MEMORY AND HISTORY: Rosemary A. Joyce Article

“Concrete Memories: Fragments of the Past in the Classic Maya Present (500-1000 AD)” – Rosemary A. Joyce

This week’s readings all focused on the key issues of archaeologies of space and place, more specifically on the topic of memory and history. I have decided to focus on Rosemary A. Joyce’s article as she focused on the Classic Maya culture and how the material world is used as a standard for the construction of memory and history. Through looking at the physical objects that were conserved, rediscovered, transformed, and passed on, these materials act as a sign of commemoration or remembrance as they focus on the main concept of time.

I found this week’s readings difficult to understand and draw themes from at some points throughout the text as the concept of memory is hard to grasp since it is always changing and never concrete.

Before diving right into how memory has affected the portrayal of material culture of the Maya throughout time, the article begins by introducing the “model of memory” and describing how memory actually works and its ability in effecting individuals to recall and recognize certain information (Joyce, 2003). The author focuses on the term social memory heavily throughout the article as she describes how the materiality of everyday life contributes to the construction of social memory (Joyce, 2003).  She states,

“memory cannot be considered exclusively an individual faculty, for individuals remember in their capacity as group members. Their interests, their stages in the life cycle, and the social experiences they have lived, shape their memories…not only are memories acquired through society, they are recalled, recognized, and located socially (Joyce, 2003, p. 108).”

From what I understood, she describes social memory as a way we define ourselves, our identity, but not only from the perspective of ourselves, but from the perspective of others whose groups we had belong to throughout our history. The events that an individual lives through and the social interactions they experience shape the ways they encode, store and retrieve certain information from their past.  This quote showed importance as it described the Maya culture in which over time these individuals formed their memories collectively through their material objects, as being members of a group.

While reading this article, the term palimpsest appeared in my head. Palimpsest, which in a sense refers to the building up of history, constantly being changed and added to with new information, can be related to memory. As time passes on and new experiences are created, memory is constantly being changed, built up, and added to. Layer upon layer, as events in history as being added to, similarly are the memories that we are experiencing as they are building up over time in our minds.

Furthermore, Joyce explains the concept of frequency and formality of movement through space as a characteristic that aided in the everyday memory formation of the Classic Maya (Joyce, 2003). Instead of simply looking at the artifact or ritual alone, the author encourages its readers to transform the way we look at the material remains from these societies (Joyce, 2003). Obviously, the more a task is repeated, the more it moves and is established into our memory. As the Maya worked on everyday tasks such as simple jobs around the home, or walked on a daily basis to ritual areas or other external locations, these tasks were strengthened in their memory since they were constantly being repeated (Joyce, 2003).

In conclusion, I found this article fascinating yet ambiguous.  I enjoy how the author used various examples, such as the Ear Spool in explaining the material culture of the Maya, however even after reading this article three times, I still feel like she could have added more. In the end, I feel I was not able to grasp the full concept she was trying to pursue.

Any thoughts?



This week’s readings, all varying in difficulty, focused on the topic of key issues of archaeologies of space and place, more specifically engendering place. I have decided to focus in-depth on Pierre Bourdieu’s article as I found it explained greatly the gendering of different spaces, which is directly reflected in the inconsistency between the status of males and females within the Berber culture.

Bourdieu (1970) describes throughout his article the traditional structureft587006k2_00003of living used by the Berber people, and explains how these unique technical aspects of the house are a representation of their distinct culture. The interior of the house is rectangular in shape is divided into two parts, one area reserved for humans, while the other reserved for animals (Bourdieu, 1970). One important aspect of the room was the weaving-loom which was placed in front of the wall opposite to the threshold. This wheel signifies the protection of the virginity of the daughters living in the house, as the act of weaving is highly centered around the lives of the women and their culture (Bourdieu, 1970). Also, around the room are scattered jars filled with dried vegetables, figs, grains, and water.

He explains the importance towards religious and cosmological beliefs in regards to the architecture of the house, as well as how animals are seen as being lower than the Berber inhabitants as their living space is in a separate designed room in the stable away from the main living space (Bourdieu, 1970). Further, the placement of a visitor’s sleeping area set up by the inhabitants living there can signify a meaning of offensiveness or respect towards the visitors.

Reading the article has made me realize the similarities and differences that exist in comparison to our own westernized modern culture.  For example, Bourdieu (1970) describes how during the day the woman is seen as being locked up in the house while the man is kept out of it. Again, men who stayed too long in the house during the day is either suspect or ridiculous (Bourdieu, 1970). This can be seen as similar to our own westernized culture as it is the typical norm for the man to go work and make money for the family, while the women stays home and takes care of the household. Although this typical family “breadwinner” structure is slowly growing out over time, which is seen today as more and more females are now seen in the workforce and more men seen at home, it is still the dominant structure. Therefore, our own westernized culture was once very similar to the Berber culture, but now modernity is reversing the roles of men and women.

To add, a similar aspect to the one mentioned above was when the author stated,

“in opposition to man’s work which is performed outside,
it is the nature of the women’s work to remain hidden.
Inside the house, woman is always on the move,
she flounders like a fly in whey; outside the house,
nothing of her work is seen” (Bourdieu, 1970, p.135).”

This quote demonstrates the inequalities that exist between men and women. Considering that the males jobs are outdoors in the fields, their work is visible for others to see, meaning they are praised for the work they do. However, due to the fact that the women’s job is in the house, their work is more hidden from the rest of the public, meaning their hard work goes unappreciated when compared to the men.

