Monday, 16 October 2017


Regular readers will appreciate that I find all sweeping generalisations something of an aberration. They will also know that I have a, slight, penchant for analogies and metaphors.  

     You see any teaching skills that I may have, and I am not saying I do,  were honed and fine tuned in the French Foreign Legion a lifetime ago. Linguistic differences meant that visual teaching was a must and simplistic explanations necessary. 

     Let's face it when you are live firing in battle formation, with a multitude of weapons, it's helpful if you don't shoot each other.

     Another similar, but rather more prolific, "writer" (I use the term begrudgingly but what do I know) is the buffoon who used to be "the tallest person working in british television" before Richard Osman's pointless thing came along. He has pride of place in my bathroom, not for back up paper as you might imagine, but as light reading whilst attending to business. The "Master of the Metaphor", and having worked simultaneously for Ruport Murdoch and the BBC (a situation that was bound to end in tears, and did) I guess he had plenty of practise. 

      And yet, for all the faults, aberrations and middle class mysogyny, I enjoy his written word. The metaphor and analogy his way of transmitting personal thoughts to a wider audience. For that, and that alone, I am, regrettably, something of a fan.

     But what has this to do with archaeology / history / anthropology? Well today I want to talk about CONTEXT. In any situation, and especially in archaeology, context is primordial. Without it a discovery means nothing, interpretations cannot be made and understanding an impossibility. And yet if you ask what is meant by context, and why it is so important, you will receive either a short nondescript answer, or a lengthy theoretical diatribe. So, this week, in the style of Clarksonius, I hope to use a few simple metaphors and analogies to clarify what it is and why it is so important.

     It all starts with a rather "throw away" comment from a good friend of mine on Facebook. It went something like this.......

"the only politician I look up to." 

     I don't suppose that you need to know that the friend has a tattoo of the aforeseaid politicians signature! The result of a signature on the forearm and quite visible. "Groupie" is something of an understatement. I digress.

     My reply, on FB,to the effect that the politician....

"was wearing heels at the time"

So there you go. Does one "look up" as a description of aspiration and respect? Or is it down to anatomy, or geography? Is my friend shorter than the politician, or just not wearing heels? Perhaps the Rt. Hon MP was on a rostrum or stage, passing through on an open top bus, maybe doing the Michael Jackson thing and waving from a window.  The point here is
"who knows"
"who can know"

     Out of context we have no way of knowing, we cannot draw any conclusions. For Archaeologists and Historians we cannot explore and interpret the relationship between the two persons without the "context". 

     This , then, is the true meaning of context. It is the multitude of factors, concrete and abstract, that influence our ability to interpret and understand. And all will vary dependent on the extent of that other ephemeral concept..."agency". Context is not the "All Day Breakfast" served so widely in British Public Houses. It is that which enables an order at the bar to be right, for that person, in that place, at that time. 

     It is what makes smearing honey on Keira Knightly the right thing to do or the very (very) wrong thing to do! Whatever we might like to wish for, in the end it is all about context. Something a certain hollywood producer seems to have not understood.