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Time Warps
Session I: Time Machines and Other Things

Sunday, May 2nd
9:00 am-12:30 pm

Session Organizers: Sarah Kautz ( and Shannon Lee Dawdy ( (Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)

"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." ~ William Faulkner

Archaeologists often try to 'control' for time while conducting excavations or analysis of materials. What happens if we let go? This session invites a conversation about sites, contexts, artifacts, or landscapes that challenge linear chronologies. Practices such as recycling, heirlooming, antiquing, and renovation complicate 'pastness in the past' while experimental inventions, utopian projects, and theme parks can fastforward the longue durée or otherwise wrinkle the trajectory of 'progress'. Participants will be asked to draw on specific case studies to explore how we might capture ethnographic temporalities distinct from evolutionary time. Inspiration derives from the recent work of Gavin Lucas, Richard Bradley, Bruno Latour, and others, as well as the revival of Walter Benjamin, who demonstrated that even modern time does not fly in the straight line it proclaims.

9:00: Shannon Lee Dawdy (University of Chicago): Opening Remarks
9:15: Melissa Rosenzweig (University of Chicago): Time Capsules and Archaeologies of the Future
9:40: Sebastian Heath (American Numismatic Society): Time Machines: Placing a Theory of Time in the Roman Economy
10:05: Megan E. Edwards (University of Chicago): Seeing Irish Time through Whiskey Goggles
10:30: Coffee break
11:00: Travis Parno (Boston University): Time, Trajectories, and Multi-Temporal Heritage at Historic House Sites
11:25: Brent Fortenberry (Boston University): Linear v Non-Linear Chronologies for Public Sites
11:50: Rebecca S. Graff (University of Chicago): A Multitemporal City for a Single Summer: Playing with Time at World’s Fairs
12:15: Discussion

Participants and Abstracts:

Opening remarks by Shannon Dawdy (5-10 minutes)

Time Capsules and Archaeologies of the Future

Melissa Rosenzweig (University of Chicago)

In 1936 Thornwell Jacobs, President of Oglethrope University in Atlanta, Georgia, announced his intention to create a “Crypt of Civilization,” a 20 x 10 x 10 foot storage room securely sealed with materials selected to “provide archival as well as archaeological evidence from our era…to pay our ‘archaeological debt’ to the future” (from Jarvis 2003: 233). This grand deposit, to be opened in the year 8113 C.E., is one of many target-dated time capsules that are part of a modern U.S. cultural phenomenon often associated with the archaeological project of representing the past. But the declaration of an “’archaeological debt’ to the future” implicates archaeology in the as yet unproblematized production of future perspectives. Could it be that archaeology not only informs how we reconstruct the past, but also how we imagine (and even interact with) the future?

In this paper, the Crypt of Civilization and its time capsule contemporaries are examined in relation to the practice of archaeology, and in particular, the archaeological discoveries from the ancient Near East in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is argued that archaeology not only has inspired people to create time capsules and be senders of the past, but that it also, through the practice of discovery, has situated us as receivers of the future. It is this orientation, as both senders of the past and receivers of the future, that makes the particularly modern concept of target-dated time capsules possible.

Time Machines: Placing a Theory of Time in the Roman Economy

Sebastian Heath (American Numismatic Society)

This paper offers approaches to recognizing time as a component of the Roman imperial economy. Modern economic theory sees time as a constraint, one that needs to be closely monitored and controlled. When considering the Roman economy it is useful to think of time as an abundant and free component of the processes by which value was created from raw materials. In salt production, sequestered water is left to evaporate over time, leaving behind a sludge that is further dried by heat to isolate the crystallized final product. In a very different context, time is an essential component of the transformation of walls into advertisements at Pompeii: paid messages were painted on a blank space in a public area. It is the subsequent passage of time that allows repeated viewing by people walking by. Today, machines that speed up processes by the release of stored or transmitted energy are a ubiquitous means of enhancing the productivity of paid human workers. Electrically driven looms and a delivery vans are both examples of modern machines. A focus on the relative absence of such devices in the Roman economy has obscured the role of time itself as a creator of value from human effort. The manipulation of time in such additional contexts as ceramic production, fishsauce production, agriculture and transportation, shows it to be an enabler of complexity within the Roman economy as a whole. As a concept then, time is also an enabler of our modern ability to offer models of that economy based on the components that the actors within it would have recognized.

Seeing Irish Time through Whiskey Goggles

Megan E. Edwards (University of Chicago)

If the clock becomes master in the industrial age, alcohol is the working stiff’s indulgent mistress. She is a mistress from days-gone-by- E.P. Thompson’s Saint Monday- whose power over people confronts progress at every turn. Alcohol, though mighty devil of the modern age, is (and has) nevertheless (been) the patron beverage of the Emerald Isles. Consideration of St. Patrick’s Day revelries and the very phrase “’Irishing’ up your coffee,” brings the salience of this association home to us in the 21st century. Today Guinness has become internationally synonymous with Irishness, but in the early modern era to be Irish was to distill and drink whiskey.