The one aspect that I thought was extremely stressed throughout the article, especially near the end, was the double space orientation of the house. The importance of the threshold, the entrance of the house, is described as possessing a magnitude of symbolic importance as it is seen as a place of logical inversion and a meeting of between two spaces (Bourdieu, 1970). It is viewed as the crossing from one place to another, and logically the place where the world is reversed (Bourdieu, 1970). These two spaces can be described as not interchangeable, but rather hierarchized, as the men’s outer space is seen as the dominant figure, and the women’s internal space is seen as nothing but an inverted image of the males (Bourdieu, 1970).

To end, I believe Bourdieu does a satisfying job at analyzing the Berber culture and the various gender differences that exist within the use of space. The one aspect I believe that Bourdieu did not do enough of was explain in-depth regarding the actual Berber cultural history. Throughout the article I was hoping that he would eventually describe who the Berber were, where they came from (ancestry), how long they have existed for, basically a historical background of information. I believe that if this information was provided, it would have aided readers in providing more insight and an easier understanding towards the reasons as to why their architecture and placement of objects within the household were the way they were.

Do you agree or disagree?




For my primary source blog post I have decided to examine the theoretical approach of habitus, which was recently introduced in class. I will discuss of its definition and history, draw from examples, explain how this term relates to this course, and how it has influenced and affected archaeology, and space and place.

The term habitus was first coined by Pierre Bourdieu, who can be seen as one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century (History Learning, 2014). In his book “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste” he describes habitus as “the capacity to produce classifiable practices and works, and the capacity to differentiate and appreciate these practices and products (taste), that the represented social world (ex. The space of life-styles), is constituted (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 170)

In simpler terms, International Encyclopedia (2008) explains habitus as a social property of individuals that guides and directs human behavior without strictly determining. This means that it is seen more of a practical expertise rather than a conscious effort, which may make it seem as common sense since it comes so naturally without hesitation (International Encyclopedia, 2008). This practical expertise is seen as being embedded within ourselves, our cognitive system, and act as internal representations. Bourdieu refers to this as the bodily helix, where the body is the location of incorporate history (International Encyclopedia, 2008). Therefore, habitus is produced through experiences, and not consciously learned or taught.

King (2000) illustrates how habitus is seen as created and inter-mediated by two forces: free will and social structures. It is seen as shaped by both free will, as well as surrounding structures, as both of these forces are shaped by past events and shape current practices (King, 2000).

Also, another aspect to mention is that habitus can be seen as being continuous, meaning it is not fixed or permanent, and can be altered or modified under unanticipated and new situations (International Encyclopedia, 2008)

A example that comes to mind is one that Professor Roddick recently mentioned in class. He explained how during one of his fieldwork adventures to another country, he was approached by a random individual while he was walking through the village and this individual asked him as to why he was walking that certain way (I think you mentioned you were walking too fast, but I am not entirely sure). The Professor explained how he became confused as he did not understand what the individual meant by his question, since to him he was walking normally and not unusual whatsoever. This illustrates how every individual does specific things differently, even the simplest things like our everyday movement. The illustration present here is that the skills of walking fast, which proves to be beneficial of getting around in a highly urbanized place like Hamilton, is seen as unusual in other countries, maybe those third-world countries since they move at a slower pace. This example shows the unconscious ways people are trained in their bodily movement and how our bodies have been conditioned to do things certain ways, which is now seen mostly as being common sense to us.

Another example which might help you is the following: Let’s say you were brought up in a poor, and violent neighbourhood, and over time you have been taught the type of knowledge you need to survive successfully. Yet, when you are put into a position, such as a university campus perhaps, you might not find those set of skills as useful as you did in your previous setting.

How does this relate to the course?
People have relationships with the past through space and place. These experiences all depend on where you are and the environment or landscape in which you find yourself in- this will determine the type of habitus you begin to develop.

Space and place have increasingly been recognized as active elements in social, political, and cultural processes. According to Reay (2004), the built and natural environment adjusts our perceptions, and affects our behaviours. This can be seen as relating to habitus as certain spaces and places create experiences which affect our habitus.

How archaeologists use and interpret habitus
The concept of habitus has had a significant impact on the way archaeologists use, and interpret space and place. McNay (1999) demonstrates that when a researcher is studying a specific culture, they tend to objectify the individuals rather than combining them and viewing them an essential piece of the whole. The problem that arises is when researchers conduct their research through their own habitus, it in result, influences their course of inquiry and the ways in which they view the particular culture they are studying (McNay, 1999). To rectify the occurrence of habitus, researchers must be aware of it and in doing so, create experimental procedures to counter it. If the researcher does not take the habitus into account, their bias’ created will marr their findings by degrading it to simply be as an outsider’s critique (McNay, 1999).

Overall, habitus is a very alluring term. It can be seen as a way of understanding the relationship between structure and agency, as well as the ways in which we do things in the world. It is intriguing how the concept of habitus changes over time, rather than being fixed, and I think this is highly beneficial to anthropology, specifically archaeology. Debating whether it is a useful term to use in anthropology is difficult and controversial as I believe it is a good concept to use, but it has to be used in proper ways to examine the environment without bias.


Works Cited

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Available from A_Social_Critique_of_the_Judgement_of_Taste_1984.pdf

“Habitus.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved February 12, 2015 from

King, A. (2000). Thinking with Bourdieu Against Bourdieu: A ‘Practical” Critique of the Habitus. Sociological Theory, 18(3), 417-433.

McNay, Lois. (1999). Gender, Habitus and the Field. Theory, Culture & Society, 16(1), 95-117.

“Pierre Bourdieu”. 2014. Web.

Reay, Diane (2004). ‘It’s all becoming a habitus’: beyond the habitual use of habitus in education research. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25(4), 432-444.