The Canon under Threat: Objects without Status and Processes of (De)canonisation of Middle Eastern archaeological Finds in 19th century Europe

My main objective is the preparation of a (second) monograph, for which interest has been expressed by Oxford University Press. It will incorporate aspects of my PhD thesis, but will also expand the topic in three respects:
First, I will develop the methodological perspective I began exploring in my thesis into a more comprehensive critique of existing approaches. The immediate history (for example the famous publication Nineveh and its remains published by the British Antiquarian A.H. Layard in 1848) retrospectively narrates the finds and their arrival as an organised, logical and well-thought through event in which excavating objects has a clear purpose emphasizing the successful integration of the findings into European canons. This self-presentation tends not to be challenged in the few books and articles published by art historians and historians of Middle Eastern archaeology (see e.g. M. Larsen, The conquest of Assyria, 1996; F. Bohrer, Orientalism and visual culture, 2003). That is, even though archival sources tell a story of chaos (starting with the logistics involved in transporting the objects), disorganisation, unclear aims and uncertainty, little attention had been paid to the vague, unclear and blurred parts of the narratives in which objects are transferred from one epistemological space to another and in which it is not apparent what the “meaning of the object” was. Neither has anyone investigated what the purpose of illustration was in connection to this question.
For example, existing studies explored the beneficial role the findings such as inscriptions played in supporting and proving biblical traditions in order to make the Bible – a virtually unchallenged canonical text in the intellectual and religious life of the western world – a subject of historical and scientific study, with the potential to combat criticism of the Old Testament. I will pay special attention, however, to the less studied cases in which these travelling objects, emerging from non-European traditions, refused to become part of this discourse and thus destabilized, threatened and even dethroned the European canon.
Hence, in using the expression “meaning of the object”, I do not refer to the significance that objects acquired as sources in Biblical Archaeology, national heritage or signs of imperialism later in the 19th century. My question regards the period between the findings and their final incorporation into European collections, when the objects seemed to have “no status” and their meaning was still dynamic, negotiable and polysemantic. That is, I am interested in the potential the objects have as sources of knowledge.
Second, the uncertainty involved applies not only to the field and the arrangements of art in the museum, but also to the visual media used. In expanding the aspect of the visual representation of these objects, I will not only focus on photography, but also investigate all pertinent visual media and their relationships to each other. In the case of photography, for example, current research gives the impression that photography had either never existed or had always been there. It is less explored, however, why and when an actual decision was made to use or not to use certain media. I will examine if different media were used in order to fulfil different purposes: as mobile transmitters of knowledge, means of selection and classification, tools of recording, and as source for the public. I will argue that visual methodologies and new technologies were as uncertain as the objects they depicted and investigate how these components finally became to interact.
Third, the structure of the book will be guided by a comparison of three geographical spaces. In order to contextualise the British case, I will also explore how France and Prussia dealt with the problem. Prussian and French excavations in the Middle East took place for very different reasons with different methodologies applied. While early British and Prussian photographic projects in the archaeological field proved rather abortive, the French, for example, had a less troubled relationship with photography. I will thus investigate how France and Prussia used visual media in order to turn the finds into objects of study. I have consulted archival sources for this comparison in London, Berlin and Paris. Further crucial sources are located in the US (see “Motivation”).
In comparing these geographical spaces, I will ask what “looking for suitable objects“ meant; investigate the strategies, methods and textual practices in attempts to form a canon, such as selecting, collecting, classifying, deciphering; and above all what role visualisation plays in this context. My interdisciplinary work would for the first time, bring the though emerging still underdeveloped field of the history of archaeology and its visualization into fresh contact with the contemporary agenda in material culture on the transfer of knowledge, now central to new approaches in history of science and art and cultural history. I will reconstruct how European canons and cultural heritage developed out of moments of insecurity, uncertainty, contingency, indiscipline, and consequent disorder.

Projektleitung
Klonk, Charlotte Prof. Dr. (Details) (Kunst und Neue Medien / Photographie)

Mittelgeber
Volkswagen-Stiftung (VW)

Laufzeit
Projektstart: 09/2013
Projektende: 05/2014

Zuletzt aktualisiert 2020-11-03 um 23:20