Whiskey, a drink native to the Irish by the early modern period, had become the token drink and de facto identifier of this colonized population early on in their dealings with the English. ‘Dependency theory’ takes on a whole new meaning when the peripheralized people are synonymous with psychoactive agents. This paper will explore the interplay of alcohol and time in Ireland’s last 500 years. How has alcohol been perceived to have affected the evolution of Ireland and its people? How has this perception played into justifications for conquest, colonization, and the subsequent de-industrial fate of this island? How do narrations of the history of whiskey enter into this mythic discourse? If alcohol destabilizes an individual’s perception of time, what might a reading of Irish history “against-the-grain-alcohol” accomplish in moving us beyond a reading of modern time as strictly progressive within Europe itself?

Time, Trajectories, and Multi-Temporal Heritage at Historic House Sites

Travis Parno (Boston University)

Historic houses lie at the intersections of time. Although typically considered as monolithic monuments to pioneering figures or families, historic houses represent complicated webs of temporal threads knotted together via multifarious conceptions of place. It is in these spaces where linear chronologies overlap, double back, and collapse. Using the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts as a case study, I examine how individual and collective memories serve to confuse and undermine traditional conceptions of time at historic homesteads.

The Fairbanks House, built c. 1641 and home to eight successive generations of Fairbanks, is widely regarded as one of the most significant examples of colonial timber-frame architecture in North America and as such, is celebrated for its 17th-century origins. The body of the house tells a different story; additions and alterations evident in the building’s fabric, together with slumping windows and walls, show the burden that nearly 400 years has placed on the structure. Inside the walls of the house, heirlooms and antiques donated by Fairbanks’ from far and wide accumulate on walls and in corners having traveled along diverse trajectories. Through their physical proximity to the house, they are sucked into its temporal orbit despite lacking historical association with the house’s occupants. Among Fairbanks family descendants, oral traditions render historic (non-)events into accepted fact, simultaneously linking past and present while uniting contemporary family members with a shared history (as manifested at the annual Fairbanks Family Reunion held on the homestead property). So how are these multidirectional trajectories incorporated in a heritage interpretive plan? In the final portion of this paper, I outline how I will attempt to address questions of multi-temporal heritage at historic houses.

Linear v Non-Linear Chronologies for Public Sites

Brent Fortenberry (Boston University)

This paper wrestles with issues of ‘public sites’ and their relation to time. Sites such as churches, courthouses, and places of assembly have often been conceived by scholars strictly as administrative or religious locales, as symbols in the landscape that connect God and man or rulers and subjects. Research has tended to construct linear chronologies of these sites, presenting their various architectural and archaeological phases with individual events sprinkled in as fillers inside of their overarching development.

Conceived of instead as points of social interaction and as stages for relations among people and things, public sites offer windows into the intimate relations of social exchange. Conceptualizing these sites in this manner shifts our understanding of these places from straightforward markers in the landscape to complicated loci of social interaction. This presents a challenge for archaeologists--how to order and understand these sites while still adequately conveying their messy nature. What happens when these neat linear chronologies are replaced with non-linear narratives that embrace public sites not in terms of unidirectional life-history, but as palimpsests of multiple, overlapping, and contradictory narratives? Further this paper explores the deployment of non-linear narratives for both academic and public consumption. Are linear chronologies merely jumbled life-histories, re-ordered to make a theoretical point? And for the public, can we break away from the traditional periodization that brings order to the way that we convey the stories of the past to the present? Research at St. Peter’s church in St. George’s Bermuda will contextualize this study.

A Multitemporal City for a Single Summer: Playing with Time at World’s Fairs

Rebecca S. Graff (University of Chicago)

Like other 19th-century international exhibitions, Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition looked like a small city during the six months that it captured the imagination of all who attended it. The Fair incorporated architecture, exhibits, and attractions from the past, present, and the imagined future. Thus its very existence was fraught with notions of multiple times and places—some that had themselves passed out of material actuality. The fleeting nature of the Fair, along with its multi-temporality, was an integral part of its allure and its message. These multiple temporalities include its brief existence as the White City—a duration much shorter than that of typical cities and archaeological sites; its architectural program that purposely gestured at ancient Greco-Roman civilization, imperialism, and republicanism; its “native” villages on the Midway Plaisance where non-Western people were portrayed as existing in a state temporally previous to that of the West; and its exhibits of inventions that suggested transformative possibilities for future-oriented consumers. But the material forms of this multi-temporal imaginary of American modernity are also tangible objects of archaeological investigation. While looking at one world’s fair in particular, this paper asks the following question: How does one interpret an archaeological site that was conceived of by its makers and users as part of the past, present, and future simultaneously?

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