ISAW Hosts Conference on "The Archaeology of Neighborhood Life: Concepts, Communities, and Change"

By J. Andrew Dufton

On December 14th, ISAW hosted a one-day conference on “The Archaeology of Neighborhood Life: Concepts, Communities, and Change,” co-organized by ISAW Visiting Assistant Professor J. Andrew Dufton and Katherine Harrington of the Department of Classics at Florida State University. This event brought together scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds — Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Art History, Classics, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations — who are all contributing to a growing interest in the communal and cultural aspects of ancient urban districts.

The importance of a comparative perspective was evident from the outset. Speakers in the morning session focussed on the first of three themes (“Concepts”) and framed the discussion for the rest of the day with some broad questions: What is a neighborhood, and what does it mean to be a neighbor? How does this scale of analysis require different strategies for fieldwork and publication? And how does studying the neighborhood archaeologically bring out some of the tensions between the various groups living in a city?

After lunch, the group turned to questions of “Communities,” exploring the ways that neighborhoods facilitate daily, face-to-face interactions. This regular contact helps to create a shared communal identity amongst neighbors within the much larger population of the city. The practicalities and ethics of working with modern communities also came to the fore, especially for archaeological sites where heritage is an important part of the local identity and/or economy. The final session (“Change”) examined how urban districts evolve over time. The strength of neighborhood biography emerged as a way of analyzing much larger urban processes and understanding local changes from a long-term historical perspective.

Overall, the day featured a whirlwind tour of exciting new archaeology from disparate cities and regions across the globe, from Pompeii to Peru, Corinth to Copán. We hope the spirit of interdisciplinary exchange and open dialogue about the social aspects of living in a city — ancient or modern — will set an exciting new research agenda for the archaeology of neighborhood life.