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main project page - Anglo-American-Antiquarians

Anglo-American antiquarians and early modern science

A research proposal

Susan Alcock, Professor and Director, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University;

Giovanna Ceserani and Michael Shanks, Professors, Department of Classics, Stanford University;

Harriette Hemmasi, University Librarian, Brown University;

Richard Hingley, Reader, Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, UK;

Henry Lowood, Curator, History of Science and Technology, Stanford Libraries;

Ian Russell, NEH Keough Faculty Fellow, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame;

Alain Schnapp, Professor, Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne, Founding Director, Institut national d'histoire de l'art (INHA) Paris;

Christopher Witmore, Research Fellow, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University.


The project aims to investigate the proposition that what is often called the antiquarian tradition in early modern Europe (roughly 1500-1820), and specifically in its manifestation in Britain and America, was not an intellectual backwater to the mainstream development of experimental science, but was a key component in predisciplinary scholarly production. To do this the project will develop a digitally-enabled multidisciplinary and international research network to explore the antiquarian tradition in local and historical contexts, with a special emphasis on its relationship to the discipline of archaeology.

Objectives and method

Uploaded Image

Alexander Gordon - Scottish tenor, bookseller, playwright, actor, classicist, Secretary to the Governor of South Carolina, and antiquarian

Project aims and objectives: a concise focus for understanding early modern science

Early modern science was, as Steven Shapin put it, “a diverse array of cultural practices aimed at understanding, explaining, and controlling the natural world”. Included in this diversity are archaeological practices of prospection, excavation, field survey, collection and sampling, and associated documentation, annotation, commentary, discussion and publication. This project aims to investigate these practices in the early history of science—unpacking the agendas, networks and socio-cultural context. We will pursue a fully multidisciplinary approach to these key components of scientific practice through an international team of scholars.

We propose that what is often called the antiquarian tradition in early modern Europe (roughly 1500-1820) has been misunderstood because of the difficulty of multidisciplinary research. We wish to investigate the proposition that the antiquarian tradition was not an intellectual backwater to the mainstream development of experimental science. Too often the antiquarian tradition has been treated simply as a precursor to scientific archaeology; we will investigate the tradition in its local and historical context without presuming its disciplinary location. Antiquarians were transdisciplinary figures who bridged the humanities and natural philosophy through topographical fieldwork, chorography, human geography, earth sciences, natural history, ethnology, history, folklore studies, toponymy, numismatics, materials science, philology and epigraphical interpretation. Multidisciplinary research is simply the only way to investigate this hybrid field.

We estimate that there are between 1500 and 2000 key works produced in the antiquarian tradition in England and America before 1820. Antiquarianism can be termed microcosmic:

We propose therefore that a coordinated multidisciplinary focus upon the antiquarian tradition promises research results that will be a very significant and efficient return on the effort put into understanding 2000 primary sources.

To achieve these aims the project will

This research network of new mixed media format will be built upon the best possible design principles available in current information science. We intend our findings in the design of such a collaborative research environment to be transferable to other cognate research topics.

Research questions in the history of science

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. As already indicated, there are between 1500 and 2000 published works.

Specific research questions include:

Method: the construction of a digital scholarly apparatus for international collaborative research

A primary concern of the project is to enable collaborative approaches to these research questions. The research questions require an apparatus for effectively connecting sources to context as well as enabling international scholarly collaboration across many disciplines. We propose therefore to base our project on information technologies:

This project will build a digital archive of books, from the inception of printing to the modern period in the West, at about 1820, that deal with cultures in terms of their material products and remains. There is a wonderful set of such texts: most of them labeled as antiquarian works, but we will also include the works that engaged the cultural encounters of the early modern age of discoveries and exploration.

A key to the project's success will be to find and make available this source material. For the English world there already exists the ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collection Online) database. ECCO is limited to the 18th-century and England and does not do a particularly user-friendly job, nor includes all of the illustrated books; but it is a start. The project will need to initiate new scanning of many works. Brown University Library has one of the world's finest collections of antiquarian works, certainly the best in the US. Stanford's holdings are very good, but not comprehensive. We are talking to the Getty Institute about collaboration. With such core team member involvement, we are confident in being able to achieve as complete coverage of the field as is possible.

