Book Reviews  ____________________________________________________________________________________



Link to Gibbs book at Springer Anthropology and Archaeology web page

Link to Gibbs book at Amazon.com


Randall H. McGuire, State University of New York-Binghamton, Journal of Anthropological Research 2004 60(2):319-320.

"In many respects this is an impressive and groundbreaking study. I have read very few other analyses that have so effectively used 'unremarkable' farmsteads to say something remarkable about historical processes in the U.S.  Groover's method of time sequence analysis is promising and worthy of further use and consideration.  In sum, this is an important new book in historical archaeology."


Paul Salstrom, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Indiana, Appalachian Journal 2005 33(1):113-115.

"overall...a useful book by an energetic historical archaeologist who, besides weighing in with special expertise, is well attuned to winds of doctrine and issues of disagreement in Appalachian Studies.  Thanks are due both the author and his publisher."

Link to book review by Paul Salstrom in Appalachian Journal


Cliff Boyd, Radford University, Virginia, Journal of Appalachian Studies 2006 (1).

"The theoretical structure and analytical methodology of historical archaeology has clearly evolved over the past four decades. Mark Groover's rich study of the German-American Gibbs family farmstead in Knox County, Tennessee, is an example of the detailed application of current theoretical and methodological concepts to the interpretation of this site. Groover produces an extremely fine-grained temporal analysis of the Gibbs farmstead and identifies several trends and patterns in economic activity and material culture."

Link to book review by Cliff Boyd in the Journal of Appalachian Studies


Elvin Hatch, University of California, Santa Barbara, American Anthropologist 2005 107(1):149-150.

"...an important addition to the dialogue on 19th-century southern Appalachia.  The empirical basis of the study is excellent."

Link to book review by Elvin Hatch in American Anthropologist


Harold Mytum, University of York, United Kingdom, Post-Medieval Archaeology 2004 38(2):414-415.

"...this study is an effective contribution to site-based analysis, and shows how the particulars of one unremarkable farmstead can contribute to wider issues of interpretation.  I would hope that some of the ideas regarding household succession posited at the Gibbs site could be addressed within a British context."

Link to book review by Harold Mytum in Post-Medieval Archaeology


Dan Hicks, University of Bristol, England, Antiquity 2004 78(302):935-936.

"The quality of the archaeological and documentary research presented is high..."


Lance Greene, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Southeastern Archaeology 2004 23(1):116-117.

"...a valuable contribution to household studies in archaeology and to historical archaeology in general."


Rebecca L. Tellvik, University of Idaho, Historical Archaeology 2006.

"...an excellent example of how historical documents can be combined with information from the archaeological record to produce a broader and more complete picture of a site."





 (Formerly Southwestern Journal of Anthropology)

VOLUME 60 • NUMBER 2 • 2004


An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life: The Gibbs Farmstead in Southern Appalachia, 1790-1920. Mark D. Groover. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2003, 320 pp. $130.00, cloth; $60.00, paper.

In 1790 Nicholas Gibbs, a German immigrant, established a farm near Knoxville, Tennessee. He built a log house that his family would occupy for four generations until 1913. In 1986 a consortium of his descendants purchased the property as a historic site and they invited Charles H. Faulkner of the University of Tennessee to begin a program of archaeology there. The initial research questions at the site included finding the location of outbuildings and a search for material indications of German ethnicity. Excavations continued until 1996, and An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life is a revision of a 1998 dissertation that Mark Groover prepared based on the research.

Groover approached the study of this "unremarkable" (p. 145) middle-class farmstead with a new research focus. His goal "was to clarify and bring into focus through a case study approach, the characteristics and priorities associated with a typical rural family in southern Appalachia during the 19th century" (p. 277). His study is guided by three research topics: (1) rural capitalism, (2) material life, and (3) the reconstruction of temporal process. He frames his view of rural capitalism in a World Systems perspective, and he uses Fernand Braudel's notion of material life. He identifies rural patrimony as the guiding ideology of the Gibbs family. Rural patrimony attempts to acquire, maintain, and transfer land and the means of production across generations in an extended family. The processes of family cycles and the household successions that follow from rural patrimony are key to Groover's temporal approach. He develops a new method of analyzing artifact assemblages called "time sequence analysis" to reconstruct this temporal process. His analysis of the Gibbs' farmstead demonstrates that from the beginning, the folk of southern Appalachia were not living anachronisms but rather actively involved in a larger Capitalist World Economy.      .

