In Small Things Forgotten: The Archeology of Early American Life.
New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
In Small Things
Forgotten begins with a methodology chapter which describes the work of
historical archeologists as the study of everyday material objects of the past
or “small things forgotten.” Combining three dimensional artifacts and
documentary evidence, James Deetz argues that early seventeenth century New
England culture was much like that of England. Further artifactual examination
also illustrates that during the last half of the seventeenth century, these
two cultures developed distinctive characteristics and by the middle of the
eighteenth century they once again converged, exhibiting many similarities.
Using gravestones as one source of evidence, Deetz asserts that three iconographic
designs were used in New England between 1680 and 1820 and reflected the religious
beliefs of the inhabitants of the region. In the seventeenth century the
“winged death’s head” design was pervasive and portrayed “orthodox Puritanism”
by stressing decay and the grim reality of death. The eighteenth century
ushered in a new approach to religion that culminated in the Great Awakening.
Gravestone design reflected this dramatic change with the “winged cherub” (a
sign of resurrection and heavenly reward) replacing the earlier design.
At the end the eighteenth century the cherub was displaced by a willow tree
overhanging a pedestaled urn (a symbol of commemoration) and reflected the secularization
of religion. Further, Deetz argues that this same sequence in stylistic
designs were found in England prior to their appearance in New England with
cherubs appearing at the beginning of the Georgian period in 1725 and the willow
tree design emerging as early as 1760. Deetz employs ceramics, music instruments,
and housing to further illustrate his thesis and attributes the convergence
of New England and old England culture to Enlightenment ideology. The
strengths of this monograph reside in its methodological approach and the use
of material artifacts as historical evidence. [J. Dusselier]