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In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology…

In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life (edition 1977)

by James Deetz

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609724,975 (4.06)11
History is recorded in many ways. According to  author James Deetz, the past can be seen most fully  by studying the small things so often forgotten.  Objects such as doorways, gravestones, musical  instruments, and even shards of pottery fill in the  cracks between large historical events and depict  the intricacies of daily life. In his completely  revised and expanded edition of In Small  Things Forgotten, Deetz has added new  sections that more fully acknowledge the presence  of women and African Americans in Colonial  America. New interpretations of archaeological finds  detail how minorities influenced and were affected  by the development of the Anglo-American tradition  in the years following the settlers' arrival in  Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Among Deetz's  observations: Subtle changes in building long before the  Revolutionary War hinted at the growing independence  of the American colonies and their desire to be  less like the  British. Records of estate auctions show that many  households in Colonial America contained only one  chair--underscoring the patriarchal nature of the  early American family. All other members of the  household sat on stools or the  floor. The excavation of a tiny community of  freed slaves in Massachusetts reveals evidence of  the transplantation of African culture to North  America. Simultaneously  a study of American life and an explanation of  how American life is studied, In Small  Things Forgotten, through the everyday  details of ordinary living, colorfully depicts a  world hundreds of years in the past.… (more)
Title:In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life
Authors:James Deetz
Info:Garden City, N.Y. : Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977.
Collections:Your library, Read, Read this year, Discard, Working on
Tags:!Sale:LibP, Science:Archaeology, History, History:US, __scanned

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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz



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A mildly interesting book - unusually for me, I found the details rather dull but his sweeping conclusions quite interesting. I suspect it was the author's PhD dissertation - that style. It's about historical archaeology, specifically in the area of the East Coast of the US, mostly New England; there's a lot about how what can be determined with historical (written) evidence can bolster or contradict physical (dug-up) evidence, and how awareness of those contradictions can be useful in pre-historic archaeology as well. Specifically, most of the book was a sketch of how American culture changed from the 17th to the 19th century, as evidenced by...dishes, houses, gravestones, music... various evidence. Then it ended with a dig of a small African-American settlement, which looked (from surviving pictures, and historical evidence) very like all the other settlements of the time - but the dig came up with some serious differences (size and style of houses, locations of hearths, food waste - bones and the like). His sweeping conclusion was something along the lines of "just because you're within an area of a culture, don't assume that everything there reflects that one culture". Hmmm - I don't know if I read the revised edition or the original - probably the original, I didn't see anything about revision. I'm glad I read it, but I don't intend to reread. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Sep 30, 2019 |
Expanded and revised
  Boundary_End_Center | Apr 11, 2019 |
I attempted to read this revision too soon after reading the much shorter first edition. This is too much 'same but different' for me. I do say, be aware, this is almost revised & expanded enough to be a whole different book. The first was focused on New England, this includes more of Virginia and the Chesapeake. This also has more of the African and African-American experience.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
I did not know what to expect from this little book. I originally thought that James Deetz’s title, “In Small Things Forgotten: The Archeology of Early American Life” was borrowed from a poem. In fact it was borrowed from a probate inventory. I have had some exposure to archaeology and was at first concerned that the book was simply an introduction to the science. Deetz explains stratification (the stuff on the bottom is the oldest) and that pottery is fragile in the home but nearly immortal in the ground. But he also goes deeper and his focus is on the United States, not a dead civilization I have little interest in.
His examination of gravestones, illustrated with very informative drawings, is the best explanation I have seen of how styles evolve and how cultural evolution spreads out from urban centers to the countryside. As Deetz continues to explain archaeological methods he also explores a major cultural shift that could easily have escaped the notice of history drawn entirely from documentary evidence, the change in focus from communal to the individual. After covering the basics while showing us how the English culture was brought over and adapted to the realities of the colonies Deetz shows us how even our involuntary African immigrants brought their culture, food, music, styles of homes, and even grammar with them to the New World.
Originally written in 1977 “In Small Things Forgotten” is still a fun and educational read that I think anyone with an interest in American history would enjoy. ( )
  TLCrawford | Feb 4, 2014 |
This is one of my favourite books, even though it inspires historical archaeology envy in me. It is a very readable melding of documentary research with archaeological evidence. The mundane becomes important, and sheds light onto ordinary lives. This is history almost lierally, from the bottom up. Deetz brings humanity into archaeology, and discusses everything from why Americans eat with forks in the right hand and Europeans in the left, to foodways in various classes of colonial American society to the life cycle of crockery and stylistic changes in gravestone carving. ( )
  dylkit | Feb 3, 2014 |
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