Working Papers

2013 SEAC Student Paper Competition/Book Prize Submissions:

Native-made glazed ceramics in the Southeast? by David Cranford

First, We Eat: Conceptualizing Feasting at Feltus by Megan C. Kassabaum

Pottery’s Place in the Gathering Histories of Florida’s Late Archaic Monuments by Zackary I. Gilmore 

Working papers section – a place where anyone can post their papers and receive feedback from the community

Event and History in the Precolumbian Southeast by Zack Gilmore and Jason O’Donoughue

Subterranean Histories: Pit Events and Place-Making in Late Archaic Florida by Zack Gilmore

Conceptualizing and Reconceptualizing Feasting  by: Meg Kassabaum

One comment on “Working Papers

  1. MC Sanger says:

    Meg – Congrats on the paper – I found your reconceptualization of feasting to be quite useful and convincing. Like yourself, I have had to struggle with the dichotomy between feast/non-feast and found it lacking more often than not. Recognizing the continuum between the two is obviously the first move, but your attempt to define what makes up that continuum and even to quantify it appears to have quite a bit of promise.

    I went through a similar process when writing a paper on monuments in “simple” societies. While there are the famous early mounds in Louisiana and possibly other hunter-gatherer monuments like Gobekli Tepe, I was more interested in less dramatic, yet still purposeful transformations of the landscape like Mesolithic burials in Europe and Archaic shell middens in the southeastern United States. The obvious question quickly becomes “what is a monument,” and is there a definition that can be applied in a useful fashion to both shell middens and Mayan temples; to small earthen mounds and the Freedom Towers in lower Manhattan? It became clear that context was remarkably important to any attempt at a definition for the same reason that you note that “not all feasts (or monuments) are the same”. A small mound of earth is not as monumental within a Classic Mayan context as it is within the Middle Archaic. In other words, the contextualization of the experience of those interacting with the monument is as important as the material nature of the monument itself.

    In an attempt to work through this problem I ended up turning to the work of Catherine Bell (1992, 1997), and others, who are struggling with a similar conundrum – the definition of Ritual. There is a similar thread running through Rituals, Monuments, and Feasts – and I believe it is in the purposeful creation of difference, or alterity, within “normal” life. Monuments are spaces imbued with special character based on the level to which they are differentiated from other spaces in a similar way that feasts are differentiated from normal meals through the variety of means you note in your paper (different foods, preparation, locale, quantity, quality, etc). Bell recognized that differentiation is a verb not a noun, and as such it is more appropriate to talk about Ritualization rather than Ritual. In other words, it is less important to talk about whether an act is a ritual or not than the ways in which actions become ritualized. Your work seems to be doing something similar to our understanding of Feasts – a move that I applaud. My suggestion would be making this move a bit more foregrounded within your paper as I think it is a strong aspect of your argument.

    One thing that I had to struggle with, and still have not reached a satisfactory conclusion, is how to bring a more contextualized understanding of alterity to my interpretations. Bell’s work suggests that differentiation of actions, places, events, etc., is largely based on the prior experiences of the individuals involved in the ritual (or feast/monument). For example, my wife has a very large Italian family that routinely gathers for shared meals. It is not uncommon for there to be 20-30 people at these weekly gatherings. For me, who grew up in a very small family, these gatherings are clearly feasts in terms of the number of people, quantity and variety of food, and overall venue for performance. But for my wife’s family these are normal meals, certainly not worthy of being called a feast, a term they would save for their 300+ person weddings. I wonder if there is some way for you to bring in a more contextualized understanding of feasts to your paper – if so, it would certainly be an important advancement.

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