Saturday, October 06, 2007

Abu el-Haj: archaeology, scholarship - interest

Arguments about Palestinian anthropologist Nadia Abu el-Haj's ethnography of Israeli archaeology have been going back and forth since it was published, but it was only when she was evaluated for tenure at Barnard College, Columbia University that they became as public(ised) and as unacademic as they have.

My interest

Like what appears to be the vast majority of the commentators, I haven't read Abu el-Haj's (2001; 2002) book, facts on the ground: archaeological practice and territorial self-fashioning in Israeli society; but, hopefully, that won't be too serious a hindrance, as I'm not reviewing the book in and of itself. (Reviewers cited an edition from 2001, but Amazon Reader showed it as from 2002, hence the dual listing.)

I would ask for indulgence of the longer passages that have been quoted, as many of the sources have deliberately taken strategically clipped quotations, or uncritically reprinted those of others. Where possible (and it is frequently possible, because of the electronic trail for so much of this), I've included the precise dates of the material within the body of the text, to help trace how this problem developed.

Self-servingly, I'm interested in how Abu el-Haj has done her work and how her public and professional audiences have perceived and treated it. While her work was in Israel and Palestine, mine is in southern and northern Cyprus; in both places, the history of archaeological practice, particularly tightly interwoven, as it is, with the histories of the places' communities and states.

(As it doesn't relate to Nadia Abu el-Haj, but does to the more general issues discussed here, immediately after this, I'm planning to make a separate, shorter post on the issue of the World Archaeological Congress and Israel/Palestine, as it came up in Solomon (13th February 2005a). For a long time now, I've been planning what may be another very long post, this on the academic boycott of Israel, as I'm very interested in archaeologists' ethical choices about where to work or not to work and how to do that work, if they choose to (and it came up in Solomon (12th August 2005b)).)

My research draws on everything from archaeological investigations and historical studies to states' narratives and refugees' testimonies and, although I have read sources and talked with participants in other languages, obviously primarily Greek and Turkish, but also including French and German, the working language of my research has been English.

Whenever I have been trusted with either archaeologists' or locals' personal knowledge, if I have been able to use that sensitive knowledge safely, I have anonymised my sources for their own protection (from the professional or community sanctions or, in some places, physical violence that they might have been subjected to for speaking out).

So, my interest is not primarily with Israeli archaeological practice, but with historical and ethnographic research practice, how it is done and how it ought to be. I believe, moreover, that this exploration itself demonstrates the value of histories and ethnographies of the archaeological profession in understanding how individuals, cultural, political and professional communities and states develop and act and how they ought to.

"Abu el-Haj: archaeology, scholarship" posts:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Sam for taking the time to write such a painstaking recapitulation of the important issues involved in this case.

    I'll need more time to read everything. But I can see fr. what I've read so far that you've done a meticulous job.

    BTW, HNN has a new smear article written naturally by a non-expert virtually regurgitating all the old smears against her. It's linked my latest blog post.