Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Global history" that leaves out half of the globe

One would think that a work that claims to be "global" in scope would cover the entire world. So what should we make of the new book, A Companion to Global Historical Thought, that leaves out half of the globe? Is this ignorance, oversight, condescension, or what? Here is the citation:

A Companion to Global Historical Thought (2014, edited by Prasenjit Duara, Viren Murthy, and Andrew Sartori; Wiley Blackwell.

I haven't seen the actual book, just the table of contents and one chapter that an author had posted online. The first section, "Premodern historical thought," reviews history and historical thought in a variety of early traditions, from India to China to the Ottoman empire. So where is the New World? I checked the publisher's website, and found this blurb. I had to add two and a half words to avoid lying (I wouldn't want to post something blatantly incorrect, would I?):

A Companion to Global Historical Thought provides an in-depth overview of the development of historical thinking from the earliest times to the present, across part of the world, directly addressing the issues of historical thought in a semi-globalized context.  FROM THE PUBLISHERS WEBSITE

If the editors are willing to devote eight chapters to these various regional traditions of "premodern historical thought," one would think they might have been able to skip one of the TWO chapters on India to include at least one chapter on the ancient New World.

Did ancient New World cultures have historical traditions before the arrival of European conquerors? of course they did. Most likely every distinct culture (and there were literally thousands in the New World prior to Columbus) had a historical tradition. But there are at least four regions where these indigenous traditions are sufficiently well known (with surviving oral and written accounts) and sufficiently analyzed by rigorous scholars, to warrant inclusion alongside early Japan, China, and India.

(1) Central Mexico

The Aztecs had a rich tradition of political and social history, and the scholarly bibliography runs into the hundreds of works. Here are four important ones:
  • Boone, Elizabeth H.  (2000)  Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • Gillespie, Susan D.  (1989)  The Aztec Kings: The Construction of Rulership in Mexica History. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
  • Navarette Linares, Federico  (2011)  Los orígenes de los pueblos indígenas del Valle de México: Los altépetl y sus historias. Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City.
  • Nicholson, H. B.  (1971)  Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican Historiography. In Investigaciones contemporáneas sobre la historia de México, pp. 38-81. El Colegio de México and University of Texas Press, Mexico City and Austin.
Or check out some of my own works on the topic:
  • Smith, Michael E.  (1984)  The Aztlan Migrations of the Nahuatl Chronicles: Myth or History? Ethnohistory 31:153-186.
  • Smith, Michael E.  (1992)  Rhythms of Change in Postclassic Central Mexico: Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and the Braudellian Model. In Annales, Archaeology, and Ethnohistory, edited by A. Bernard Knapp, pp. 51-74. Cambridge University Press, New York

(2) Oaxaca

Both the Mixtec and Zapotec speaking polities of Oaxaca maintained painted books and carved stone records of their histories. Many of these have survived, and they have been rigorously analyzed by scholars. A few examples:
  • Jansen, Maarten E.R.G.N. and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jinénez  (2011)  The Mixtec Pictorial Manuscrirpts: Time, Agency and Memory in Ancient Mexico. Brill, Leiden.
  • Oudijk, Michel R.  (2000)  Historiography of the Bènizàa: The Postclassic and Early Colonial Periods (1000-1600 A.D.). CNWS Publications vol. 84. Research School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies, Universiteit Leiden, Leiden.
  • Urcid, Javier  (2001)  Zapotec Hieroglyphic Writing. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology vol. 34. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.

(3) The Maya area

The historical traditions of the Classic-period Maya were recorded in stone (and probably in painted books that have not survived), and the traditions of their conquest-era descendants were recorded in painted hieroglyphic books and maintained in oral tradition:
  • Houston, Stephen D.  (1993)  Hieroglyphs and History at Dos Pilas: Dynastic Politics of the Classic Maya. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • Roys, Ralph L.  (1967)  The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman
  • Schele, Linda and Peter Mathews  (1998)  The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. Simon and Schuster, New York.

(4) The Inca

Historical traditions are less well preserved in cultures that lacked full writing systems, but Inca professional historians kept track of history and the accounts were taken down in writing soon after the Spanish conquest:
  • Covey, R. Alan  (2006)  Chronology, Succession, and Sovereignty: The Politics of Inka Historiography and Its Modern Interpretation. Comparative Studies in Society and History 48:169-199.
  • Julien, Catherine  (2000)  Reading Inca History. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
So, if history did exist as a self-conscious domain of discourse in New World societies, and if many texts have survived, and if historical traditions have been ably analyzed by scholars for decades, then why were they left out of this book? To repeat, was this due to ignorance, oversight, condescension, or what?

