On Writing the Past Backwards
Speaker: Matthew Johnson (Professor of Anthropology, Northwestern University)
I am writing a book on English landscapes in the context of the north Atlantic. It spans the 2nd millennium CE, and works backwards, from New World colonial encounters, to interactions with Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, back to medieval infrastructure and beyond. I discuss two challenges for this project. First, while there is much written on how time is socially embedded, there is little on the reversal of time. Such a theoretical gap is strange, given that working backwards, peeling off the layers, is so central to what archaeologists do. Second, identities are never essential, and are always in a state of becoming. So there is no essence to ‘Englishness’; the English re-made themselves over and over again. Time and cultural identity come together in understanding the long term, and in reconciling enduring structures with the importance of human agency. And they unavoidably speak to the populist nationalisms of recent and not-so-recent times.
[This event took place on 12 December 2019, 6.30-8.30pm]