Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Ruin Memories

Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, 1st Edition

Edited by Bjørnar Olsen, Þóra Pétursdóttir


496 pages

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pub: 2014-04-22
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Since the nineteenth century, mass-production, consumerism and cycles of material replacement have accelerated; increasingly larger amounts of things are increasingly victimized rapidly and made redundant. At the same time, processes of destruction have immensely intensified, although largely overlooked when compared to the research and social significance devoted to consumption and production. The outcome is a ruin landscape of derelict factories, closed shopping malls, overgrown bunkers and redundant mining towns; a ghostly world of decaying modern debris normally omitted from academic concerns and conventional histories.

The archaeology of the recent or contemporary past has grown fast during the last decade. This development has been concurrent with a broader popular, artistic and scholarly interest in modern ruins in general. Ruin Memories explores how the ruins of modernity are conceived and assigned cultural value in contemporary academic and public discourses, reassesses the cultural and historical value of modern ruins and suggests possible means for reaffirming their cultural and historic significance. Crucial for this reassessment is a concern with decay and ruination, and with the role things play in expressing the neglected, unsuccessful and ineffable. Abandonment and ruination is usually understood negatively through the tropes of loss and deprivation; things are degraded and humiliated while the information, knowledge and memory embedded in them become lost along the way. Without even ignoring its many negative and traumatizing aspects, a main question addressed in this book is whether ruination also can be seen as an act of disclosure. If ruination disturbs the routinized and ready-to-hand, to what extent can it also be seen as a recovery of memory as exposing meanings and presences that perhaps are only possible to grasp at second hand when no longer immersed in their withdrawn and useful reality?

Anybody interested in the archaeology of the contemporary past will find Ruin Memories an essential guide to the very latest theoretical research in this emerging field of archaeological thought.


"Going beyond a typical archaeological report of statistics and artifact analysis (although these are present as well), readers can't help but feel emotion and a sense of familiarity with the narrative of the ordinary, typical contemporary ruins of the most recent past. Although this collection focuses on several locations within the upper Northern Hemisphere, all readers can easily identify with the essays, as the observations are philosophical in nature. This is a fascinating look at ruins as the ultimate, modern art made by unknown, ordinary "artists" in the not-too-distant past. Summing up: Highly recommended."-K.C. McCallister, Appalachian State University in CHOICE

"This book offers a perfect introduction to the growing scholarly discussion around ruination, decay, thing theory, and intangible heritage. To see the material and spatial topographies of ruin through this set of eyes opens a resonant and compelling new chapter on the practice and theory of contemporary archaeology. It is a book I had never known I was waiting for." -Justin Armstrong, Wellesley College in American Antiquity

"As a newcomer to the theory and methods of the archaeology of the contemporary past, I found Ruin Memories both intimidating and inspiring. It is a fascinating collection of diverse papers…which will undoubtedly reward rereading.The papers therein have completely changed the way I think about ruins and “things”, and I will certainly revisit certain chapters as I develop as an archaeologist and academic." - Krissy Moore, University of Sheffield

Table of Contents

1. Ruins – concepts, theories and attitudes 2. Modern ruins and heritage 3. Material memory 4. Aesthetics, art, attraction 5. Abandonment 6. Archaeologies of the recent past

About the Editors

Bjørnar Olsen is Professor of Archaeology at the Department of Archaeology and Social Anthropology, University of Tromsø, Norway. His research interests include Sámi culture, contemporary archaeology, material culture, and thing theory. His latest books are In Defense of Things: Archaeology and the Ontology of Objects (2010), Persistent Memories: Pyramiden – a Soviet mining town in the High Arctic (2010, with E. Andreassen and H. Bjerck), and Archaeology: The Discipline of Things (2012,with M. Shanks, T. Webmoor and C. Witmore).He is director of the Ruin Memories project.

Þóra Pétursdóttir defended her doctoral thesis in archaeology, with the title Concrete Matters: towards an archaeology of things, at the University of Tromsø, Norway, in November 2013. Her main research interests lie in archaeological theory and practice, thing theory and archaeology of the recent past and present.

About the Series

Archaeological Orientations

An interdisciplinary series that engages our on-going, yet ever-changing, fascination with the archaeological, Archaeological Orientations investigates the myriad ways material pasts are entangled with communities, animals, ecologies and technologies, past, present or future. From urgent contemporary concerns, including politics, violence, sustainability, ecology, and technology, to long-standing topics of interest, including time, space, materiality, memory and agency, Archaeological Orientations promotes bold thinking and the taking of risks in pressing trans-disciplinary matters of concern.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology