L. S. Klejn and R. G. Collingwood on History, Archaeology, and Detection

Collingwood is well-known for noting, in The Idea of History, similarities between the work of the historian and the work of the detective. In this essay I argue that it is not the historian who is similar to the detective but rather the archaeologist.

In presenting this argument I make use of the work of the Russian archaeologist L. S. Klejn, who has explored in detail both the similarities between archaeology and detection and the differences between archaeology and history.

Part of the interest in comparing the views of Klejn and Collingwood is that they are from radically different backgrounds. Collingwood’s views were formed in pre-war Britain whereas Klejn’s views were formed in the post-war Soviet Union. How they conceive of their work on theory is also different: Klejn sees himself not as a philosopher but as an archaeological theorist; whereas Collingwood saw himself as a philosopher of history. Yet there is common ground in their approaches and in some of their conclusions. It will be argued that Klejn is more accurate than Collingwood in comparing the archaeologist – rather than the historian – to the detective; but, once this concession is made, their views of history can then be reconciled.