Project Description: Morphologies of Antiquarianism

Like any project of historical recovery, getting the true measure requires both intensive and extensive work, the narrow field of vision, and the broad. In the case of Peiresc, because we are dealing not only with a person whose work is unknown, but a way of working which is itself not understood, the need for the broad field of vision, and the long time-span, might be especially valuable.

Stepping back from Peiresc, in two contributions to a collective volume on antiquarianism in early modern Europe and China I have tried to outline what a possible phenomenological approach to antiquarianism might look like and, relatedly since I am a historian, suggested that this can be grasped by examining the history of the study of antiquarianism. Moving laterally and a bit backwards from Peiresc, I have tried to outline some basic characteristics of European antiquarianism by comparing it with Chinese antiquarianism over a period from antiquity to c. 1700

The portrait of Peiresc in the learned economy of the Republic of Letters is something I have painted in Peiresc’s Europe, effectively the introduction to this topic.

Following out the implications of Peiresc’s practice is necessary before any real claims can be made about the impact and importance of early modern antiquarianism. One place to begin is with Goethe, in many ways the last of the early modern antiquaries, and a polymath like Peiresc. His historical research presents a sophisticated synthesis of archiving and cultural history and, as with Peiresc, this emerges especially clearly in his oriental studies.

Another way to do this is to look at specific research tools that were developed by antiquaries like Peiresc in idiosyncratic and personal ways and explore the story of their codification and standardization. This story would begin in France, where Mabillon would be a key figure of the next generation, but reaches its apex in 18th and 19th Century Germany.

It was Momigliano who first suggested that the decay products of antiquarianism in the middle and later nineteenth century, in Germany, were coincident with the birth of disciplines such as art history, anthropology, archaeology, sociology and history of religion. I explored this in a collective book on Momigliano and antiquarianism.

And after antiquarianism? The received view, and the gut impression, is that at some point antiquarianism becomes a pejorative, and there it remains. But following from Nietzsche’s extraordinary assertion of a human “longng” (Sehnsucht) for ruins, in a series of essays I am mapping out the "afterlife of antiquarianism." This story runs in tandem with the more familiar—and for some, happier— disciplinary story about the rise of the modern historical sciences.

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