An Afterword for my Book

My current plan is to read my entire book manuscript (on the archaeology of the contemporary American experience) two more times before I submit. Once to finish the introduction and once to finish the citations. It’s not a very pleasant task.

At some point over the next two weeks, I also need to write a brief afterword to the book. My original afterword, which you can read here, fell a bit flat with the series editors and after re-reading it, I felt like I was perhaps trying too hard to bring my book up to the moment and didn’t perhaps do enough to locate my book within the field as I see it developing in the future. This is particularly important for my books because the editors urged me to consider my book as a pair of case studies rather than a proper survey of the field. As a result, the afterword (rather than a formal conclusion) needs to make a gesture toward broader currents in the field and acknowledge (without necessarily being being an outright apologia).

Yesterday afternoon I was reading Dipesh Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (2021). Chakrabarty, who was involved the subaltern studies project in the 1980s and 1990s, noted that this project for all its radical politics and activist bent didn’t recognize the catastrophic impact of human climate change and how it would refract across their political commitments. 

I suspect that my book has suffered from the opposite. It’s concern with the experience of capitalism and some of the mechanisms associated with the carbon economy (and ultimately climate change) led me to overlook they way in which race, gender, ethnicity, religion and so on produced structures designed to both support carbon capitalism and be dependent on it. Of course, foregrounding this connection would involve a different kind of book, anchored in different case studies, and fortified by different research. 

That said, I still need to note that the threads of this other book exist in mine. For example, the experience of undocumented migrants intersects with issues of race and climate as we anticipate the rise of climate migrants who have seen their traditional ways of life, economic and social standing, and political institutions crippled by rising sea levels, changes in weather patterns, or other forms of supermodern destruction. In this context, the experience of migrants provides a window into the experience of climate change by making the expansive timescale and global scope of climate visible, tangible, and politically immediate. In a similar sense, my work in the Bakken attempts to capture the human experience of the carbon economy, with the concept of the “Boom” standing in deliberate contrast to the geological time of oil and the timescale of the “Anthropocene.” Archaeology, it seems to me, is a good tool to think across timescales, but even then, we perhaps have only started to scratch the surface of understanding how material in our contemporary world makes manifest in an immediate and person sense both the immeasurable expanse of deep time and the centuries-long encounter with modernity. 

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