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CSS colloquium - Kasper Eskildsen, Roskilde University: "Antiquarian Research, Problems of Reproduction, and the Scientific Reconstruction of the Past"

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Mandag 10. december 2012,  kl. 10:15 - 12:00



This paper investigates how antiquarians during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century discussed and tackled the problems of collecting and comparing historical evidence. One important question within these discussions was if and how one could make objects legible, despite temporal and spatial distance. Antiquities, these scholars argued, should not only be considered as valuable for historical understanding as written evidence, but also offered an alternative foundation for investigations of topics and periods that had not left reliable written testimonies. However, “reading” objects posed new practical and epistemological challenges. One central problem was if the available means of reproduction, such as drawings and engravings, were reliable.  This problem became especially pressing for antiquarians who attempted a comparative approach to the past, and therefore needed simultaneous access to objects from different countries and time periods, and was further accentuated by a growing awareness of the utter difference of past experience. To solve the problem some antiquarians not only experimented with new techniques of reproduction, but also shifted attention towards objects that were more plentiful and portable and that were representative rather unique.  This shift prepared the ground for the transformation of antiquarianism into the new human sciences of archaeology and anthropology during the first half of the nineteenth century.  It also made the research practices of antiquarians much more similar to those of the natural sciences.