As we saw in the previous chapter, many close comparisons exist between the archaeology of the contemporary past and that of earlier periods, most obviously in the way we conceptualize and investigate sites as places or loci of human activity through the material traces left behind. We saw how this approach, this archaeological methodology, applies equally to prehistoric settlements and abandoned office spaces that we ourselves have occupied. Another comparison concerns the question of landscape, and the ways in which human activity occurs within and across landscape; how it can be influenced by the properties of landscape, whether physical or social; how the present landscape is the result of actions, activities, and attitudes in the past, and their collective and cumulative impact over time; and how we can helpfully study human activity at this broader scale. We are not talking here about particular landscapes that become fossilized at a certain time, coincident for example with their abandonment or some natural catastrophe: the Roman townscape of Pompeii for example; the Palaeolithic land surfaces at Boxgrove (West Sussex); or nuclear testing facilities of the western United States, closed or downgraded at the end of the Cold War. Rather, for the contemporary past, we are (or at least should be) referring to landscape in a more holistic sense: the everything, the everywhere, and of course—what makes it so interesting and so relevant that we examine this as archaeologists—the everyday. This scale of inquiry, the sheer amount of stuff within the contemporary landscape, and the new technologies that make it possible now to begin making sense of all this material, is one of the main challenges and benefits of exploring the archaeology of the late modern world. This chapter returns initially to the principles of historic landscape characterization or ‘HLC’, first discussed in Chapter 3, to think further about investigations of this kind, and how, for example, national and international patterns of change and use can be studied archaeologically.
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