Archaeology Theory and Method
Anthropology P402, Spring 2011
Paul Mullins

If you haven't read very many refereed archaeological journals like American Antiquity, Historical Archaeology, Antiquity, or assemblage, this exercise will introduce you to professional journals, which are one of the most critical forms of scholarly archaeological discourse.  In this exercise you will prepare a paper that reviews one year of a single journal that is either exclusively archaeological or at least includes material culture as a significant focus.  Your paper should provide readers a good idea of the journal's topical foci (e.g., periods, regions, material culture types, etc), organization (e.g., book reviews, reader commentary, etc), degree of specialization, and readability, among other things.

What is a journal review?

The journal review is a paper you would give to another professional so that they could get a sense of whether the publication contains analyses or subjects that are relevant to their own research. Some of your analysis should be descriptive: e.g., how long are most of the articles, who publishes the journal, does it feature graphics/photos/etc, does it have book reviews--if so, how many and how long are they--, does it review films, did it include thematic issues focusing on a single issue in the sample you surveyed, does it have any special features (e.g., online journal, poetry by field archaeologists, etc), and so on.

Your analysis should summarize a single year of a quarterly journal (or at least four issues if the journal is published bi-annually or irregularly). Your written analysis should describe the journal, summarize the range of topics it presents, note the theoretical perspectives it includes, and assess the general readability of the journal.  You must include a detailed analysis of at least two papers that you consider particularly interesting, overwhelmingly problematic, or typical of the journal's offerings--you are not expected to review every single article in detail. The two papers on which you focus should illustrate what you consider a strength (or weakness) of the journal.  For instance, if the journal includes detailed analyses of material culture that you found interesting or informative, you would note an example of a paper that does this sort of analysis and show how such analysis is interesting and useful. If the journal includes papers that are awash in mystifying language that seems reserved for specialists, you could cite a typical paper and include some examples of points that you simply were unable to follow without specialized training. The focus on two papers in the journal does not need to be a detailed critique of the papers; instead, describe and evaluate the journal and use as many concrete examples drawn from the papers as feasible.  Summarize the sorts of subjects the journal included in the year you reviewed, the research questions it included (e.g., class, excavation technique, gender, artifact analysis methodology, racism, opinion/theory papers, etc), and the utility of the journal. For instance, if the journal is dull, what is missing? What would make it more interesting? If the journal was interesting, exactly why did you find it compelling?  If the journal contains both some hits and some duds, what might make it more consistent? Is this a journal you think you might read by choice?

Why read journals?

Archaeological interpretation appears in myriad forums: Books, conference papers, contract reports, and journals are the most common. Of these texts, journals are perhaps the best combination of, on the one hand, up-to-date interpretation and, on the other hand, extensive data and advanced analysis. In contrast to journals, book-length studies can take years to proceed through the process of excavation, analysis, writing, reviewing, revising, and eventually publishing a manuscript: It is typical for a single-authored archaeological text to be in production five to ten years after excavations have been completed (edited volumes with multiple authors writing on a similar subject sometimes are produced more quickly). Books are certainly conclusive and definitive, but by the time they appear they sometimes are already dated because there is so much archaeological research always being conducted. On the other hand, papers delivered at professional conferences (e.g., Society for Historical Archaeology, Society for American Archaeology, etc) often are prepared while research is being conducted, reflecting nascent ideas and initial interpretations that may eventually be refined or even rejected. Conference papers are timely, but they aren't intended to be conclusive. Contract reports prepared for cultural resource management projects are timely and contain dense description, but they are not widely distributed and they tend to focus on data analysis and excavation methodology rather than social and cultural analysis.

