4.6 Research Recommendations

Future research should:

  1. Develop critical understandings of the modern 'individual'. Archaeologists of the modern past are well placed to develop nuanced understanding of the nature of self and person in modern Scotland and to challenge simplistic histories of the modern person which assume the inevitable 'rise of the individual'. Archaeological research, through analyses of the creation of self through material and social relationships and in practice, can chart and detail the individualisation of life in the modern past and, simultaneously, explore the evidence for continuing and newly-created social persons and for alternative modes of being.
  2. Produce micro-archaeologies which develop observations about cultural and social trends from individual life stories. The archaeology of the modern period is one which can explore the lives of named and documented individuals, but this can lead to a focus on the excavation of historical celebrities. The micro-archaeology approach is a powerful alternative, giving prominence to the wider historical value and interest of personal biographies. This approach moves beyond the novelty value of the archaeology of a single life to the value of such an archaeology in terms of its ability to lead to deeper historical understanding.
  3. Further understanding of the modern person by researching changing perceptions of the body and the changing nature of embodied experience. Archaeologies of the human body can problematise and defamiliarise some 'common sense' assumptions about perceptions of the body in the past and about the nature of embodied human experience. Research into the modern body and modern embodiment should, amongst other things, consider age and the life-course through human remains, artefacts like toys and other material remains; health and the ways illness was perceived and managed; the materialities and practices of sexuality; cultural expressions and formations of emotion; sensory perception and experience of the world; and changing relationships with bodily death, as it is amenable to archaeological study in, for instance, human remains, memorials and commemorations and the material traces of (the fear of) grave robbing. There is also potential for archaeology to contribute to inter-disciplinary body theory, and the body provides a topic through which scientific work on human remains (e.g. aDNA and isotope analysis) can be better integrated with archaeological and historical questions about people in the past (see also the recommendations of the Science Panel).
  4. Construct material histories of the social relationships through which people were formed. People in the modern past are not simply to be studied as individuals, but as nodes in social relationships. Archaeologies of the practices and the materialities of kin and family, farming community, industrial workforce, military unit and other social formations can add significantly to our understanding of the everyday and exceptional ways in which relationships were formed. These relationships were formed by people interacting through material objects and spaces and they were formed through practices in which material things were implicated. To understand modern social relationships, then, we need to understand their construction in and through engagement with a material world. To human-human relationships we should add the emerging field of an archaeology of human-animal relationships.
  5. Reveal and elucidate alternative histories which evidence the ways in which modern people have formed themselves and constructed relationships which diverge from the main stream. Society is contested and negotiated and modern identities and ways of living and being are multiple and diverse. There is no single modern person or modern society, but many modern forms of person and many modern forms of social interaction. These different ways of being can co-exist and they can stand in conflict. Archaeology, in exploring the materiality of these forms of being and relating, can bring to light the variety of experience characterising the modern past. And it can it can develop understanding of the ways in which conformity was imposed and the ways in which it was resisted or transformed.

In all of the above, the over-arching aim should be to provide a deep perspective on life in the recent past and in the present by understanding the genesis and development of modern ways of living, being and relating to others and by writing the histories of alternative but equally modern lives.