Monday, May 26, 2014

James C. Scott thinks archaeology is worthless

Many archaeologists working on complex societies like to cite the works of James C. Scott, the political scientist/anthropologist/historian at Yale University. His works on peasant resistance (Scott 1976, 1985, 1990) are influential in the archaeological resistance literature, and his book on how some state regimes try to control people and society but end up creating more problems than they solve (Scott 1998) is widely cited. I'm not fond of Scott's works - they are simplistic and they often miss the main point of the topics he writes about. I don't want to get sidetracked here. But if you are one of those who likes his book Seeing Like a State, you may want to check out the scathing reviews by sociologists Russell Hardin (2001), and Michael Mann (American Journal of Sociology, 1999, vol. 104-6, p. 1813). Hardin was so exercised about deficiencies in Scott's theoretical approach to knowledge that he expanded the critique in his book review essay into a later book chapter (Hardin 2009). Or (to get some idea of Mann's views of Scott) think about Scott's scheme in relation to Blanton and Fargher (2008); that will show you how simple-minded and biased his account is (IF you have read Blanton & Fargher, that is).

Anyway, Scott recently wrote an interesting and incisive review of Jared Diamond's latest book, The World Before Yesterday in the London Review of Books. There is a nice post about Diamond's book and Scott's review in Savage Minds. While most of Scott's review is fine, I can't let his final sentence go unchallenged:

"We have virtually no credible about the world until yesterday [that is, about life and society before the modern era] and, until we do, the only defensible intellectual position is to shut up."

Scott's position in his book review essay is that Jared Diamond can only speculate about human life and society in the distant past, and that his speculations are heavily biased, misleading, and wrong. Scott is correct in his more limited point that contemporary hunter-gatherer society is a poor model for Paleolithic human society. But, "no credible evidence" ?? I guess we archaeologists are just scurrying around playing in the dirt for nothing. We can't say anything "credible" about life in the distant past. In other words, archaeology is worthless for purposes of social history or long-term changes in human society.

Scott's essay is mostly quite good. He does make one stupid statement: that all past states were slave societies, with up to 85% of the population in slavery (give me a break). But apart from that, I was just starting to think this was an insightful essay, and my low opinion of Scott was starting to improve slightly, when I got to the final line, quoted above. Perhaps James C. Scott's "only defensible intellectual position is to shut up" about topics he knows nothing about. And this, of course, is precisely the basis of his critique of Jared Diamond.........


This is true resistance, with real consequences

PS - Why don't I like Scott's work on resistance and hidden transcripts? I am a materialist. If the peasants are being screwed by the landlords, then that is the dominant social-economic fact. It makes no difference whether they accept the public transcript or not. It makes no difference if they elaborate "everyday forms of resistance." It makes no difference whether the peasants follow the proverb that begins Scott's 1990 book on resistance: "When the great lord passes the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts" (Scott 1990:v). Farts don't bring about change. What makes a difference is when the peasants express their resistance by attacking the bulldozer operators with machetes, or when they take up arms and horses (and big hats) to follow Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in attacking the federal armies. Resistance is only important when it has clear social and political
Mexican Revolution
 consequences. For a more scholalry expression of these views, see Brown (1996).


Blanton, Richard E. and Lane F. Fargher  (2008)  Collective Action in the Formation of Pre-Modern States. Springer, New York.

Brown, Michael F.  (1996)  On Resisting Resistance. American Anthropologist 98:729-735.

Hardin, Russell  (2001)  Seeing Like Hayek (review of Seeing Like a State, by James C. Scott). The Good Society 10(2):36-39.

Hardin, Russell  (2009)  How do you Know? The Economics of Ordinary Knowledge. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Scott, James C.  (1976)  The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Emiliano Zapata

Scott, James C.  (1985)  Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (1990)  Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (1998)  Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Scott, James C.  (2009)  The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Getting into the journal Science through the back door

Well, since I can't seem to get myself into the journal Science as an author (see my post on my second Science rejection, and one on my third rejection; my first rejection was back in my pre-blogging days), I guess I'll just have to settle for getting quoted in one of the journalism articles in Science.

Wade, Lizzie  (2014)  Beyond the Temples: Turning Their Backs on Spectacular Monuments, Archaeologists are Studying Ordinary Households to Uncover the Daily Rhythms of Long-Lost Cities. Science 344:684-686.

