culture and archeology help elucidate the lives of "average" people?

Is archeology the same thing as material culture?