Fires of Prometheus

Dig Where You Stand


Although there has only been one past, each human who has lived in the past experienced it in their own way. Similarly, each human who looks at the past from their viewpoint in the present sees it in their own way. We may cross paths and share moments in the past with others, but never occupy their space or see life through their eyes.

Too often archaeology (and history) has concentrated on elites. It has looked either at distant times or distant places, or places that are spectacular or special and at rulers and leaders. Yet most humans have not been members of elites and have lived in ordinary surroundings. Nevertheless their lives, however unspectacular they might seem to us, were of course vastly important to them, and each individual contributed something to what we experience as the present.

I have been captured by the concept of "Dig Where You Stand," an idea developed by Sven Lidqvist. He focused on the archaeology of work and on ordinary workers rather than the bosses. Most of us spend the majority of our lives working, yet the archaeology of our work is rarely studied and often does not survive. When it is studied it is usually looked at from a distance by academics. The direct experiences of those who actually carried out the work are not often recorded or even recognised. "Histories" usually record the activities of management and financiers, and archaeologies record stone and iron and brick, but not often the realities of the workers.

Lindqvist wrote that: "The experts might each be experts in his or her own field but when they are talking about your job, you are the expert. That gives you a measure of self-confidence and a basis for amateurs and professional researchers to meet on equal footing" (Lindqvist 1980). He also stated that "History is dangerous."

In a later chapter in Thompson's book Our Common History: The transformation of Europe (1982) that discusses "Dig Where You Stand" Lindqvist wrote that "No area of history has been more distorted by one-sided treatment than the history of business" (Lindqvist 1982, p323). "Factory history could and should be written from a fresh point of view - by workers investigating their own workplaces" (ibid, p324). "...workers' research into the history of their own jobs could be politically embarrassing to many established instututions..." (ibid p327). "Those who wield economic power have so far also had control over the research dealing with their companies. They have decided what picture should be painted themselves" (ibid p 330). "History is important because the results are still with us" (ibid p 329).

Paul Thompson takes up that last idea. "The past is still with us, generating money, causing death, in the present. That's why history has to be shared" (Thompson 1982, p19)

I have taken Lindqvist's concept and applied it a little more widely to an ordinary place, right here where I stand, and ordinary people, myself, the ordinary people who stand around me and the ordinary people who stood here in the recent past.

Lindquist, Sven, 1978. Gräv Där Du Stâr: Hur Man Utforskar ett Jobb (Dig Where You Stand: How to Research a Job).

Lindquist, Sven , 1980. Dig Where You Stand. Meddelande Från Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv Och Bibliotek. Stockholm. pp. 42-47.

Lindqvist, Sven, 1982. Dig Where You Stand. In, Thompson, Paul (Ed), Our Common History: The transformation of Europe. London: Pluto Press, pp. 322-330.

Thompson, Paul, 1982. Introduction. In, Thompson, Paul (Ed), Our Common History: The transformation of Europe. London: Pluto Press, pp. 9-20.

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Last updated: 4th April 2018

A life in material culture

This is a continuing project, just begun in January 2018, that attempts to present a series of objects that reflect and represent my life (so far). It is arranged in chronological order, beginning 70 years ago in the year of my birth. I'm trying to examine and share the importance of seemingly prosaic material culture in our understanding of the recent past, with the aim of applying what I learn to the histories of other lives.

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My Museum

As I sit in my study I am surrounded by things that tell stories. The objects in museums are there also to tell stories, but ironically those stories are often hard to determine. Labels will tell us what things are, and sometimes what they did, but they almost never tell us about the feelings associated with them. We tend to feel belittled by the wonders of museums, or at least ignored by them. Their contents usually originate in lives very different from ours, which is often why they are so fascinating. However our lives are just as important as those seemingly exotic individuals whose possessions fill museums, and in this section I'm encouraging everyone to regard their surroundings as a vitally important source of stories - a museum.

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Found photographs

I explore the fascination of images from anonymous lives. A sort of archaeological excavation in two dimensions.

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