This is a decent discussion of non-monumental archaeology in Mesoamerica, with only a couple of silly points included (I won't mention these, to save some people embarrassment). For me, the fact that I am not misquoted or misunderstood is a pleasant surprise. I was impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of author Lizzie Wade in our phone conversation a month or two ago.

It is really great to see several projects from the University at Albany (SUNY) getting featured. Marilyn Masson and Rob Rosenswig are featured and quoted in the article, as is Rob's student Rebecca Mendelsohn, and my former Albany Ph.D. Tim Hare. Albany has a fantastic Mesoamerican archaeology program, a fact that some university administrators there can't seem seem to understand. But the journal Science understands.

And, it's always good to hear some interesting news about Teotihuacan from some of the top people working there (Linda Manzanilla, Ian Robertson, and Mike Spence).

The Tlamimilolpa compound at Teotihuacan
And speaking of Teotihuacan, just wait till you hear the new results on inequality at Teotihuacan, from my research group at ASU (the paper is under review).It will blow your socks off!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The SAA meeting, 2014

The annual meeting of the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) just concluded in Austin, Tx. It was a fun and exhausting meeting. I was able to talk to most of the people I wanted to see, I met some interesting people, heard some good talks (and some bad talks and lots of mediocre talks). Here are a few random points:

Texas Barbecue!

I had two (count em, 2) excellent barbecue meals while in Austin. My in-laws picked me up for lunch one day, and we went to the County Line Barbecue just outside Austin. Great food, funky atmosphere, great view. Then I went to a home barbecue at the house of Michael Love and Julia Guernsey. Wow, Michael makes a mean briskit! Add beer and a bunch of interesting people, and that party was a high point of the weekend.

Boring (um, yawn, well, umph, snort, I wasn't really snoring, was I?)

Yes, there were some boring talks. Well, actually there were MANY boring talks. See my post for advice on how you too can achieve a boring result in a conference presentation! A lot of people told me that my presentations were interesting and entertaining. I do have a good style (if I do say so myself), but could that mask a lack of content? I have been tempted to give a completely vacuous presentation sometime, but with flashy powerpoints, jokes, and a lively style. Sort of like the people who submit nonsense to journals to see if they will accept the paper.

The Congress Street Bridge Bats

I did walk across the Congress Street bridge just after dusk, and I think I saw a bat! Had a nice dinner with some Mayanists at the funky Margarita Cafe, and we walked back along Congress St.
We clearly missed the dramatic flight of hundreds of bats, but I think there was one straggler flying along, plus a few drunk graduate students looking for the Penn State party (no, it wasn't under the bridge).

Risky behavior (mine)

I did admit to some potentially illicit behavior during my presentation at the Presidential opening symposium Wednesday evening. Hopefully the relevant law enforcement types didn't attend and won't come after me. This reminds me of the public admission I made in an SAA session a number of years ago. It was a session in honor of George Cowgill, and I mentioned some risky behavior I had engaged in as an undergraduate. No, I won't repeat that here. I am far too stuffy and dignified for such admissions.

Is this blog too edgy?

This seems like a pretty tame blog to me. I only say outrageous things now and then, and those things are probably not considered outrageous to anyone but a few cranky archaeologists. But today a colleague suggested that some of my posts are too edgy or over the limit. Hmmmmm. Maybe I should say something really over the top. A couple of years ago, a departmental staffer offered to send tweets when I made a post. Ok, fine. But then when I posted my advice on "how to give a bad conference talk," she decided that was too outrageous for university approval. Was I encouraging bad behavior? That's not the right signal for a university program. I guess we are supposed to be boring. That ended my free tweets from my unit (now there are new staffers, and they are tweeting my posts again, if I remember to tell them).

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Is bad research unethical?

Suppose I were to decide to fudge some data in a publication. Maybe I refrain from reporting some

inconvenient data that don't support my argument, or perhaps I push my pet interpretation hard and don't bother to acknowledge counter-arguments or contrary data. Are these things unethical?

I refrain from this kind of activity. These activities seem deeply problematic and against my fundamental beliefs. I will usually make a stink if I catch such activities by colleagues or students. They are certainly against the standard ethical canons of science (see On Being A Scientist, something I often assign in graduate seminars). But I can't find anything suggesting they are against archaeological ethics. There is nothing in the Society for American Archaeology's Principles of Archaeological Ethics about this kind of scientific misconduct. The various collections of articles on archaeological ethics on my bookshelf don't say much about these problematic research practices. I would guess that the SAA journals would not accept papers with problematic methods like those I mention above, but the SAA style guide does not mention this at all.

