James H. Barrett
Deputy Director (Acting Director, Michaelmas 2012), McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, and Reader in Medieval Archaeology, Division of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Office: Courtyard Building
Phone: +44 (0)1223 339287
Fax: +44 (0)1223 333536
Current research interests
I specialise in medieval archaeology and historical ecology, with special interests in the `long' Viking Age, political economy, migration and the comparative study of maritime societies. I am particularly drawn to the complex links between rural producers of the north and urban communities around the North and Baltic Seas. Thus I am also fascinated by the construction of island identities and by the causes and consequences of commercialisation.
In methodological terms much of my research has involved the application of archaeological science to medieval archaeology, with the ultimate aim of reconciling archaeology's divergent scientific, theoretical and historical paradigms. I started academic life as a zooarchaeologist, but have since been directly or indirectly involved in applying a diverse range of techniques. As a proponent of the holistic study of political economy, I am equally interested in the study of ecofacts (bones, plant remains, soils, etc.) and artefacts. Thus I supervise postgraduate students of both environmental archaeology and material culture. I am also an active field archaeologist, directing excavations of Viking Age and medieval sites in Scotland and participating in rescue archaeology at reindeer hunting sites melting out of ice patches in Norway.
My interest in `liminal' communities and travel between different socio–economic worlds has led me to flirt with world–systems theory and post–colonial theory. However, I continue to value (comparative) historical particularism over typological approaches that can be both homogenising and teleological. I have yet to join the adherents of social network analysis—thinking it too abstract to capture the realities of lengthy journeys, wanderlust, hypothermia, seasickness and shipwreck.
Current research projects
I have just finished a monograph on economic production, long–range trade and island identity between AD 900 and 1600 based on excavations I directed at Quoygrew, a settlement of farmers and fishers in Orkney, Scotland. Meanwhile, I have also been writing up various aspects of two collaborative projects on the growth of commercial sea fishing funded by the Leverhulme Trust and London's Company of Fishmongers. Next I have an edited volume on Maritime Societies of the Viking and Medieval World to finalise for publication by the Society for Medieval Archaeology. Then there is a study to complete regarding the western Viking Age diaspora based on my recent excavations of a chieftain's stronghold in Orkney known as the Brough of Deerness. It has also been exciting and rewarding to participate in several Norwegian research projects, either directly or vicariously by mentoring talented postdoctoral fellows. Presently this work includes the Avaldsnes Royal Manor Project (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo), the Bjørkum Project (University of Bergen) and Oppland's rescue archaeology of melting ice patches. In the recent past I have directed a Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar series on crises and `dark ages' in comparative perspective that focused on the fifth, ninth and fourteenth centuries.