Northeast Historical Archaeology


Lauren J. Cook


Viewed as a social act, tobacco use is a rich area for archaeological inquiry. The act of tobacco consumption has historically conveyed meaning, communicating self-perceptions of class, ethnicity, and gender roles. Tobacco consumption has also resulted in the use and discard of material culture, often in large quantities, making it of particular interest to archaeologists. The examination of tobacco use as a field for the negotiation of gender roles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries provides an excellent basis for a critical examination of an "archaeology of gender." The constellation of meanings surrounding actions and motivations that emerges from the documentary record is at odds with the perception that has been fostered by present-day mass media. The use of tobacco-related material culture as "index artifacts" of gender is only possible if a reductive approach is employed, downplaying the influences of clas, ethnicity, and regionalism, and ignoring change in behavior over time. The polyvocality of actions and material symbols surrounding smoking and the tendency of meanings to change over time are such that caution is required when relying on the material record alone to examine gender issues.