This all seemed pretty normal until this afternoon. While reading up on rational choice theory, I found a reference to "post hoc theorizing" as something considered very negative in political science. Because I've been on the lookout for a concise description of what Binford called "post hoc accommodative arguments," I followed out some citations. Binford accused a lot of authors of this sin, but he never describes it in detail, or precisely what is wrong with it. I have always tried to get students to avoid this practice, but I've been looking for help from the published literature.

So I found some work on the problems of post hoc theorizing (see sources below). The main difficulty is that this practice prevents testing of one's hypothesis, since the interpretation is dreamed up after the data are gathered. It makes it difficult to know when an interpretation might be wrong. Post-hoc theorizing also opens up one's interpretations to random variation: the results are more likely to be due to chance. But then I was surprised to find these authors suggesting that this practice is also unethical.

“Graduate students in psychology are routinely taught the importance of delineating one's hypotheses in advance (i.e., prior to collecting data). Established researchers continue to regard it as questionable and possibly unethical to theorize after one's empirical results are known." (Baumeister and Leary 1997:313).

Post hoc theorizing jeopardizes the experimental method of psychology (and of much political science), and this is evidently considered an ethical lapse in that field. But I have never heard anyone suggest that the use of post hoc accommodative arguments was an ethical lapse in archaeology. Why not? I am no expert on ethics, but my guess is that the lack of a well-established methodology of data analysis in archaeology is the reason. We have canons of proper excavation technique, and if I were to screw up a dig and damage a site without proper documentation, it may violate archaeological ethics (I'm not really sure here; does incompetent excavation violate the principle of stewardship?). But my interpretation of Binford's critiques of post hoc accommodative arguments is that he was criticizing methodologically bad science, not unethical practices.

Should faulty argumentation, or other stronger cases of scientific misconduct, be considered violations of archaeological ethics? I'm not sure about this, in part because I haven't bothered to think much about it before this afternoon. But I admit that I have to admire the field of psychology if faulty experimental methods are considered an ethical breach. Perhaps archaeology needs stricter codes of ethics.

NOTE: I added this following material April 7, partly in response to Robert Mahaney's query.

Here is Kerr's (1998) list of the problems with HARKing ("Hypothesizing After the Results are Known"):

  • Translating Type I errors into hard-to-eradicate theory
  • Propounded theories that cannot (pending republication) pass Popper’s disconfirmability test.
  • Disguising pot hoc explanations as a priori explanations (when the former tend also to be more ad hoc, and consequently, less useful).
  • Not communicating valuable information about what did not work.
  • Taking unjustified statistical license.
  • Presenting an inaccurate model of science to students.
  • Encouraging “fudging” in other grey areas.
  • Making us less receptive to serendipitous findings.
  • Encouraging adoption of narrow, context-bound new theory.
  • Encouraging retention of too-broad, discomfirmable old theory.
  • Inhibiting identification of plausible alternative hypotheses.
  • Implicitly violating basic ethical principles.

 As for the ethical issue, Kerr notes that this practice is not mentioned in the codes of ethnics of the American Psychological Association, or the National Academy of Sciences. But he continues (p. 209):

·         “I think a case can be made that HARKing violates a fundamental ethical principle of science: the obligation to communicate one’s work honestly and completely. Albert Einstein states this principle well: ‘The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” HARKing can entail concealment. The question then becomes whether what is concealed in HARKing can be a useful part of the ‘truth.’ ... The content of what is concealed or misrepresented in HARKing is undoubtedly less crucial than what is misrepresented when results are fabricated, but the damage done by widespread and recognized HARKing to mutual trust among scientists may be qualitatively the same.”  (p. 209)

Baumeister, Roy F and Mark R Leary  (1997)  Writing narrative literature reviews. Review of general psychology 1(3):311-320.

Green, Donald and Iam Shapiro  (1994)  Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory. Yale University Press, New Haven.

Kerr, Norbert L.  (1998)  HARKing: Hypothesizing After the Results are Known. Personality and Social Psychology Review 2(3):196-217.

Leung, Kwok  (2011)  Presenting Post Hoc Hypotheses as A Priori: Ethical and Theoretical Issues. Management and Organization Review 7(3):471-479.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why do I dislike archaeological theory?

Archaeological theory, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. I am planning a graduate seminar in theory for the fall, so I have theory on the brain. Ugh, I'd rather think about other things! Like basketball and beer. Will I root for Cindy's alma mater, the Florida gators, or for the Wisconsin badgers for Big-10 solidarity? Maybe they won't both win Saturday.

