Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Benjamin Anderson, Felipe Rojas (ed.), Antiquarianisms: Contact, Conflict, Comparison. Joukowsky Institute Publication, 8. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2017. Pp. xii, 226. ISBN 9781785706844. $45.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Katherine A. P. Iselin, University of Missouri (ktp.iselin@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Antiquarianisms: Contact, Conflict, Comparison is an important contribution to the study of antiquarianism. It seeks to challenge and expand our understanding of the word, exploring and comparing antiquarian traditions at various points of time in different parts of the world. In addition to challenging what antiquarianism is, several essays also explore the role of anti-antiquarianism in certain societies.

Primarily composed of papers from a symposium at Brown University in 2015 ("Antiquarianisms Across the Atlantic"), this volume is exceptionally organized, opening with two theoretical essays. These chapters by Felipe Rojas and Alfredo González-Ruibal question the term "antiquarianism" and how it has been applied to various cultures. After reading these provocative chapters, the following chapters, which focus on specific cases of how certain groups interact with the past, invite the reader to examine how each situation challenges or engages with various forms of antiquarianism. These case studies are separated into two sections, focusing on Spanish colonies in the Americas in one and European travelers and archaeologists in the Ottoman Empire in the other. The book concludes with a coda by respondent Peter N. Miller, who effectively brings all the volume's ideas together.

While the authors explore non-European practices in connecting with the past, the title Antiquarianisms is appropriate. The bulk of the book takes a Western perspective and approach, even when the subject matter is not considered part of this tradition. For example, Part II examines indigenous voices in colonial Spain, but each essay still sits firmly within Western parameters.

The greatest strength of this collection of essays is its ability to bring together different practices for interacting with the past, while simultaneously questioning whether it is possible to successfully compare these practices. The self-reflection evident in this volume is noteworthy and something that all scholars of antiquarianism should consider. Additionally, several of the essays discuss cultures or communities that made or make an active decision to ignore the past, asking the reader to consider these alternative perspectives in relation to Western antiquarian traditions. In the current academic culture, where inclusivity and diversity are (or should be) part of every curriculum, this is a particularly important—and timely—statement.

One of the most significant contributions to this volume, as well as scholarship on antiquarianism in general, is Rojas's chapter on archaeophilia (Chapter 2). In a book that challenges how antiquarianism is understood, Rojas presents a new perspective that also expands the vocabulary. Rojas questions how we define someone as an antiquarian and shows the multitude of ways that "traces of the past" can be understood. Using a number of examples from various cultures and time periods, he shows access to the past is not limited to literary sources or archaeological evidence. A modern archaeologist uses material evidence to access the past, but Rojas presents a number of other ways people can connect to the past, such as smell. He gives the example of a town near Cape Iapygia, which the Roman geographer Strabo records was associated with giants expelled by Herakles. Strabo states that the giants settled there, covered themselves in the earth, and expelled a "fetid discharge," the smell for which the area was known (18). Another possibility is through what are referred to as "living objects" by Native Americans. Some Native Americans "breathe life" into such artifacts when they create them, and the objects thus become a living part of the family (24-25).1 Instead of broadening the definition of "archaeologist," he proposes a neologism that can be applied to any number of traditions that interact with the past: archaeophilia.

The second theoretical essay, by González-Ruibal (Chapter 3), is also a welcome addition to antiquarianism scholarship. In this chapter, González-Ruibal discusses how antiquarianism is often associated with the elite classes and how it is frequently politically motivated. He also highlights antiquarianism's often-problematic association with colonialism. He warns against "othering" differing antiquarianism practices, while also cautioning that these "other" traditions should not be considered the same as Western antiquarianism. González-Ruibal also incorporates an important discussion about several societies that have anti-antiquarianism practices, most notably in Africa. The Sith Shwala of Western Ethiopia, for example, display objects from their past in a ritual house as a way to show their past is also their present: they exist simultaneously. Similarly, Steve Kosiba (Chapter 5) explores how Inca wak'as were living monuments that both symbolized the Inca past (and timeless) connection to the land and spoke to the present. These chapters challenge Western conceptions of time and the past, asking the reader to examine their own relationship with objects and the past. Similar to González-Ruibal's discussion on elite antiquarianism, Kosiba also shows how the Spanish and their Andean allies used the destruction of a monumentalized wak'a as a political statement.

Chapters 4 (Byron Ellsworth Hamann) and 6 (Giuseppe Marcocci) both use literary texts to examine how Spanish antiquarianism influenced our understanding of colonial Spain, as well as how indigenous interactions with the past influenced Spanish colonists. Hamann looks at two historical-geographical surveys that were conducted by the Spanish government in central Castile and Spanish America during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Even though the questionnaires differed in their questions, the answers often described monuments and landscapes similarly. Additionally, these surveys preserve local knowledge that colonists recorded, but that does not survive elsewhere. Marcocci analyzes the treatise of Franciscan friar Toribio de Motolinía (Historia de los indios de la Nueva España), in which Motolinía compares the Aztecs and Romans. Marcocci also discusses how the local population produced forgeries of important idols for the colonists to destroy in order to preserve their own connections to their past.

