Finding the present in the distant past: The cultural meaning of antiquarianism in Late Antiquity (4-7th c. AD)

01 January 2013 → 31 December 2018
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • History
Project description

Ancient antiquarianism has been identified as a major source of inspiration for the
development of modern historiographical practice from the Renaissance onwards.
Yet it remains seriously understudied, in particular for late Antiquity, the crucial
period of transition and transmission to the Middle Ages. The present project
proposes to fill that gap. It proposes (1) to expand the range of sources by editing
fragmentary and largely unknown late antique antiquarian authors; (2) to situate the
genre in its proper socio-literary context, that is the continued practice of rhetoric in
late antique society, at both local and imperial level; (3) to re-assess the cultural
meaning of the genre by introducing new explanatory models for the popularity of
the genre, models that avoid seeing the interest in the distant past as religious or
political resistance against a Christian monarchy. In order to achieve a more subtle
and multi-layered interpretation, the project espouses a double methodological
perspective: it introduces the sociological concept of narrative identity into the study
of late ancient antiquarianism and integrates the genre into current wider interest in
the uses and functions of collective memory. The leading hypothesis is that late
ancient interest in antiquarianism developed in interaction with an increased
awareness that the world was undergoing fundamental changes, and hence an
increased distance from the classical past that was idealised in education.