Archaeological Dialogues

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Archaeological Dialogues (2009), 16:131-142 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

Discussion Article

Millennial archaeology. Locating the discipline in the age of insecurity

Shannon Lee Dawdy

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This discussion article responds to a forum question posed by the editors of Archaeological dialogues: ‘is archaeology useful?’ My response initially moves backward from the question, considering whether archaeology ought to be useful, how it has been useful in the past, and the millennial overtones of the question in our present climate of crisis. I critique the primary way in which archaeology attempts to be useful, as a dowsing rod for heritage through ‘public archaeology’. While European archaeology has long been aware of the dangers of nationalism, in the Americas this danger is cloaked by a focus on indigenous and minority histories. I then move forward through the question and urge colleagues to embrace an archaeological agenda geared towards the future rather than the past. My hope is that transatlantic dialogue will be politically useful in reorienting archaeological research towards supranational problems such as climate change, hunger and population stress.

Keywordscrisis; public archaeology; future

Shannon Lee Dawdy ( is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, where she has taught since receiving her Ph.D. in anthropology and history from the University of Michigan in 2003. She is a historical anthropologist and archaeologist concentrating on the Atlantic world after 1450, with field research focused on Louisiana and Cuba. She is the author of Building the Devil's empire. French colonial New Orleans and coeditor with Antonio Curet and Gabino La Rosa Corzo of Dialogues in Cuban archaeology. She has worked extensively in New Orleans before and after Katrina in archaeology and historic preservation, on both public policy and research-oriented projects. She is currently writing a book on sensuality, temporality, and social life based on an archaeology of New Orleans from its founding to the present.