In the first essay of the section on the Ottoman Empire (Chapter 7), Emily Neumeier looks at the role of Veli Pasha, the Ottoman governor of the Morea, in excavations at Bassae and other important sites. Using early modern Western literary sources that mention him, Neumeier brings Veli Pasha back into the Western historical record, from which he has all but disappeared, an absence promoted in order to give Western archaeologists credit for certain discoveries. She makes the case that it is possible "to read against the text and detect traces of the actions and motivations of local actors in these foreign sources" (151). She calls for a more inclusive examination of the early archaeological period, one that incorporates antiquarian practices of local populations. Significantly, Neumeier repeatedly states that differences in class would have created a variety of ways that individuals interacted with the past. She cautions that the interactions of non-elite individuals with antiquities were quite different from those of Veli Pasha, and thus should not be lumped into a single "other" group as a contrast to Western travelers and archaeologists.

Eva-Maria Troelenberg (Chapter 8) follows and takes several of the themes found in Neumeier's chapter even further. Troelenberg uses the published travel account of British traveler Henry Baker Tristram (1870s) as a case study to see how we can reread sources in an attempt to understand the voices of people and social groups outside of the Western elite. Troelenberg states that while an "against the grain" reading of Western sources would certainly better inform us of alternative perspectives, this method needs to be supplemented with other sources, archival research of the Ottoman administration, and a thorough discussion of oral history and anthropological research.

Benjamin Anderson's concluding chapter returns to the problem of defining antiquarianism, using an entirely different approach from any earlier chapter: art history. Here, Anderson argues that the only true way to compare antiquarianisms is to root the differing traditions in a shared object. This prevents each perspective from obscuring a true understanding of the other. The theoretical portion of his article defines antiquarianism as "the attempt to understand the past through interaction with objects that exist in the present" (186). While he admits that this definition is problematic since it excludes non-object-based methods like translating ancient texts, he argues it is possible to use this method to identify non- antiquarian practices. Anderson uses this definition in association with an art historical analysis of a watercolor produced by Louis-François Cassas in the 1790s, View of the Acropolis of Athens from the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Anderson concludes that Cassas's painting is a "representation of an encounter between distinct antiquarianisms" (204), but not an example of antiquarianism itself, in opposition to the general understanding that such representations in art were a form of antiquarianism. Cassas made the painting years after his visit to Athens, and the figures, as well as the main artifact in the painting (a relief in the foreground being viewed by several figures), function as "generic types." The scene does not reflect a moment in time, nor does the relief exist in reality. Thus, Cassas is not engaging with an object as an antiquarian would (202-203).

This volume has very few (and usually minor) typographical errors and features an excellent index. Six of the chapters have photographs or related images, the majority of which are in color. All of them are helpful to the reader, and each includes a full citation of the image's source.

One notable omission is the discussion of antiquarian traditions of China. Although Chinese antiquarian practices are referenced several times in the opening and concluding chapters as being similar to European antiquarianism, the reader is left with no understanding of the role of antiquarianism in East Asia, at least until the very last few pages. In a book that states its purpose is "to explore contact and conflict between antiquarian traditions" (3), this seems like a missed opportunity—especially considering how much contact there was between Europe and China during the early modern period. Although the introduction states that the bulk of the volume focuses on Spanish colonial America and the Ottoman Empire, the discussion of anti-antiquarian African cultures in one chapter blurs the lines of what the book includes. This volume should be read in conjunction with existing scholarship on antiquarian traditions, since it both supplements and questions current literature. In particular, it fills some of the gaps of 2013's World Antiquarianism: Comparative Perspectives, edited by Alain Schnapp, to which Antiquarianisms frequently refers (and which also includes a number of chapters on Asian antiquarianism traditions).

Antiquarianisms is a significant contribution to current scholarship on antiquarian traditions. Not only does the volume add to Schnapp's blueprint for comparing varying antiquarian practices, it also challenges its own goals and asks the reader to do the same in existing and future scholarship.

Authors and titles

1. Introduction: For a More Capacious History of Archaeology, Benjamin Anderson and Felipe Rojas

Part I: Comparison and its Limits
2. Archaeolophilia: A Diagnosis and Ancient Case Studies, Felipe Rojas
3. The Virtues of Oblivion: Africa and the People without Antiquarianism, Alfredo González-Ruibal

Part II: Contact in the Americas
4. La Relaciones Mediterratlánticas: Comparative Antiquarianism and Everyday Archaeologies in Castile and Spanish America, 1575-1586, Byron Ellsworth Hamann
5. Ancient Artifice: The Production of Antiquity and the Social Roles of Ruins in the Heartland of the Inca Empire, Steve Kosiba
6. Inventing the Antiquities of New Spain: Motolinía and the Mexican Antiquarian Traditions, Giuseppe Marcocci

Part III: Contact in Ottoman Lands
7. Rivaling Elgin: Ottoman Governors and Archaeological Agency in the Morea, Emily Neumeier
8. "…that we trusted not to Arab notions of archaeology": Reading the Grand Narrative Against the Grain, Eva-Maria Troelenberg
9. Forgetting Athens, Benjamin Anderson
10. Coda: Not for Lumpers Only, Peter N. Miller


1.   See also this report in the Guardian on Native American leaders protesting the inclusion of such artifacts in a 2016 Paris auction, which Rojas references: Native Americans implore France to halt artifact sale.

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