Patina: A Profane Archaeology

December 2, 2020
Patina: A Profane Archaeology

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the world reactedwith shock on seeing residents of this distinctive city leftabandoned to the floodwaters. After the last rescue was completed,a new worry arose—that New Orleans’s unique historic fabric sat inruins, and we had lost one of the most charming old cities of theNew World. In Patina, anthropologist Shannon Lee Dawdy examines whatwas lost and found through the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.Tracking the rich history and unique physicality of New Orleans,she explains how it came to adopt the nickname “the antique city.”With innovative applications of thing theory, Patinastudies the influence of specific items—such as souvenirs,heirlooms, and Hurricane Katrina ruins—to explore how the city’sresidents use material objects to comprehend time, history, andtheir connection to one another. A leading figure in archaeology ofthe contemporary, Dawdy draws on material evidence, archival andliterary texts, and dozens of post-Katrina interviews to explorehow the patina aesthetic informs a trenchant political critique. Anintriguing study of the power of everyday objects, Patinademonstrates how sharing in the care of a historic landscape canunite a city’s population—despite extreme divisions of class andrace—and inspire civil camaraderie based on a nostalgia that offersnot a return to the past but an alternative future.