In Fall 2012 I will be in Finland as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Oulu. Europe has a rich scholarly heritage in prehistoric archaeology, but archaeological data from the past half-millennium remains nearly completely unaddressed, and collaboration between American and European historical archaeologists has often been quite limited. I will spend Fall 2012 at the University of Oulu with Finnish colleagues who are examining the archaeology of emergent European consumer society, focusing on the insight archaeological material culture provides into capitalism, consumption, and urbanization on the post-1600 European periphery. Beyond simply being a rare example of historical archaeology in Europe, the Finnish research has important international implications for historical archaeological studies of material consumption elsewhere, which have overwhelmingly focused on Anglo and European colonization in the New World. Most archaeological models of consumption were developed by scholars examining 18th and 19th century American material culture, but those American contexts with worldwide market access, dense urban centers and transportation networks, and complex and highly visible class lines may not be relevant outside a few world metropolises, and they certainly are not useful models in northern Finland. This Fulbright teaching and research period in Oulu will extend an ongoing collaboration with the University of Oulu scholars that has worked toward sharing American historical archaeology insights while partnering with Finnish scholars whose work challenges, complicates, and refines many of the insights from North American historical archaeology. My research examines the growth of consumer society, using archaeological material culture to identify the concrete ways different groups participated in (or selectively rejected) various transformations in material consumption since the 18th century. This project will expand my long-term work on consumption in the US to an international context that examines how global lines of inequality impacted the consumption patterns of marginalized peoples.
Northern Finland presents a quite interesting and novel contrast to the Anglo world. Northern Finland very gradually urbanized from the 17th century onward, so the urban consumer centers of the European and Anglo worlds do not have clear parallels in Finland. Much of the University of Oulu’s work has focused on Tornio, a town on the Gulf of Bothnia established in 1621 when the Swedish crown centralized trade through such urban centers. Trade throughout Lapland made Tornio relatively affluent, but it remained exceptionally small, and initial archaeological work in Tornio has examined how the new town’s residents developed—and in many ways were reluctant to embrace–an urban identity. Much of European and Anglo consumer society revolved around novel material goods and seasonal styles sold in rapidly growing cities, but the initial excavations at Tornio reveal interesting contrasts to that picture. For example, there was significant re-use of artifacts in the initial century of the city’s history and fitful growth, a period when increasingly more American consumers were shopping in urban markets and beginning to consume and rapidly discard assemblages of mass-produced things. Nevertheless, excavations in Tornio and nearby Oulu identified a significant quantity of 17th and 18th century imported goods that are similar if not identical to those found in colonial contexts elsewhere in the world. Historical archaeologists often approach the moment from the late-17th century into the 19th century as a transition between medieval and post-medieval society in which the post-medieval world became an urban mass consumer society that embraced seasonal styles and rapid consumer cycles. In this framework, Tornio provides an interesting potential contrast in which residents did indeed acquire mass-produced things, but they did not simply reject pre-existing material practices. Many archaeological models of consumption were developed by scholars examining 18th and 19th century American material culture, and those contexts are much different than Tornio, if not most of the world. Consequently, the picture of a community in Tornio that did not rapidly embrace the central structural features of consumer society provides an important contrast that will compel Americans to re-think many inherited models of consumption.
Historical archaeology has rarely been conducted in northern Finland, and indeed much of Nordic Europe remains largely untouched by archaeologists examining the last half millennium. Initial work at Tornio has already revealed interesting contrasts in urbanization, identified distinctive material consumption patterns, and illuminated the complex relations such communities had with European consumer society. Simply having comparative samples at all from northern Europe is an important contribution to a scholarship that tends to paint Europe as a monolithic whole, focus on the eastern United States, and revolve around the expansion of English cultural practices in the Atlantic World. The research on the earliest moments of consumer society in Finland provides an important contribution to the rich historical archaeology of emergent capitalism, because much of the historical archaeology of 17th and 18th century consumption examines colonies that were established largely to provide raw resources and eventually consumers for mass-produced goods. Finland was the subject of a series of states and was not an especially rich source of export goods, so its entrance into consumer society contrasts with the well-studied mechanics of European and English colonization.
My Fulbright seminars at Oulu will focus on my research and teaching in three basic scholarly areas at the heart of historical archaeology: urban archaeology, consumer scholarship, and capitalist materiality and inequality. For Finnish students this will require laying a groundwork that defines historical archaeology; probes how it accommodates Nordic research well in some ways but needs to be rethought in some other forms; and examines American historical archaeology’s focus on socially relevant research on the roots of contemporary society.
During the Fulbright visit I will conduct artifact analysis and prepare publications with my Oulu colleagues. The excavated material from Oulu and Tornio has been reported in dissertations and some preliminary professional papers, but it has not been compared to materials from other sites or to international data, so placing that material in comparative case studies with American and British data will be essential. Papers on this research on a 19th century Oulu assemblages were presented at the 2012 Society for Historical Archaeology conference and the 2012 Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference.