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Anglo-American Antiquarians aims to investigate the proposition that what is often called the antiquarian tradition in early modern Europe (roughly 1500-1820) was not an intellectual backwater to the mainstream development of experimental science.

The project takes an interactive, multidisciplinary approach to key components of early scientific practice (fieldwork, collection and sampling, documentation, and archiving), employing and developing a web-based collaborative framework of commentary and critique connected with high resolution scanned sources comprised of approximately 2000 relevant key works in the antiquarian tradition from Great Britain and the United States. We explore the antiquarian tradition in its local and historical context, with a special emphasis on its relationship to the discipline of archaeology.

Objectives and method

Key components

Research questions

There were no archaeologists in early modern times. Antiquarian scholars were pastors, lawyers, physicians and teachers, practicing science non-professionally. This came to be called archaeology, but it was not consistently so termed before the mid nineteenth century.

We propose that it is crucial to avoid a teleological view on the history of archaeology and of science. A basic premise of this project is that contemporary archaeology has not developed in a straightforward genealogy from the practices of pre-scientific antiquarians. Nor were those scholars aiming to develop what later came to be called archaeology. We are archaeologists and historians of science researching early modern scholars practicing archaeology, but we are not their scientific descendants. We therefore aim to approach the scholars of the past in their own time, from their own beliefs and philosophies, which also means to explore and to understand their scientific, political, religious and social contexts. This context includes the standard and sometimes questionable narratives of scientific revolution, when scholars discovered new worlds through microscopes and telescopes and via global seafaring. A key question is how the antiquarians became aware of their own modernity and how this awareness prompted a clearer definition of the past, of Graeco-Roman antiquity and of the Christian Middle Ages, but also of pagan prehistory.

We aim to investigate distinct archaeological practices or methods which yielded more or new information and particularly about the past before history, ie prehistory beyond written sources. Prospecting, excavating, collecting, publishing, reading and writing are scientific practices which have produced a variety of written sources for the history of archaeology. We estimate that there are between 1500 and 2000 published works.

Specific research questions include:

Case studies

Antiquarians in the Scottish Borders: between enlightenment and industry. Michael Shanks and Richard Hingley.

Antiquarians and the British military: more than a knowledge exchange? Christopher Witmore

Links and resources

Bibliotheca Universalis Antiquaria - the main parent project

Antiquarians - project outline 10-2007 - an application for funding (successful) to Stanford Humanities Center

Posted at Dec 01/2008 10:12AM:
cw: Play up funding, research and future orientation . . .

Posted at Dec 05/2008 11:25AM:
chris witmore: Add Creative Commons License: Uploaded Image Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike 2.5 License

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