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Today we proudly publish Myriam Arcangeli’s Sherds of History: Domestic Life in Colonial Guadeloupe.
“If pots could talk, their most interesting stories would be about ceramic cultures,” says Arcangeli in the opening of her book. Ceramics serve as one of the best-known artifacts excavated by archaeologists. “Ceramics are helpful for characterizing early civilizations, but their usefulness does not diminish in historical times,” reminds Arcangeli. “Until the advent of plastics and other modern materials, ceramics were quite ubiquitous in daily life.”
Yet rarely do scholars consider their many and varied uses. Breaking from this convention, Arcangeli examines potsherds from four colonial sites in Guadeloupe to discover what these everyday items tell us about the people who used them rather than the people who made them. In the process, she reveals a wealth of information about the lives of the elite planters, the middle and lower classes, and enslaved Africans.
Sherds of History offers a compelling and novel study of the material record and the “ceramic culture” it represents to broaden our understanding of race, class, and gender in French-colonial societies in the Caribbean and the United States. By analyzing how the people of Guadeloupe used ceramics–whether jugs for transporting and purifying water, pots for cooking, or pearlware for eating–Arcangeli spotlights the larger social history of Creole life. What emerges is a detail rich picture of water consumption habits, changing foodways, and concepts of health.