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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life
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In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  547 ratings  ·  33 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 1st 1996 by Anchor (first published 1977)
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This book seemed both too simplistic and too limited in its argument. Its simplicity, were it being taught to an undergraduate audience, would actually emerge as a strength. Deetz uses clear historical examples to present his case regarding the importance of historical archeology (basically, studying stuff as varied as pottery to architecture of homes) to our understanding of humanity's past. However, where the argument goes awry is in his suggestion that these things need to be foregrounded ove ...more
Excellent book on historical archaeology, which is the part of archaeology that makes use of the written historical record as well as excavation and more traditional archaeological techniques. The author restricts the field to "the spread of European cultures since the 15th century and their impact and interaction with the cultures of indigenous people." I think that's a little TOO restrictive (surely other cultures had their own written records for that time period?), but I'm not an archaeologi ...more
Very readable. I would give it a more favorable review, perhaps, if I were more interested in the material he studied, so I shouldn't fault him for that. Maybe I bristled in the beginning and never quite came back when he stated that he considers "historical archaeology" to be the study of basically post-15thc. European culture and its influence in the colonial world -- that left this aspiring classical archaeologist feeling a tad slighted. I know he wasn't the first to suggest that the term mig ...more
Recommended by William Rathje (author of Rubbish!) this slim book examines the contrast between what archeological research in New England can tell us about the life in the 1600's versus what the written record tells us.

The book was loosely grouped around examining refuse (in particular the pottery/porcelain remains), the evolution of gravestone icons, and the structure of homes. The book made some assumptions as to prior knowledge (such as basic archaeological terminology & theory), but wa
Marilyn Johnson
A short, eloquent book that captures the attraction and importance of historical archaeology (the archaeology of the past few hundred years). It is as illuminating about what life was like in colonial America as another great book, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, except instead of using one woman's diary as a jumping off point about the way people of that time ate, traded, and treated their families, Deetz writes about how h ...more
probably only enjoyable if you are an archeology / anthropology nerd. since i only dabble, i give it 2 stars. the subject would make a great new yorker article.
a really great, approachable introduction to the ways in which material culture may be used to reconstruct cultural systems in the past. deetz is concerned with writing a more democratic history of early america, and he claims that archaeology is the key, for the archaeological record mitigates, at least to some extent, the anglo-american bias (in terms of perspective and more simply in terms of quantity) in surviving textual sources. the big idea is that we modify the material universe we inhab ...more
Deetz combines the documentary record with archeological excavation to construct (or at least support) a narrative of the changes in the culture of New England from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. I was interested because the book discusses the history of New England based on artifacts left directly by the people living there, rather than written records made by a small minority of the population. The book discussed the spread of changes in material culture, such as gravestone desi ...more
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It had some problems, namely talking as if the american historical record is the limit for any kind of real written history, and at the end it seemed to double back on the main point being made throughout the book. I got the impression through the first seven chapters that the book was encouraging people to use history and archaeology together to develop the best possible understanding of the past, since both history and archaeology have drawbacks and benefits, b ...more
First published in 1977 and expanded in 1995, James Deetz’s "In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life" begins with a memorable anecdote of a New England appraiser who in 1658 included as his final entry to an estate’s listing—“In small things forgotten, eight shillings sixpence”—in which Deetz calls attention to the appraiser’s acknowledgment that “things that he may have overlooked . . . nevertheless have value” (4). Drawing from a variety of sources including ceramic di ...more
My first real introduction to material culture. I love stuff. Deetz simple idea is that we can understand a culture best by looking at the kinds of stuff made and used by that culture. Literature, art, and other kinds of visual and written sources can lie. They are often made with specific agendas. The stuff we leave behind, if looked at correctly and in conjuction with other sources, can reveal what a culture believes, its econimic and social systems, etc.

For instance, by analyzing the length
Great little introduction to elements of material culture. This was the first book assigned in my material culture class this semester. Deetz includes all kinds of interesting information about New England gravestones, early Virginia dwellings, simple pottery and smoking pipes, and how examining these things can provide clues about social and cultural history. The most interesting section to me was the chapter about a small community of free African Americans living in Plymouth, Massachusetts, i ...more
Donna Anoskey
Had this as a textbook in college. Twenty years later, it is still an excellent read for those interested in American Colonial Archaeology.
Critiques of this book notwithstanding, this is a classic text for archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and those interested in the history of early settlement in the US. The models Deetz proposes for understanding anything from architecture to graves present a fascinating means of the numerous data presented here and even when stretched too thin, his concepts are still rather compelling and completely enthralling. His writing is part of what makes his books especially enjoyable. He is a ...more
Apr 02, 2008 Duntay rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who get headaches from Timeteam
Recommended to Duntay by: Ellen
Shelves: archaeology
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 socie ...more
Very good. Easy to read, with the few academic terms clearly defined, but mostly in casual language. My interest in the history and archaeology of Anglo-American colonies is renewed even further after finishing this book.
Liz De Coster
Totally not what I was looking for in terms of course readings, but I was so absorbed by the book it didn't matter. Deetz looks at several domestic archaeological features - pottery, house layouts, etc. - and uses them to describe how we know what we know (and don't) about the first 200-odd years of American settlements. A slim but deep volume, appropriate for the detail-oriented reader.
Barbara Talbert
Having had the opportunity to work alongside this archaeologist in high school it sealed my fate. A bachelor's degree in anthropology and an ever thirsting knowledge for understanding how cultures "do what they do" is what came of it. A great beginners book on the subject that doesn't get too caught up in the technicalities of the art we perform.
Discusses early American ideological change from the 1600 to the early 1900s using archaeology and the study of material culture. He also devotes a significant portion of the book to the presence African-American peoples, their expression of African cultural heritage, and their contribution to mainstream American culture.
I love this book! A very close and interesting analysis of how several examples of everyday objects/construction styles fitted into their milieux. I don't read a lot of archaeology or history books, although I do read some, but this is one of my favourites.
Jada Roche
Very 1970's, and fairly pat, but for me, a good start into a look at early American history, namely the small bits that served as the foundation for how the current population lives. dated, but interesting.
Deetz distinguishes historical archaeology from traditional archaeology and proceeds to summarize a series of finds. He explains how textual sources and archaeological sources create a more complete perspective on life in the past.
A great book that I recommend to people who don't quite understand when I explain that I am a historical archaeologist. Deetz has a style that will appeal to the professional and layperson alike.
Tom Mackie
I have read three editions of this work and used it for class several times. It is not easy to read but does well to push the young scholar to focus on study of objects.
Sweet little history book that's great for anyone who has a fascination with the past and archaeology. I'll never look at headstones in the same way!
A. Thurman
Dense with academic detail, so not a recreational read but a very good overview of the historic value of seemingly insignificant artifacts.
David price
A small gem in historical archaeology. I had the pleasure of having Jim Deetz as a professor in College. A great experience.
Even if you are not paying attention you will not miss the main ideas of this book as they are all italicized.
Read this as part of a Historical Archeology class I took. Helps with going on digs in the U.S. which I did.
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