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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life Paperback – August 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0385483995 ISBN-10: 0385483996 Edition: Rev Exp Su

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Rev Exp Su edition (August 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385483996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385483995
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

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.

From the Inside Flap

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.

Customer Reviews

His writing is part of what makes his books especially enjoyable.
M. Zavala
What Deetz does here is to use a particular specialized subject in each chapter as an elaborated example of one method or principal of historical archaeology.
Michael K. Smith
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the topic of archaeology and wants to know more about it.
Ryan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By "gus_mccrae69" on April 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
The main thrust of Deetz's argument in this book points to the incomplete nature of the traditional historian's approach to understanding past societies. By focusing only on written documentation, traditional historians necessarily confine the groups they can examine to literate societies, thereby excluding most people in the history of human existence. Furthermore, written documents contain the bias of the author, and so cannot always be trusted.
Deetz argues that historical archaeology and the study of material culture opens the door to understanding a far wider band of human societies, and can further help us relate to the literate cultures we study, by providing corroborating evidence, in some cases, and filling in the gaps overlooked in traditional written documents in other cases.
This work focuses mainly on early New England societies, but the research methods Deetz puts forth readily adapt to studies in other areas. The fact that this book still stands as required reading on university course lists 25 years after its first publication testifies to its usefulness...
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By G. Joy Robins on October 9, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed Deetz' newly updated introduction to Historical Archaeology in America. He makes clear that much can be gleaned from the seemingly insignificant material things that are left behind in the process of living. I greatly enjoyed his putting the pieces of the puzzles together. Sometimes the result was an interesting surprise. For instance, I didn't know that porches, which became so popular in America, were not a feature of European houses and were introduced by Africans. "Shotgun houses" also have African roots. Another surprising story is told by the changing styles of Colonial gravestones. They change subtly as the religious climate changes. The oldest being very stiff and stern and later ones becoming more decorative, replacing deaths heads with angels.
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Format: Paperback
Back forty years ago, when I was first getting into the formal study of "material history" -- also called "historical archaeology," as opposed to prehistorical -- Deetz was one of the principal practitioners in the field, teaching introductory courses at Brown and Berkeley and the University of Virginia. Out of those courses came the first edition of this book, published in 1977. It focused mostly on New England -- but that didn't matter because archaeological method and systematic interpretation is the same whatever milieu one applies it to. But Deetz felt the need to update what he had to say, and to broaden his scope to include the Chesapeake and also African American archaeology, hence this revised edition. The methods have changed somewhat over time, but the author's goals have remained the same.

The thing is, museums and recreated communities like Williamsburg, though fascinating, are in no way typical. Nearly all the surviving 17th century houses in Massachusetts are of one or two types, because they were built to last by people with the money to make certain of it -- but most of the population lived in much cruder dwellings, none of which survived. Again, what we see now is not typical. Hence, the necessity of archaeology, even to sort out the everyday history of the past couple of hundred years, even though excavation is often paralleled by published sources and official documents.

What Deetz does here is to use a particular specialized subject in each chapter as an elaborated example of one method or principal of historical archaeology. "The Anglo-American Past" discusses the principal of "cultural significance," via the artifact-survival problem noted above, as well as such concepts as "horizon" vs. "tradition.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Baltimore on December 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
"In Small Things Forgotten" is a must-read for archaeologists, historians, or anyone interested in America's past. It is well-written, engaging, and short, and still manages to be one of the defining works of American historical archaeology. It provides fascinating insight into how early American culture developed, but moreover shows how we can piece together this past based on the material clues that our forbears left behind. It shows how the historical record only tells a part of the story, and powerfully demonstrates the stories that can be told be artifacts. For non-archaeologists, the book makes clear how we know what we know about the past. It is accessible, free of too much technical jargon, and will draw you in as new understandings of the past weave together into an overall story.

Deetz ranges from ceramics to graveyard headstones to houses, weaving his examples together to show a fundamental shift in American culture: from an organic communal lifestyle to a formalized and individualized one. This analysis shows that from tiny archaeological remains we can understand large-scale social movements. For students of archaeology, Deetz' book is an important milestone that is directly relevant to work being done today. It illustrates a structural-fuctionalist approach to the past, and succinctly sums up some of the basic techniques of archaeology, including pattern recognition, spatial analysis, and seriation. The type of analysis Deetz describes applies not only to American history, but to archaeology of any place and time.

Anyone involved in archaeology or history must read "In Small Things Forgotten," without exception. And for anyone at all interested in the study of the past, this book is highly recommended.
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