Come think about the past with me…

Posted on April 21, 2010


Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives is a book published in 2008 by Thames and Hudson. A product of my teaching an interdisciplinary course, “Archaeology of Sex and Gender”, in Berkeley’s Discovery Course program, the book is an experiment in making archaeological knowledge available to others interested in teaching about sex and gender, from anthropological, historical, archaeology, and gender studies perspectives. While examples from “the past” are sometimes brought into discussions in allied fields like anthropology or gender studies, and material histories are sometimes included with documentary histories, most archaeologists, myself included, complain that these uses misrepresent both what we know, and how we know, about past ways of being men and women. The power of the past to naturalize what we should question is something many feminist archaeologists, myself included, want to combat. I know from teaching hundreds of students from across the university that the best way to make others understand the power of the past, and its dangers, is to engage directly with primary materials. So the book project is paradoxical: it provides a single-authored text that has as its goal not to be simple straight-forward story-telling about the past, but rather, clear and compelling narrative about doing analysis of the material traces of past lives.

Since the publication of the book, I have heard from many people using it in teaching. Some have written to ask me to contribute to other projects; some to ask about how I approach certain materials. This blog is intended to provide a forum for me to share the teaching approaches that I use, from which the book emerged. I intend to share bibliography, notes on how I use materials, what worked and what didn’t. I welcome questions and hope we can create a forum to encourage more people to incorporate this material in courses. Think creatively! you don’t have to be one of us who are committed to teaching whole courses on this topic; why not include it in your World History, Introduction to Anthropology, or other mainstream course?