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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of…
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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life (edition 1996)

by James Deetz

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676825,690 (4.04)20
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)
Member:jsmolenski
Title:In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life
Authors:James Deetz
Info:Anchor (1996), Paperback, 304 pages
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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life by James Deetz

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"If we could find in some way find a way to understand the significance of artifacts as they were thought of and used by Americans in the past, we might gain new insight into the history of our nation." Such is the purview of the historical archaeologist. In this small book, James Deetz, gives us a short, very readable and intriguing overview of some of the interesting work done by historical archaeologists, including himself, in New England (he does occasionally reference work done in Virginia and other early colonies). He begins by noting that there are certain factors that favor the survival of some objects and not others, and those surviving objects are 'not necessarily representative of their period.' So, as not to rely solely on museum collections, historical archaeologists do digs.

Deitz shows us how such objects found reveal how people lived and thought in early times. He discusses three early periods in our cultural history and his chapters explore such topics as gravestones, buildings, ceramics, but also the changes in tools, food preparation, the disposal of refuse, furniture (lack of chairs!) and music. Intriguingly, He also discusses a dig of the once small community of African Americans near Plymouth, Massachusetts, called “Parting Ways” which show ties back to African roots. There are so many interesting bits in this book.

At the end of the book Deitz implores us NOT to forget the little, seemingly insignificant things "for in the seemingly little and insignificant existence is captured. We must remember these bits and pieces, and we must use them in new and imaginative ways so that a different appreciation for what life is today, and was in the past, can be achieved. The written document has its proper and important place, but there is also a time when we should set aside of perusal of diaries, court records, and inventories, and listen to another voice… "Don’t read what we have written; look at what we have done."

The reader will probably not look at his or her fork quite the same again. ( )
  avaland | Jan 22, 2021 |
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. ( )
1 vote 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 |
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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.

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