2.7 Research Recommendations

Future research should:

  1. Tackle the big questions.  Archaeologists routinely recover and work with evidence of the major social, economic and environmental changes through which the modern world came into being.  Archaeology, can and should be ambitious in the ways it uses this evidence, engaging with the big questions of modern history.  Archaeology can add to and extend, question and challenge received narratives about the history of modern Scotland.  Projects explicitly designed to develop our understanding of the major re-formations of the modern period should be encouraged.  In all archaeological work, researchers and practitioners should be cognisant of the contribution their work can make to our understanding of these major themes and should seek to recognise, develop and explore explicit connections between localised archaeological findings and these wider interpretive co-ordinates.
  2. Realise and promote the potential of a material perspective on those questions.  Archaeology and other modes of material history can bring new insight to our understanding of these big questions by approaching them from a material perspective.  The Reformation, the Enlightenment, Improvement, industrialisation, capitalism and other re-formations of the modern world were all enacted in and through material environments and, in each case, the material world and people’s relationships with it were fundamental to the process.  Archaeology should work to realise and promote this potential contribution: archaeology does not just illustrate the major historical developments of the modern world, it is fundamental to our understanding of them.
  3. Localise, contextualise and, in doing so, problematise historical abstractions.  As the case of New Lanark shows, while the major re-formations of the modern world can be considered in the abstract and in separation from each other, when considered in context, in particular temporal and spatial locations, these abstractions can be understood as very much inter-connected and entangled.  There is much value in an approach to the modern past which draws on the clarity achieved by considering developments in the abstract and at a conceptual level but which always navigates back and forth between that abstract understanding and particular manifestations of developing and changing modern life in different localities and circumstances.  While writing histories of the Reformation or of capitalism, we should ask: How did they take form?  How did their form vary?
  4. Develop a sound understanding of the ways in which change was achieved in practice.  The Reformation was a matter of theology, politics and conceptual and spiritual change, but it was also very much a matter of change and conflict in religious, folk, economic and social practices.  Industrialisation relied on developments in science and in the theory of production, but it was above all the application and development in practice of new ways of working, producing and living.  Improvement was an ideal of the age, but it was also a movement to transform people, places and habits.  Archaeology, with its focus on the materialisation of society and change in particular objects, places and landscapes and its concern for social, economic and environmental practices and relationships can make a substantial contribution to the understanding of the major historical developments of the modern world in terms of their complex, localised and varied practices.
  5. Analyse the major re-formations of the modern era in long-term perspective.  The Reformation didn’t happen in 1560. Its roots extend back into the Middle Ages and it was a process played out and contested through the 16th and 17th centuries and into the 18th century.  The Industrial Revolution may have begun around 1750, but the story of industrialisation can be traced back through the 18th, 17th and 16th centuries and forward into the 19th and 20th centuries.  De-industrialisation is as significant a topic for archaeology enquiry.  By exploring the material and practical developments relating to re-formations like the Reformation and industrialisation, archaeology is well-placed to reveal their ‘prehistories’ and to track their course as they develop forward from 1560, 1750 or whatever date in the past towards the present.  The major historical changes of the modern past have legacies and an ongoing presence in the present: we continue to live these processes or to feel their effects.  Archaeology can thus not only provide a long-term perspective on events and processes in the past, but also on the character of the present.  To realise this potential, archaeologists need to give full attention to all periods in the modern past, from the 16th century to the 20th, and to connect the modern period with the antecedent medieval period.
  6. Evidence and interpret the contested and varied nature of social, environmental and economic change in the modern past.  In researching major historical changes, it is easy to present these as uniform and inexorable processes, inevitably leading to the present we have today and sweeping all and sundry along relentlessly.  But these developments were promoted, adopted, practised, enacted, manipulated, negotiated, debated, contested and challenged by real historical actors.  Archaeologies of the modern past should enhance our understanding of the major developments of the modern period by researching multiple historical trajectories, including not just perceived-to-be shining examples of the mainstream but alternative developments which were once possible futures.  Archaeologists should mobilise their capacity for researching the materiality and practice of historical continuity and change to reveal their complexity and variability.
  7. Develop new collaborate research practices, leading to better and more powerful understandings of the big questions in the history of modern Scotland.  The re-formations which characterise change in the modern past were at once social, cultural, intellectual and material, environmental, technological, religious and spiritual.  They were complex, varied and multi-faceted and their understanding requires collaboration across disciplines and across the arts and humanities, social sciences and sciences.  Different disciplines can mobilise different evidence and bring with them different perspectives on the same past.  Working through the problems of combining that evidence and those perspectives and finding ways of achieving integrated understandings of the modern past will require the development of new, integrated and integrative attitudes, philosophies and modes of working.  A failing of previous attempts at inter-disciplinary research into the modern past has been a lack of attention to the need for new processes and practices of research if integrated outcomes are to be achieved.

In all of the above, the over-arching aim should be to provide a deep perspective on the present character of Scotland, by revealing and understanding the transformations, processes and actions through which the present came to be.

Leave a Reply