Friday, April 30, 2004

Intellectual Reconstruction

It's hard to know what to do to help reconstruct "ordinary" life after a war. No situation; no life; is ordinary under such circumstances. Some render heroic assistance: food, medicine, water, shelter, evacuation…the kind of help that provides the very basis for ordinary life to become possible once again. But not all of us are trained or equipped to do that.

So some of us try to render a different kind of help: an optimistic sort of help that presumes that ordinary life can and will return, envisions that return, and prepares for it while building toward it. We peer into postholes. We focus on the slice of life that's ordinary for us, because that's what we know about. That's what, over the long term, we can envision, because it's what we do.

But we are archaeologists. By most standards, we are not ordinary ourselves. We are accustomed to thinking about ordinary life as lived over the past several thousand years, not over the last several hundred hours. Yet, manifestly, a preoccupation with some distant past, populated by people now long dead, is utterly inappropriate in the midst of urgent need among the living. How do we connect the two? How do we connect a preoccupation with an ordinary past, to the hope of an ordinary future?

Well, in small ways, with ordinary people living in the present. We are actively engaged in re-building archaeology programs at universities in Iraq. We are trying to restore looted libraries, refit looted classrooms, and re-connect students and faculties cut off from one another and the world outside. We are not engaged in combat. We are not embedded in "hot" zones. We are just going about a very odd little bit of ordinary life, under extraordinary circumstances.

Along the way, I'll try to describe what ordinary things we see, and reflect a bit on pasts, presents, and futures.

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