industrial archaeology

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industrial archaeology, a term invented by Professor Donald Dudley and used in print for the first time by Michael Rix, is the study and recording of the industrial heritage. Conservation in a few cases may be justified, but generally, the purpose of practitioners is to illuminate industrial and social history by using physical evidence. Field surveys have occasionally been used by historians; for the industrial archaeologist they are essential. An interdisciplinary study, industrial archaeology has attracted a popular audience in Britain since 1960; there are many local societies, groups, and periodicals and a national society, the Association for Industrial Archaeology, which publishes Industrial Archaeology Review.

Industrial archaeologists employ techniques used by other historians, including evaluating the evidence provided by documents, maps, and plans and the critical use of printed sources. Oral evidence may also be important. To these are added others: measuring, surveying, and photographing a site so that an accurate record can be produced. In a few situations excavation is essential. These latter techniques reveal affinity with archaeology.

Apart from involving more people in the local study of industrial and social history as a recreational activity, industrial archaeology has a number of other purposes. Economic change has been so rapid that there is a grave risk that industries and crafts as well as machinery and plant will disappear before any adequate record is made, thereby reducing the prospects for future historians. The scale of local operations can only be appreciated by fieldwork, and a wider comparison be made only if similar work is undertaken in other places. An enlightened preservation policy can only be produced from knowledge of what survives and which is the best of the survivors. Churches and castles have long had this recognition; industrial artefacts such as mills, pumping stations, mines, and railway stations, require similar treatment. Industrial remains are simply part of that evidence to be used in complementing other sources. The disappearance of some processes may be offset by an adequate technical record taken on site from those who worked in obsolescent industries. The record and analysis of human endeavour demands an open outlook to new perspectives; the use of industrial archaeology can elucidate forgotten elements of human experience.

John Butt