James Dixon

So, this trunk… Full of books, not necessarily strictly archaeology books, but that have nevertheless been important to my development as an archaeologist (a couple of them even help with being on the island!). See, although I’m very definitely an archaeologist, I did my Ph.D. at art college, in Creative Arts, looking at how you can use archaeology to understand the creative contexts of public art. My archaeology has got a load of art in it. Sorry.

9780262012553Out Of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh (Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh, 2009). If there had to be only one book it might be this so I’m glad it’s here. The book chronicles and discusses the ‘lifework’ performance pieces by Tehching Hseih in the late 1970s and 1980s, focusing on his various one-year performances. For 365 days between 1978 and 1979 he lived in a cage. From 1980 to 1981 he punched a time clock on the hour every hour (missing 133 out of 8760). Between 1981 and 1982 he lived outdoors in New York City. The list goes on. I have a strong interest in duration, time passing, history happening, the lived moments we often don’t appreciate with the hindsight of archaeology. Hseih is the reason for that interest. Not only is his work fascinating and of great importance to the understanding of lived time, he’s a real inspiration to action, however subtle and small-scale.

Martin’s Hundred (Ivor Noel Hume, 1982) is another contender for the #1 spot. When I went to Durham to read archaeology I (it seems very odd to recall) thought of myself as a Romanist. By the end of my first year I had switched to post-medieval and buildings archaeology, for which Matthew Johnson is largely to blame. I read Martin’s Hundred, the story of the excavation of a colonial settlement in Virginia during my second year alongside every other book I could find on the archaeology of colonial America. In the summer of 2000, I was lucky enough to spend six weeks at Colonial Williamsburg excavating at Carter’s Grove with Kevin Bartoy and Steve Archer, just a couple of hundred meters away from the centre of Martin’s Hundred. I have a long-running idea to base a project around reading this book out loud from start to finish. I’ll take the time on the island to memorise it.

When I started as a buildings archaeologist, The Classical Language of Architecture (John Summerson, 1980) was recommended as the first book to read on architecture. I now make that same recommendation. Short, very readable, everything you need to know about classical styling in buildings. I can read it over and over.

indexThe Enchantment of Modern Life (Jane Bennett, 2001). One to remind me of my first forays into contemporary archaeology back in the early 2000s. I wonder how it reads on a desert island…?

I didn’t like archaeology much during my first year at university (with the exception of discovering post-med and colonial archaeology). In the library revising for my first year exams, reading Theory in Practice in Archaeology (Ian Hodder, 1995), it suddenly clicked and I realised there was more to it than the content of my first year classes suggested. I’m fond of this book for that reason.

Images of Change (Sefryn Penrose, 2007) is also a book that reminds me of a very specific time in my archaeology, between my MA and Ph.D. when I was working on the early stages of the Olympic pre-planning consultancy and slowly getting further and further into the kind of archaeology I do now. I have two copies, neither of them signed.

Nights of Labour: The Workers’ Dream in Nineteenth Century France (Jacques Rancière, 1981). A favourite book on both material culture and histories. Rancière analyses workers’ news sheets in Paris, discusses how the writers depict themselves and their struggles by analogy to their tools, industrial processes and products on the eve of the 1848 revolution. Fascinating in so many ways.

Aramis, or The Love Of Technology (Bruno Latour, 1996). I left my first Ph.D. supervision session with instructions to go to the library and read everything Bruno Latour had written. I did and enjoyed it a lot. This is my favourite, mostly because of the great case study. Other STS/ANT authors are available.

indexThe Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multi-Centred Society (Lucy Lippard, 1997). I can’t imagine many better books to help deal with being away from everything (might as well theorise it so I can get a couple of papers out of the experience when I get back). Lippard discusses ideas of locality, belonging, movement; how she travels the world but always in relation to the place in which she grew up. Conversely, whenever she goes back there she goes back from lots of specific different places. In short, a good book to put being somewhere and not somewhere else into perspective.

This is technically two books, but I’m counting I Celebrate Myself: the somewhat private life of Allen Ginsberg (Bill Morgan,2007) and Collected Poems 1947-1997 (Allen Ginsberg, 2009) as one because the later editions are cross-referenced and they’re meant to be read together. Allen Ginsberg is a great inspiration of mine and I agree with the definition of the Beats as ‘creative people who knew Allen Ginsberg’. He is a fascinating artist, in his own right of course, but also because writing in the tradition of Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, his work has a strong Objectivist leaning that I think most archaeologists would appreciate. There’ll be something in here for every occasion. Days when it’s raining, days when it’s not, days when I just sit there. Such is life on the island.

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