For most of the past two decades, my research has focused on the archaeology and history of central Karnataka during the Early Modern period (roughly AD 1500-1800). Quite a bit of this work centers on the smaller kings and chiefs (the so-called ‘little kings’ of South India), how and why they rose to power, and what happened to them in the extraordinarily turbulent centuries during which they lived. In the 2007 version of this web page, I wrote, “My overall goals are (1) to understand and explain the historical and cultural contexts of late medieval and early modern forts and fortified towns in South India, with emphasis on Mysore, and (2) investigate anthropological perspectives of architecture, especially aspects of architectural expression linked to the status and legitimacy of elites.” To a certain extent, these goals remain unchanged, even though they now do seem a bit vague.
I began my India research in the early 1990s with a study of the role of Early Modern forts as symbols of the status and legitimacy of kings. I focused on the Early Modern period (AD 1500-1800), which roughly spans the centuries between the fall of Vijayanagara and the beginning of British hegemony, for two reasons. First, it was a time of great political and cultural turmoil in the South and many of these changes are reflected in material culture. Second, the chiefdoms and small kingdoms that came to dominate the Early Modern political landscape were broadly similar to the late prehistoric and early modern chiefdoms that I had studied earlier in the United States. In keeping with the considerable naiveté that I showed in the construction of my first South Indian research project, it seemed like a good place to start.
My first season of fieldwork in India was more of a sputter than a roar. My colleague Bob Clouse and I completed the reconnaissance survey of 14 Chitradurga District forts during our first few months in the field. Soon after Bob left to return to the US, I was brought down by side-effects of what I know now to be the dangerous antimalarial drug Lariam. These effects, which kept me out of the field for a couple of years, were exacerbated by inadequate allergy medication (I found out that I’m allergic to cattle, dogs, and dust mites, so it figures that I’d end up working in India, right?). Archival research became part of the picture while I recovered and I began the first of what are now my regular visits to the India Office collections at the British LIbrary and other archives.
In connection with my research on forts, Intel Corporation granted me support to develop a Mysore Forts GIS database. This database, which I completed in London in 2003, recreates the cultural landscape of the Mysore Kingdom from the manuscript maps of Colin Mackenzie’s Mysore survey of 1799-1808. Although the India GIS database is of immense value in my South India research, I see it primarily as an early stage in a research project that will integrate architectural and epigraphical evidence in a study of temporal and spatial patterns in the development of Early Modern kingship in the Vijayanagara heartland.
Early on in my South India research, I had occasion to visit Ramandroog village in Bellary District to see its Hoysala fortification walls and to learn from Dr. C. S. Patil about the hero Kumara Rama. I was also surprised to find that Ramandroog had once been a colonial hill station and hospital and that its overgrown cemetery was undocumented and is in danger of being destroyed by stripmining. In subsequent visits to Ramandroog, several volunteers and I recorded the Ramandroog graves and got to know Ignaciappa, Thimmappa, and several other outstanding local residents. This experience impressed me so much that I have made it a personal priority to document other abandoned Karnataka cemeteries as I come across them in my fieldwork and then to post this information on the web where it is freely available.
Before India became my life’s obsession, many of my graduate students and I devoted our research efforts to the investigation of the late prehistory of the southeastern United States, with emphasis on Kentucky. As the graduate students involved in this research began to complete their Ph.D. dissertations in the 1980s and ’90s, and as my work on a major synthesis of Kentucky archaeology neared completion, the scope of my research broadened to include cross-cultural perspectives on the architecture of towns and fortified places. It was this project that first drew me to India. One field season there, working for John Fritz and George Michell in their Vijayanagara Research Project, and I was hooked. I concluded my American projects and started writing grant proposals to move my research to India.
Throughout my career, the archaeology and ethnohistory of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast has been a minor research thread for me. As I explain elsewhere in this web site, I’m a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and I find it as fascinating a place now as I did when I was a child.