In juried journals, papers are submitted by archaeologists and then reviewed by peers who assess the papers' potential contribution to existing interpretation, the persuasiveness of the data, and clarity. Some journals are quite stringently reviewed and demand significant changes to a paper before it is accepted for publication; other journals are more relaxed and less fascist about writing technique, data presentation, and so on. In any case, though, the referred review process forces writers to produce literature the journal's reviewers consider professionally accurate, clear, thorough, and responsible.  The majority of papers submitted to journals have been "road-tested" at conferences, where major ideas are presented to colleagues who suggest changes, indicate comparative data, demolish problematic conclusions, and so on.  Significant portions of the data analysis already have been completed for most journal papers as well.  Consequently, journal papers are pretty up-to-date and the ideas are well thought-out. The book reviews in journals also provide a good way to monitor the field, although reviews for most books appear several years after the book itself was published.

What journal should I read?

There are lots of archaeological publications throughout the world, but most of you should choose to review one of the major American archaeological journals. Journals can be found in the library's periodicals section, and many of the journals listed here are included in the university's collection.  If your interest is in a journal or topic not included in the IUPUI collection, you might need to make a day-trip to another area library.  If the journal section of the library isn't a place you commonly pass time, you should just nose through a bunch of journals and finding something that appeals to you.  Be creative and resourceful, and don't waste your time with a journal that is entirely impenetrable or mind-numbingly dull--if you really don't like the journal, you're unlikely to do a good job at the review. I'll provide some suggestions here, but there are many more journals that you could use. However, do not use popular archaeological magazines, such as Archaeology and Biblical Archaeology Review.  These magazines are reviewed, but the process is much different than that for a professional journal.  Articles in popular archaeology magazines are solicited by the editors for an idiosyncratic range of reasons, such as a subject's popularity:  dead bodies, for instance, get vastly more coverage in Archaeology than they do in the discipline at large.  I will not accept a journal review that examines a popular magazine, so if you have any questions about whether your journal is suitable to the exercise, please ask me.

If you aren't familiar with historical archaeology literature in the US, you should consider reviewing Historical Archaeology. Its only competition is the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, which aspires to include a broader mix of papers from throughout the world than Historical Archaeology. The major prehistoric journal in the US is American Antiquity, although it includes data from throughout the world; be forewarned that it can be quite technical. Latin American Antiquity focuses exclusively on Latin American archaeology. The more lively British equivalent of American Antiquity is Antiquity. If you're interested in "dirt archaeology"--detailed analyses of excavation method, artifact study, and field season reports--, you'll find plenty of material in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory or the Journal of Field Archaeology. More liberal and lively visions of archaeology can be found in the Journal of Material Culture and Journal of Social Archaeology.  Online journals, such as assemblage and Internet Archaeology, are reviewed through a standard peer review process, but the online journals capitalize on the creative possibilities of HTML; assemblage, for instance, includes some quite creative interviews, commentary, and even art.

Not strictly archaeological journals that contain some papers on material culture or at least considering materialism include publications in anthropology, decorative arts, and American Studies. Anthropological four-field publications typically include a modest scatter of archaeological papers as well as traditional ethnographies. The best-known are Current Anthropology and American Anthropologist; the former generally includes more archaeology than the latter.  Decorative arts and museum literature contains a fair amount of material culture: the best-known and most widely read is Winterthur Quarterly (which covers American decorative arts and society). Although their coverage of material culture is inconsistent at best, American Studies journals such as American Quarterly and The Journal of Popular Culture contain a fair amount of material archaeologists could stand to know.

How should I write this? When is it due?

Your review should be written as a typed, double-spaced, and stapled paper. Use a 12-pitch font with 1" margins on all sides, print on only one side of the page, and edit your paper for spelling and grammatical errors.  Write the review as a paper with an introduction, building arguments, and conclusion, and not as disconnected insights about each issue or paper (i.e., don't turn in something that looks like a handful of index cards.  You should conceive of the text you'll produce as a succinct research paper.  Most thorough reviews will take about five to eight pages.  If it is unclear how to prepare your review or you need help with any portion of the assignment, feel free to talk with me.

The review is due on or before March 5.  Late papers will be penalized a full letter grade for every day they are submitted late.  The paper is worth 20% of your course final grade, so do not be tempted to skip the assignment.  If you are having any problem completing the exercise on time, please discuss it with me as soon as possible.

Last updated October 22, 2011