Reason 1: Archaeological theory is boring, the same old, same old. I did some checking with other graduate archaeological theory courses around the country, and they are pretty much the same old historical perspective. First came the discovery of chronology, then culture history, then Binford and the New Archaeology, then Schiffer and the post-processualists, then all kinds of high-level abstract social theory, with some other things. Yadda yadda yadda. These courses follow Abend's Theory type 4 (the words of the great masters, the history of thought). Check out my comments on Abend here (Abend will be the first paper assigned in my seminar). I don't know how to discuss theory without Abend. But archaeological theory is boring, boring, boring. First, this approach focuses more on ideas about ideas, rather than ideas about what people did in the past. Second, students can read the history of theory on their own if they are interested; I would rather spend my seminar time helping students learn how to USE theory to answer archaeological questions. Knowing what Binford said in 1968 won't help much for that.

Reason 2: Discussions of theory and epistemology have been hijacked by the post-processualists. How many political economists or epistemological science-types are writing about archaeological theory? Not many. Do you want my historical speculation for the reason? Binford and the processualists climbed up the wrong branch when the sided with Hempel's covering law model, which was recognized as not applicable to social science BEFORE they started touting it! Read the philosophy of science. This left scientific archaeology without a valid explanatory epistemology. The post-processualists had a field-day, making fun of the bad science of covering-law explanations, while the scientific types (like me) just hunkered down and did our work, not making much epistemological noise. So nearly all of the publications on archaeological theory after Binford were by post-processualists! No wonder so many students got off on the wrong foot.

Reason 3: Non-theory is thrown in with theory. Why should topics like ethics, descendant communities, and heritage concerns be included in books (Hodder 2012) and courses on archaeological theory? Is this what archaeological theory now consists of?

Reason 4: Post-processual theory is deficient in social science. If you follow Hodder's ideas of theory, then I don't do archaeology at all. Or perhaps I do weird things that don't rate inclusion in his scheme of archaeological theory. Maybe I do non-theoretical archaeology. Check out the diagram from Hodder's intro chapter from his theory reader, 2nd edition:

Hodder (2012), intro to Archaeology Theory Today, 2nd ed, p. 7
So, what is wrong with this figure? Well, the dominant social science theoretical approaches are not included! A recent collection on the philosophy of social science includes a chapter for each of the "social science paradigms" (Jarvie and Zamora-Bomilla 2011). Here is the list, with an indication of whether these are  included in Hodder's diagram or not:

  •   (1) Rational choice theory  -  NO

  •          (2) Game theory  - NO

  •          (3) Social networks  - NO

  •          (4) Normative criteria of social choice  - NO

  •          (5) Analytical sociology  - NO

  •          (6) Institutions  - NO

  •          (7) Evolutionary approaches  - YES

  •          (8) Functionalism and structuralism  - NO

  •          (9) Phenomenology, hermeneutics, and ethnomethodology  - YES

  •          (10) Pragmatism and symbolic interactionism  - ???

  •          (11) Social constructionism, postmodernism and deconstructionism  - YES

  •          (12) Theories of culture, cognition, and action  - YES

  •  (13) Communicative action and critical theory  - NO


Since I work with networks, analytical sociology, institutions, and rational choice theory, I guess I'm not part of the realm of Hodder's world of "archaeological theory."

But maybe that's ok. I don't really want to be part of the post-proceessual archaeological world. As I've expressed in the blog before, I now read more theory (and more articles and books in general) in the non-anthropological social sciences than in archaeology or anthropology.

So, how can someone who hates archaeological theory teach a graduate seminar in theory? The answer is that this will not be a course in "archaeological theory" but rather a class on "theory in archaeology." That is, theory that archaeologists use, or can use, to understand and explain the past. We will dispense with the usual content of the archaeological theory courses in about two weeks, and get on to epistemology, causality, explanation, the structure of argument, comparative methods, and then some useful theories, from collective action to human behavioral ecology to political economy. If you want an idea of what I mean, check out my paper on empirical urban theory.

Hodder, Ian  (2012)  Introduction: Contemporary Theoretical Debate in Archaeology. In Archaeological Theory Today, edited by Ian Hodder, pp. 1-14. 2nd ed. Polity Press, Oxford.

Jarvie, Ian and Jesús Zamora-Bomilla (editors)  (2011)  Sage Handbook of the Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Sage, New York.

Smith, Michael E.  (2011)  Empirical Urban Theory for Archaeologists. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 18:167-192.