Groover organizes his book into two parts. The first part covers theory, methods, and historical context. In this part Groover lays his theoretical foundation, gives the reader a history of the family and the farmstead, and places the farmstead in a context of economic history at the local, state, and world levels. The second part of the book contains his analyses of the farmstead. This includes a detailed description of the archaeological excavations; a study of architectural changes at the site; a consideration of changes in consumerism in the nation, region, and for the Gibbs family; the author's time sequence analysis; and an analysis of the artifacts from the site to reconstruct foodways of the Gibbs family.

In many respects this is an impressive and groundbreaking study. Groover succeeds in taking the results of a ten-year excavation project, initially organized around very different research questions, and braiding them into an insightful, intriguing, and ingenuous narrative of this "unremarkable" farmstead. He uses nuanced considerations of Capitalism, family, the South, households, ideology, and statistical methods to braid his cable of inference. He finds the substantive strands of the cable in history, genealogy, census data, civil records, newspaper ads, economic statistics, oral history, architecture, and artifacts. His cable very effectively links data and theory, the farmstead and the World System, and documents and artifacts. He convincingly demonstrates the workings of rural patrimony and the processes, contradictions, and dynamics that initially allow its success at the Gibbs place but also ultimately result in its failure.

The analysis is both rich and deep, and the book requires considerable effort on the part of the reader.  A more streamlined organization of the text that eliminated the frequent redundant presentations of information would have made the text easier to comprehend. The book also reads a bit too much like a dissertation. I doubt that the reader needs to know that eastern Tennessee was the coast of a Paleozoic sea to understand anything about rural patrimony at the farmstead, or that a history of redware pottery production that begins with Santa Elena in the mid-sixteenth century is necessary to understand why the Gibbs family used lots of these ceramics. Despite these failings of the editorial process, the book will reward the diligent and committed reader.

I hope that there will be many such readers in archaeology. I have read very few other analyses that have so effectively used "unremarkable" farmsteads to say something remarkable about historical processes in the U.S.  Groover's method of time sequence analysis is promising and worthy of further use and consideration. In sum, this is an important new book in historical archaeology.

Reviewed by Randall H. McGuire, State University of New YorkBinghamton







 An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life: The Gibbs Farmstead in Southern Appalachia, 1790-1920 MARK D. GROOVER.  Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003, xvii + 320 pp., figures, tables, appendices, references.  $130.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-306-47502; $60.00 (paper), ISBN 0-306-47773-4.

Reviewed by Lance Greene, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life, Mark D. Groover investigates the daily lives of and choices made by rural southern Appala­chian farmers during the nineteenth century through a case study of the Gibbs site in eastern Tennessee, occupied by four successive generations of the Gibbs family from the 1790s through the 1910s. Family cycles are presented as a major influence on material culture and landscape change or continuity on the farm; a quantitative measure, time sequence analysis, is then presented to correlate the archaeological record with these influences. The main concepts governing the study include rural capitalism, consumerism, world systems theory, temporal process, and time sequence analysis.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, Theory, Methods, and Historical Context, consists of the first four chapters. Chapter 1 is a brief introduction to rural Appalachia and past theories that have been proposed to explain the ongoing poverty of its inhabitants. Chapter 2 is a thorough discussion of the theory and methods used in the book.  Groover's theoretical and methodological approach is a combination of several earlier economic and social theories. The chapter requires a thoughtful and thorough review by the reader, but the result is a sophisticated approach for interpretation of the archaeological data. World sys­tems theory is used to tie rural capitalism in eastern Tennessee to the global marketplace of the late eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. During much of this period, the region was part of the "backcountry" and is discussed in terms of the core­-periphery model. The work of Braudel and the Annales School is used as a way to view the archival and ar­chaeological data at differing temporal scales. Groover introduces a new analytical procedure called time sequence analysis. With it, he attempts to tie archaeo­logical processes related to material consumption and deposition to household cycles defined through the archival record. Two additional concepts are central to the book: family cycles and household succession. These cycles are based on family events such as marriages, births, and deaths. Family life-cycles also include issues of age, generational changes, and household authority.  These family/generational events are tied to the archaeological record through changes in dwellings, outbuildings, yard lots, and acreage.

