Digging the Dirt: The Archaeological Imagination

(2004) Cambridge University Press

When Jennifer Wallace travelled round Greece as a student, hiking through olive groves to hunt out the stones of old temples and lost cities, she became fascinated by archaeology.

It was magical. It was absurd. Give an archaeologist a few rocks and, like a master storyteller, he could bring another world to life. From the plain of Troy to the Titanic, from Stonehenge to Ground Zero, Digging the Dirt explores the sites that have exerted the strongest pull on the public imagination. Some, where bones are indistinguishable from dust, have driven archaeologists to despair. Others haunt poets with memories of loss and romance. All reveal the relevance of archaeology to our deepest cultural anxieties.Passionate and intelligent, Digging the Dirt engages with the work of philosophers and writers who have been stirred by the life below the ground, while never losing sight of the pressing demands of archaeologists today. In a world of postmodern spin, Wallace calls for a renewed sense of the poetics of depth and shows how excavation can play a vital role in bringing powerful political forces to account.

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"Jennifer Wallace is a clear and eloquent writer . . . Digging the Dirt is a fascinating progression through hearty parsonical barrow-diggers, body-snatchers, philosophers, savants, and poets—from Shelley and Wordsworth to Seamus Heaney. . . . Altogether the book is a fresh and engaging tussle with archaeology and the imagination"

The Sunday Telegraph
Archaeology is self-scrutiny. . . . As a compulsion it is modern: Jennifer Wallace, in her profound and fascinating new book, Digging the Dirt, locates its beginnings . . . In the context of which, the mysteries Wallace celebrates seem even more precious: . . . human beings who are simultaneously present and absent . . .
The Independent
“Wallace writes of the romance of archaeology as it has affected noted and unknown archaeologists, writers, and artists, and also herself. Digging the Dirt makes good reading . . .”
Midwest Book Review
As Cambridge literature lecturer Jennifer Wallace suggests in her interesting new book. . . archaeology is burdened by the sheer evocativeness of its subject: the ground. The business of digging things up cannot help but be an imaginative enterprise as much as a scientific one. . . . Excavation reveals as much about the excavator as it does about the stones and bones. When archaeologists dig, it is often a national or ethnic essence they are digging for, forensic proof of their innermost ideological commitments. . . . ‘Good archaeology,’ as Jennifer Wallace puts it, ‘needs a vivid fantasy
The Washington Times
Digging the Dirt is an exquisitely written labor of love, part history of archaeological thought . . . and part personal voyage. Wallace argues for retaining a commitment to the rights of desire, to the poetics of depth and to the “aura” that differentiates what lies beneath our modern living surfaces, what is there now, and what happened in between. . . . Digging the Dirt is less about archaeology and more an examination of humanity—an enthralling, clever and accessible read that would be thought-provoking for the uninitiated public . . .
The Times Higher Education Supplement

Further Information

  • Name: The Cambridge Introduction to Tragedy
  • Author: Jennifer Wallace
  • First Published First published Duckworth 2004. ISBN 0-7156-3278-7
  • Now published by Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780715632789
  • Direct from Publisher

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