Anyone can call herself or himself a bead researcher, and many people do. But they are not really doing the job unless they follow two cardinal rules:
1. Use the scientific method of gathering data and organizing it, developing hypotheses and means to test them, testing and re-testing, and building toward a theory. (In science "theory" does not mean speculation; it is the closest thing to "proof" that science admits.)
2. Take a humanistic approach, with people, not beads, as the center of inquiry. There are no beads without people. Their story cannot be told unless those who make, trade, use and ultimately dispose of them are kept in mind.
Because of the nearly universal nature of beads in terms of time, place and materials, bead researchers may come from many directions. Among the disciplines that may foster bead research are archaeology, history, ethnography/anthropology, geography and the natural and material sciences. Sometimes they get to travel.
Papers and debates about beads are found as far back as the 1860s. Most early work focused on particular types of spectacular beads (an error in methodology) such as chevrons or aggrey beads. As archaeology and science in general grew up, so did bead research. The earliest important papers were published around 1900.
In the next few decades several people became seriously interested in beads, enough so that they are the first group in the Bead Researchers Hall of Fame. They are: Horace C. Beck, A.J. Arkell, Gustavus Eisen, William Orchard and Thea Elisabeth Haevernick. The latter is the only woman in this group, but she has had much influence on subsequent bead researchers.
In the 1950s and1960s two people, W.G.N. van der Sleen and Alaistar Lamb, were the first to attempt a global view of beads. The world was then fragmented. The Internet and related services did not yet exist. The cold war was on and the world was being decolonized. Neither succeeded in his goal, but at least they tried.
It was not until the 1980s that Bead Research Institutions began to develop, including the Center for Bead Research, which started life as the Bead Research Bureau in 1979. The picture is now much changed. There is increasing interest on the part of professionals and bead lovers alike in serious people-oriented bead research. That's what we are all about.
Where is bead research now? Here are some of my thoughts.
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