Chapter 3 is a detailed history of the four Gibbs families, beginning in the early eighteenth century with Nicholas and Mary (Efland) Gibbs prior to their move to eastern Tennessee. These family events are linked to the larger economic events of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, particularly the major migrations of the eighteenth century, settlement of the backcountry during the early nineteenth century, and the subsequent decline of farming in the southeastern United States.

Chapter 4 is a reconstruction, mainly through federal agricultural censuses, of the major patterns in agricultural practice throughout the nineteenth century. These major shifts in the Gibbs household are related to local, county, and regional agricultural changes. Major economic and population shifts include rural infilling; in which the backcountry of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries becomes more densely populated, and the subdivision of large farms through partible inheritance.

Part II, Archaeology and Material Life, comprises the bulk of the book. Here Groover applies the theories, methods, and analytical techniques from Part 1. Chapter 5 is a review 6f the archaeological excavations at the Gibbs site performed between 1987 and 1996.  Groover participated on several of these excavations. The excava­tion of shovel-test pits, test units, and block areas revealed several subsurface features, including middens, l cellar pit, and the foundations of outbuildings.  Chapter 6 is a discussion of household succession and family cycles and their effects on the landscape of the farm, such as continuities or changes in structures and refuse disposal. One of the most interesting aspects of this chapter is the reconstruction of the farm/house lot for the various Gibbs families based on archaeological and archival data and oral histories. Research of the Gibbs farm is related to regional and national trends, including modernization during the nineteenth century and the current homogenization of American culture.

Whereas Chapter 6 focused on changes in the physical landscape of the Gibbs farm, Chapter 7 focuses on trends in consumerism and standards of living. Consumerism is investigated through the analysis of advertisements in regional newspapers. Standards of living are investigated through analyses of probate records for the Gibbs family and Knox County. While Groover notes that the results of these analyses are mixed, the study provides an interesting glimpse into the lives of rural farmers in the mid-nineteenth century.

In Chapter 8, time sequence analysis is applied to archaeological assemblages from the Gibbs site. Analyses are performed on four discrete archaeological contexts. Here Groover explores the significance of family cycles as a factor in the changes in material culture and physical landscape of a farm. He then shows explicit archaeolog­ical correlates that can be identified qualitatively and quantitatively. Known changes in the Gibbs families, gathered from historic documents, are used as an absolute dating technique to compare with patterns in the archaeological data. This chapter and the appendices provide detailed discussion of the steps required to perform time sequence analysis, which is presented as a potential method for reconstructing family cycles on sites for which historical documentation is poor.

Groover found that, at least at the Gibbs site, foodways, was one of the most sensitive complexes in performing his analysis. In Chapter 9, he therefore investigates this complex more thoroughly by discus­sing the faunal remains and ceramics recovered from the site and then performs time sequence analysis on the ceramic wares. Chapter 10 is a review of the historic background of the Gibbs family set in a broad economic and social context and of the methods used in this archaeological case study.

This book focuses on choices made by, and impacts on, the successive Gibbs families concerning economic trends and increasing consumerism. In some instances it seems that the patterns and practices of the families followed regional economic trends too closely; they appear to be more acted upon than acting. Examination of other aspects of daily life would have been in­teresting. For example, while Groover discusses issues of age and authority, he rarely broaches the subject of gender in the household. I would have enjoyed more detail on individual actors within specific households. However, the focus is on the family as a unit, and the study provides useful quantitative procedures to corre­late the family cycle with the archaeological record.  An Archaeological Study of Rural Capitalism and Material Life is a valuable contribution to household studies in archaeology and to historical archaeology in general.


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