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About John R. Roby

Thanks for visiting! Here’s a bit more about me and about this site.

About Digs and Docs

I decided to launch Digs and Docs for a very simple reason: To cover topics that I want to read about. I follow a good number of blogs, including more than a few on archaeology and history. Some of my favorites are linked over to the right. But none of them are focused on the many and fascinating ways that material culture, historical documents, culture, and the past and present, intersect. A fundamental premise of mine, one that is widely held in my field, is that the objects (material culture) and writings (documents, archives) of people in the past are not merely of the past, but in a very real sense, are part of the present. They influence the ways we think and act today, and are part of our understanding of who we are as contemporary people living as part of a contemporary society. Too often, though, we seem to forget this. We imagine that our cultural landscape is something new and unique to us, without precedent in human history. We fail to realize that our present is merely a point in the grand sweep of history, and the past has exerted a strong influence on the makeup of that present.

So the mission here is twofold: First, to highlight the many connections between past and present by drawing attention to and discussing historical material culture and documents; and second, to share my interest in historical objects and archives in the hope that some readers will come to share it.

Thanks for visiting, and feel free to leave a public comment or contact me. You can reach me via email at jroby2 “at”, or follow me on Twitter at @JohnRRoby. Disclaimer: I talk much more broadly at the latter, so follow at your own risk. Everything I write, here and there, is my opinion only, and not necessarily shared by any organization or institution with which I am affiliated.

Who I am

I earned a PhD in anthropology from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2011. My dissertation (Memory, Practice and Process at the Perkins-Dennis Farm, a 19th-century Free African American Farmstead in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania) grew out of two seasons of archaeological excavation at the farmstead, along with uncountable hours in the laboratory and various archives. It focused on the mundane, ordinary tasks that this pioneering family undertook in the course of more than a century of daily life on the property. I argued that much of the family’s activities can be understood as steps in the negotiation of practices of inclusion and exclusion that were being worked out through the ordinary tasks of daily life throughout this part of 19th century northeastern Pennsylvania. Put another way: To me, the family’s material culture can help us think about ways that people did things that they were allowed to (practices of inclusion), and worked around things that they weren’t allowed to (practices of exclusion). As free African American people, they occupied a special niche in the social landscape, and so race factored into those practices in a very real way. And the really neat thing about that is those practices of inclusion and exclusion were not (and are not) fixed, but constantly changing in response to the ways that people behaved — those ordinary tasks of daily life whose remnants we were excavating on the farm. So this was a very exciting project, both because the artifacts we were finding were interesting, and because the dissertation allowed me to make what I think are profound statements about the way we as archaeologists and historians (should) think about race and material culture.

I’m currently assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In 2012-13, I was a lecturer in the Anthropology Department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In Spring 2011, I held a temporary, visiting position teaching in the Anthropology Department at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM. I’ve also taught (as a graduate assistant) at SUNY-Binghamton, as well as Cornell University and Georgia State University. I’ve taken part in archaeological fieldwork in New Mexico, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York State.

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