We Are Not Alone

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Documentary editors may not have as direct a presence on cable TV as historical archaeologists, but we can see a lot of ourselves in a recent posting by Paul Mullins, the president of the Society for Historical Archaeology. With some substitution of terms, he’s talking about us:

“We live in a moment in which the profession of historical archaeology [/textual scholarship] seems characterized by an odd divide.  On the one hand, material things and archaeology [/historical and literary texts] are staples of popular culture: a vast range of people seem to be enchanted by material things [/manuscripts] and everyday histories, and nearly all of us can tell stories of communities and students whose lives have been shaped by historical archaeology [/documentary editing] in modest and consequential ways alike.  On the other hand, though, the discipline is under fire in the face of a withering economy, a government shutdown, a wave of political critics, and a steady flow of well-trained archaeologists [/editors] growing desperate for employment.  The very things we and many of our constituencies are so interested in may be simultaneously receiving their professional death rites.”

And:

“Lazy politicians and pop commentators commonly use archaeology [/editorial projects] as an easy critique of the dilemmas of scholarship, budgets, or ideology, and the politicians in particular need to hear from constituents whose stake in historical archaeology [/documentary scholarship] cannot be dismissed as spoiled scholars defending intellectual turf and exorbitant salaries.  The historical archaeological [/documentary editing] community worldwide is a rather modest number of professionals, but the communities we impact are enormous.  In the US if not the rest of the world, the voices of these non-professionals who are fascinated with our work needs to be mobilized more effectively.”

All scholars of the past face immense challenges in communicating the importance of what we do. Recognizing ourselves in Paul Mullins’s insightful comments helps us understand that documentary editors are part of a larger picture that includes practitioners of many disciplines.

Jim McClure

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