In addition to these standard published works, the project will involve several case studies that will make available and investigate other sources materials such as letters, personal papers, maps, and images.

It will be important to enable effective searching of the source materials. We intend to build on the world-class experience of the libraries of both Stanford and Brown in developing modes of rich access to text and manuscript collections. Of particular note here is Stanford's Parker Library project which provides rich online access to the medieval manuscript collections held in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge—one of the most significant surviving. Michael Keller, Stanford's University Librarian and project PI, has offered cooperation in adapting this software to our needs.

The database of high resolution scans will include contextual research concerning biobibliography, social and cultural history. Interacting with this database will occur through a wiki-like interface that allows more dynamic commentary and critique from any interested party. We aim to use new participatory media to enable and manage the necessarily multidisciplinary research contributions. So the front-end of the project's scholarly apparatus will be an interactive and collaboratively constructed web-site. Any interested scholar will be able to view the archive of works, browse high resolution scans, read contextual information, and then make their own comment on a book using direct annotation, or supplying a related point, developing an argument, providing indirect commentary, making links within or beyond the archive, or simply posting a relevant paper or image. An important technological task is to coordinate the searchable archive with the authoring environment and with the management of the team. We have much experience of such technology and the management tasks. Michael Shanks, in his lab in Stanford Archaeology Center ( and in Stanford Humanities Lab (, has pioneered the design and use of Web 2.0 technologies (wiki-based systems of content management and collaborative authoring) in such multidisciplinary collaborative research. These will be integrated with the widely available communication technologies now available in video conferencing, chat rooms and online environments.

This digital component will not, however, substitute for conventional aspects of international collaboration. Seminar and workshop meetings will be essential for building the team of scholars, for managing the research and to prepare for a final project conference and conventional publication. It is important also to stress that the information and communication technologies are designed to enable the application of traditional skills of scholarship, particularly critical commentary and source criticism.

Process and stages of the research project

Phase One - October 2007 - March 2008

Collaboration established and agreed - network building

Project plan agreed

Costs - travel between Stanford, Brown, and the UK

Phase Two - March 2008 - March 2009

Feasibility study

Establishment of a bibliography, establish sources and availability of works to be scanned

Feasibility and functionality testing of the information technology - template building and evaluation

Cost - meeting of team members at Stanford in Spring 2008

Cost - visits to Paris and Durham to view local resources first hand

Cost - research assistance - doctoral/postdoctoral

Cost - server set up

Cost - technical assistance in building database and wiki

Cost - an evaluative workshop/seminar in January 2009

Phase Three - January 2009 - December 2010

Implementation - digitization

Cost - research assistance - doctoral/postdoctoral

Phase Four - March 2009 - December 2010

Implementation - commentary and critique across international team

Costs - research manager, server maintenance

Cost - research assistance - doctoral/postdoctoral

Cost - seminar/workshops, summer 2009 and 2010

Phase Five - December 2010

Publication and discussion, dissemination of findings

Cost - a conference at Stanford

Cost - research and technical assistance in archiving wiki and ensuring database and wiki integrity and longevity

Significance of the project

Research into antiquarian practices is relatively undeveloped; this project will throw considerable light on the history of archaeology and the history science in the context of the early modern western world. We will make publicly available a unique and manageable set of sources for understanding the antiquarian tradition. We will also present a multidisciplinary scholarly apparatus for understanding this aspect of the history of archaeology, of science and of their social and cultural contexts. This apparatus will be open ended in the sense of allowing an unlimited number of contributions, from a simple comment on a text to a doctoral dissertation.

Our project is focused on the history of science, but its methodology, using a customized environment of participatory digital media, is applicable to any multidisciplinary research project. This will be a case study in international research collaboration using the latest of information and communication technologies, while also remaining true to long-standing traditions of collegial scholarship.

Related projects:

Bibliotheca Universalis Antiquaria and the comparative study of antiquarian thought

Anglo-American Antiquarians is part of a wider effort to create a research apparatus and network for understanding the antiquarian tradition.

