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New Historiographical Approaches to Archaeological Research Workshop. 9–11 September 2010, Berlin



Recent developments in the historiography of the sciences have led to a call for a revised history of archaeology, and a move away from idealized presentations of scientific process as an inevitable progression. Historians of archaeology are beginning to use state of the art historiographical concepts and tools to trace how archaeological knowledge has been produced, and to reflect on the socio-historical conditions and spatial contexts under which this knowledge has been generated. This conference workshop, promoted by the Excellence Cluster TOPOI in Berlin, assembled scholars to discuss innovative approaches and new methods for writing histories of archaeology.

The keynote lecture by Marianne Sommer (Zürich) opened the workshop with a paper on controversies surrounding scientific evidence of the so-called eoliths in eighteenth and nineteenth-century archaeology. Eoliths were thought to be the earliest artefacts created by prehistoric men, but their form could not be clearly categorized as artificial. Sommer's lecture illustrated that debates about the eoliths mirrored the social structure of a time when archaeology was not yet established at universities. Applying the approach of Ludwik Fleck, Sommer stressed the impact of popularized scientific knowledge, which, she claimed, could not be seen as a top-down phenomenon, but as a transmission of knowledge between several social groups. Scientific authority, therefore, was far hazier then, because boundaries between professionals and laymen were still rather blurred in archaeology.

The first section of the workshop dealt with research processes and social dynamics. Amara Thornton (London) presented an approach combining biography, prosopography, and network analysis to identify the participants and members of a research field, such as early archaeology in England. She thereby demonstrated the importance of social networking for the formation of a discipline that was not yet institutionally established.

Pamela Jane Smith (Cambridge) examined a specific space of such research networks. According to Smith, the tearoom at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was crucial as a place of knowledge generation for the archaeological agenda from the 1920s and the 1940s. In addition, the tea- room was a social platform for scientific exchange and a practical solution to social problems in archaeology, such as that of trust between researchers.

Traditionally, the formation of a discipline or a sub-discipline was often presented as inevitable process. For example, Numismatics was a group that defined itself by specific research objects, namely medals and coins. Felicity Bodenstein (Paris) described how heterogenous the scientific milieu within antiquarianism actually was, focusing on the principal promoter of Numismatics in France, Ernest Babelon. Bodenstein deconstructed Babelon's biography, which had long been presented as a mere success story, and showed how the illusion biographique underlined by Pierre Bourdieu, opens up important questions about the role of biographical narratives in the historiography of archaeology.

The second session was dedicated to archaeological space in the making. The place of archaeological research, namely excavation sites and monuments, is not a determined scientific environment, but a result of specific processes that researchers pursue and within which several social groups are involved.

Marieke Bloembergen (Leiden) and Martijn Eickhoff (Amsterdam) focused on archaeological space as an element of identity construction, examining three different archaeological sites in Indonesia. Applying post-colonial theory, they discussed the relationship between archaeological knowledge production and the formation of cultural heritage politics in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia. Sites and monuments originating in Dutch colonial archaeology were transformed in the post-colonial era, shaping new identities for the Indonesian people. Therefore, it became clear how archaeology, politics, and power were interrelated in creating new national identities.

Irina Podgorny (Berlin) presented the case study of the Palenque people, considering a site in Guatemala based on a manuscript discovered in the nineteenth century on this supposed ancient culture. Spanish and English researchers created this 'ancient culture' only by modeling it on already known cultures and their chronologies. Culturally determined spaces by Europeans, such as the sites of Classical antiquity, were projected onto the Guatemalan Palenque culture.

Felix Wiedemann (Berlin) spoke about the inter-relation of geographical space, archaeological objects, and anthropological scientific methods and interpretation. Having studied the case of Near Eastern archaeology in the late nineteenth century, he discussed the emergence of methods such as physical anthropology. These new and 'exact' methods revised the older hermeneutical methods of philology and created ethnic knowledge, which led to race theories. Whereas European prehistoric archaeologists focused on ancient peoples 'without history', racial theory was applied to Near Eastern 'high cultures' that possessed a large number of historical sources. Connecting this application with racial theories created ideas such as the 'Aryan' origin of Near Eastern cultures. Regarding the development of völkisch and racist theories in the early twentieth century, the roots of the supposed superiority of the 'Aryan people' were grounded in this holistic connection between archaeology, history, and sciences in the Near East.

Since the contribution of Timo Saalmann (Jena) was cancelled, Fabian Link (Basel) was the only contributor to the section on the linkages between archaeology and political culture. Link discussed the epistemic changes in the specific constructions of Gotthard Neumann, a German archaeologist working in Thuringia from the late 1920s to the 1960s. He used the semantic and conceptual history approach, in the tradition of Reinhart Koselleck, to study Neumann's publications. Focusing on the impact of völkisch thoughts in Neumann's publications and language, Link argued that the importance of these ideas on prehistory was strongly linked with the social interactions Neumann had with Nazi politics and, foremost on the success he experienced in academia. The more Neumann profited from the Nazis, the more he used völkisch terms and concepts for the analysis of ancient cultures.

The last section of the workshop treated material dimensions of archaeological practice. Stefanie Klamm (Berlin) presented her idea of the role of the media in the creation of knowledge in Classical archaeology during nineteenth century. Excavation sites, the most important places of knowledge production in archaeology, were (and still are) confronted with the problem of the transformation and representation of these three-dimensional places into two-dimensional images. Instruments such as the camera became a prime means for contesting a new scientific view on archaeological excavation and the creation of representation of scientific objectivity.

The process of how scientific objects in archaeological research were produced was the topic of Ulrich Veit's (Tübingen) contribution. Using the approach developed by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger on experimental systems, Veit focused in the case of Iron Age princely seats in Germany and showed how this epistemic object was constructed by several steps of knowledge transformation.

Géraldine Delley (Neuchâtel) talked about the 'scientific methods revolution' in Swiss archaeology, which related to radiocarbon and tree-ring methods. She analyzed the impact mainly of the radiocarbon method on the research practice of Swiss lake-dwelling archaeology between 1950 and 1985, through the lenses of Bruno Latour's approach of the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). With the help of this theory, Delley demonstrated the profound changes that scientific methods provoked in Swiss archaeological research in the 1960s. But these changes were foremost rooted not in general modernization, in the sense of a progress, but were established by the activities of main agents such as Hans-Georg Bandi, who attracted financial resources from politicians by applying certain rhetorical strategies.

Gisela Eberhardt (Berlin) focused on the question of whether, and how, the history of excavation practices could be examined by historiographical approaches to material practices in sciences e.g. in biology. Eberhardt came to the conclusion that a better understanding of the history of excavation practices is achieved by analyzing exactly how manual labor and ideas are interwoven in specific contexts. She showed that, since the processes are intrinsically tied to the particularities of field research, concepts of the field available from the history of biology are an important resource for the described purposes.

The last contribution, by Serge Reubi (Neuchâtel), treated the specific differences between the historiographies of the sciences and those of the humanities and the human sciences. It also contained a summary of the workshop contributions, pointing toward possibilities for future research. According to Reubi, the different traditions of the two scientific fields, historical science and history of the human sciences, generated many problems in establishing a general standard in methodological approaches and theories. In Reubi's opinion, the two fields were too different, yet both had to work on further development on non-presentist approaches.

The workshop demonstrated various fruitful theoretical and methodological approaches to new histories of archaeology. At the same time, it made obvious how difficult discussions about theory and method are, and that there is still a lot of work to do in this regard.