Well, you know the old chestnut- what's the difference between sociology and anthropology? Here's another one, what IS the difference between anthropology and human geography?

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Medieval historians also have a strong interest in geography. See http://tenthmedieval.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/leeds-2012-report-2/

Elaine Forde said:

But perhaps the matter is different here in UK? I was thinking mainly about my field, social anthropology, so the question was kind of flawed to begin with. But Matthew's perspective is interesting to me given some of the clearer overlaps for geographers with the four-field American-style anthroplogy.

One of the uncommon subfield combinations in contemporary American anthropology is archaeology + anthropological linguistics. But it is not uncommon for British and Irish arch(a)eologists to also be trained in philology, is it? That happens in Classics departments in the U.S., and also with some Mayanist U.S.-trained archaeologists (and here and there elsewhere amongst American anthropologists, I am sure).

Landscape archaeology is generally seen as distinct from settlement pattern study in the U.S., at least by those whom do not care for post-processualism. Given the role of Hodder and Tilley in the development of post-processualism and Tilley’s work using the term ‘landscape,’ I wonder if Hoskins’ book was an influence there.

Matt, could you give us a quick rundown on the differences between landscape archeology and settlement pattern study? 

John McCreery said:

Matt, could you give us a quick rundown on the differences between landscape archeology and settlement pattern study? 

I’m working on a rush job so I might not get to a substantive answer for a couple of days, but a short and completely biased answer is that landscape arch(a)eology is soft. Well, there must be a less disparaging way to put that. Impressionistic, maybe? :–)

"cultural anthropology and cultural geography?"

I'll use the example I learned in  Geog 101 in college:  Islam can be studied as an Islamic faith and culture, and that's cultural anthropology.  Islam can also be studied in relation to Islamization of landscapes, spaces, and places or spatial distribution of Islamic faith and culture and migratory mobility of Muslims and their way of life, and that's cultural geography.

I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what Matt has to say about landscape archaeology beng soft!

Elaine Forde said:

I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what Matt has to say about landscape archaeology being soft!

A stereotype of a self-described landscape archaeologist is someone whom, after you go on at some length about your excavations and analysis, is sure to say, “Yes, but how does it smell!”

My understanding is that landscape archaeology is meant to appeal for the inclusion of all of the senses and to turn archaeology into a true outdoor sport, if you will. (This is often described in the LA literature as a phenomenological approach. I don’t know phenomenology well but I am not convinced that it means simply “more sensory.”) That seems valid, at least up to a point. I would caution against two things:

  1. Linguistic anthropology was born out of completely justified critiques of the decontextualization of language from society and culture in the linguistics of American linguistics departments. The vanguard said, “Look, there is more to the study of language than formal analysis.” The fact that they could do “hard” linguistics lent them some credibility. A lot of younger linguistic anthropologists can not. They can do frequency counts and talk language ideologies but they can’t solve a phonology problem set. By the same token, I can take very seriously an accomplished digger who says, “Wait a minute, there’s more to archaeological interpretation than the site and unit level and what is in the ground there.” But I don’t think archaeology can ever be reduced to well-read hillwalking.
  2. I am an inveterate hillwalker myself, and one with a particular interest in history. Living in New England I have come to understand how the terrain I walk and snowshoe today is not that of 50, 100, 200, or 300 years ago. Forests have been cleared, then land kept in fields for generations, and now second growth forests are in the process of running wild in those long-kept fields. Wetlands have been drained and rivers riprapped. Cols have been filled. Knowing that does help me understand the landscape of the past; I have some appreciation for old growth having seen a little, and have some ability to imagine a landscape dominated by it. But archaeologists should not expect that the landscape surrounding a site today should necessarily resemble that of years past.

There is a character in Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost who I believe is a good example of someone who combines hard archaeology skills with a good sense for and of landscape, and landscape across time, at that.

Thanks, Matt, fascinating.

By coincidence I have been learning more about phenomenology by translating an essay about a famous Japanese designer Mukai Shintaro. Mukai was a student in Germany in the late 1950s, where he was heavily influenced by Bauhaus and other German thinkers. Particularly strong influences were Goethe and Walter Benjamin, but also curiously the American pragmatist and father of semiotics Charles Sanders Pierce. At any rate, chasing around and trying to figure out the implications of terms like morphology, metamorphosis, lifeworld, constellation, abduction, etc., I realized that I was reviewing an old debate that I first encountered in Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World. 


Whitehead observed that scientific method in the manner of classical physics involves a bifurcation of the world into what are traditionally called primary and secondary properties. The primary qualities are those that lend themselves to mathematical description and experimental research that starts from a simplified model of the phenomenon studied and deliberately excludes from consideration everything not included in the model. The model defines the primary properties being investigated. The secondary properties are everything excluded, and good experimental design aims at preventing secondary properties from interfering with the effects of the primary properties. One may, for example, learn a good deal about the operation of gravity by dropping cannon balls from the Leaning Tower of Pisa; cannon balls are not much affected by the friction of the air through which they fall. Feathers, however, are another matter....

While no one can deny that science conceived as a process of abstraction, modeling and experimentation has produced a lot of interesting and very useful knowledge, there have been, ever since the method was developed, critics who have rejected it on the grounds that there is no bifurcation in the natural world as a whole. This was the position of Goethe, who had a profound influence on the development of German historicism, which came to be built around the proposition that phenomena had to be studied as such, in all of their particularity. Benjamin, Husserl, and other phenomenological thinkers are all in this tradition, a tradition alive and well in an earlier anthropology for which ethnography was first and foremost the collection of particular facts about particular peoples and places. 

Serendipitously, I have also been reading Nassim Taleb's Antifragile, in which the former bond trader turned ferocious critic of modern economics and social science in general, observes that most successful traders are phenomenologists. They pay little attention to analytic models but pay close attention to what they see and hear around them in the world in which they operate. Ironically, Taleb's remarks resonate with those of critics of agricultural scientists employed by the likes of Monsanto, who recommend policies based on oversimplified models and experiments and ignore the phenomenological knowledge of farmers who spend every day in their fields.

Personally, I am like the Sufi judge. Confronted with the claims of classical science, I say, "Yes, yes." Confronted with phenomenological claims that classical science leaves out of account to much of the real world, I also say, "Yes, yes." I am far more interested in seeing how the two sides can be made to work together, to achieve a more complete and more richly textured knowledge of the world, than I am in adjudicating the claims of one versus the other.

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