“A bold and challenging contribution to archaeological and heritage scholarship. Mullins’s forward-thinking case studies invite readers to grapple with the prejudices, discomfort, and trauma that accompany unsettling historical experiences.”—Krysta Ryzewski, coeditor of Contemporary Archaeology and the City: Creativity, Ruination, and Political Action
“A timely answer to an increased interest in dark heritage writ large. Mullins demonstrates that our revulsions should be understood as part of an ongoing human experience of systemic social traumas. Further, these traumas have materialities that endure, and the anxieties around these historical and contemporary moments have real-world consequences.”—Rebecca S. Graff, author of Disposing of Modernity: The Archaeology of Garbage and Consumerism during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair
In this book, Paul Mullins examines a wide variety of material objects and landscapes that induce anxiety, provoke unpleasantness, or simply revolt us. Bringing archaeological insight to subjects that are not usually associated with the discipline, he looks at the way the material world shapes how we imagine, express, and negotiate difficult historical experiences.
Revolting Things: An Archaeology of Shameful Histories and Repulsive Realities delves into well-known examples of “dark heritage” ranging from Confederate monuments to the sites of racist violence. Mullins discusses the burials and gravesites of figures who committed abhorrent acts, locations that in many cases have been either effaced or dynamically politicized. The book also considers racial displacement in the wake of post–World War II urban renewal, as well as the uneasiness many contemporary Americans feel about the social and material sameness of suburbia.
Mullins shows that these places and things are often repressed in public memory and discourse because they reflect entrenched structural inequalities and injustices we are reluctant to acknowledge. Yet he argues that the richest conversations about the uncomfortable aspects of the past happen because these histories have tangible remains, exerting a persistent hold on our imagination. Mullins not only demonstrates the emotional power of material things but also exposes how these negative feelings reflect deep-seated anxieties about twenty-first-century society.
Paul R. Mullins, professor of anthropology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, is the author of The Archaeology of Consumer Culture.