A major research effort aimed at the French antiquarian tradition is already underway, headed by Alain Schnapp (INHA - Institut national d'histoire de l'art, Paris) and focused on the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. A bibliography has been established prior to digitization. Several hundred German works in the collections of the Wolfenbutel Library have already been scanned. We are planning a complementary focus upon Scandinavia. We aim to ensure complete compatability across such digitizing work to enable to ultimate creation of a digital library of antiquarian science: the Bibliotheca Universalis Antiquaria.

In 2009-2010 the Getty Foundation is supporting a research focus upon the comparative study of the antiquarian tradition in its program of scholars at the Getty Villa. This will involve a conference as well as publication. Alain Schnapp is coordinating this effort. We intend it to be complementary to our project on Anglo-American antiquarians by offering comparative context, particularly in Asia.

Partners and institutions

Stanford University

Michael Shanks is Professor of Classical Archaeology. He is a leading figure in archaeological theory and has specialized in archaeological receptions of the past. His Metamedia Lab in Stanford Archaeology Center, in its affiliation with Stanford Humanities Lab, has pioneered the use of Web 2.0 technologies in facilitating collaborative research, learning and publication.

Giovanna Ceserani, Assistant Professor of Classics, is part of the new wave of critical historiographical scholarship focusing on archaeology. She works on the classical tradition with an emphasis on the intellectual history of classical scholarship, historiography and archaeology from the eighteenth century onwards. She is interested in the role that Hellenism and Classics played in the shaping of modernity and, in turn, in how the questions we ask of the classical past originate in specific modern cultural, social and political contexts.

Henry Lowood is Curator for the History of Science & Technology Collections in Stanford University Libraries. As a PI of several projects connected with his directorial role in Stanford Humanities Lab, his expertise bridges information science, new approaches in the digital humanities as well as the history of science. Henry also offers close liaison with the range of expertise and resources available in Stanford libraries.


Alain Schnapp is the world's leading expert on the antiquarian tradition. He is also one of France's most senior archaeologists, senior founding faculty in the Institute of Archaeology at Paris Nanterre, the founding director of the French National Institute for the History of Art (INHA). With European funding Alain initiated the AREA project that is revolutionizing our understanding of the history of archaeology by looking beyond published texts to unpublished documents and other evidence of changing archaeological practices.


Susan Alcock is Professor and Director of The Artemis A.W. and Martha Sharp Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. She is a major and influential figure in Classical Archaeology, a specialist in the landscape tradition in regional archaeological study, and is leading the Joukowsky Institute with a broad and forward looking multidisciplinary agenda for research and curriculum.

Harriette Hemmasi is the Joukowsky Family University Librarian at Brown. She oversees the five libraries that form the Brown University system and which include one of the world's finest collections of antiquarian literature. She is particularly interested in the possibilities for supporting the digital humanities through projects such as this.

Chris Witmore is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. His research covers landscapes in Greece and the Aegean, theories of material culture and the implication of the Digital Humanities in Classics and Archaeology. Chris has particular expertise in the histroical development of the topographic tradition in the antiquarian tradition and Classical Archaeology. He is a senior founding member of the Metamedia Lab at Stanford and helped develop its projects in participatory software.


Richard Hingley is a Reader in Archaeology and Director of the Durham Centre for Roman Cultural Studies. His research interests cover Roman imperialism and native reaction and the reception of Classical culture since the sixteenth century. Several influential articles, an edited volume and a monograph on the history of Roman archaeology have put him in a leading position in the new history of archaeology. He has recently received major funding for a research project focused on the reception of the classical past: "Tales of the Frontier: Political representations and cultural practices inspired by Hadrian’s Wall" begins in 2007.

This is the proposal that went to Stanford Humanities Center:

Document IconSHC-antiquarians-project.doc

Document IconSHC-antiquarians-project.pdf

Posted at Dec 05/2007 08:52PM:
MS: News

Stanford Humanities Center has awarded

the project $10k seed funding.

Posted at Nov 27/2007 08:33AM:
MS: News

Brown University have awarded the project $10k start up

costs as part of their Internationalization Initiative

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