Welcome to ‘Markers of Authenticity’!

As an overarching set of interests and a research program, this grew out of a Historiography unit, which Rachel developed, Malcolm also taught in, and Lauren took, in the course of which we recognised our joint interests in the wider themes we’ll be pursuing here. One aspect of this was expressed in an application on forged papyri submitted to the Australian Research Council (on which we’ll say more in due course), but that forms only one aspect of a much larger question, which explicitly and designedly reaches out beyond our home disciplines of Ancient History, Papyrology, and Coptic Studies to see both what we can learn, and what we might offer.

We launched the research program at Macquarie last week with a seminar Rachel gave. In introducing the session, I reflected on the fact that in universities throughout the world, we are called to interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and cross-disciplinarity. We are told that this brings innovation. But less often are we told how or why this is so: we are asked to trust. And we do believe; indeed, we believed already. Yet even as we believe, we can question the directions we are recommended to follow. True interdisciplinarity does not arise from predetermined or pre-populated groups; it does not arise from being told there are particular ways it should be accomplished; it does not arise from pre-ordained issues. It arises from people with common interests meeting, and seeing where their discussions take them.

It needs a forum, and a core to form around.

We hope to provide two forums: one, this blog; the other, a seminar series hosted at Macquarie University in Sydney, the program of which may be found on this blog. And we hope to have identified a potential core.

Issues of authenticity, trust, veracity, accuracy, reliability, genuineness; these cut across the disciplines, expressing themselves in different ways, in different questions, from different perspectives. These ask us questions about how our various disciplines relate – within the Humanities, creative arts, and social sciences, and beyond. Most crucially, they ask us how the wider public, the world at large, engages with the issues that we muse, publish, and debate on. This latter issue is crucial, just as the Humanities must engage more directly with the public, so too must history: the distance from our sources cannot map onto a distance from those who fund and sustain us. If ‘impact’ is too blunt a term, the value and benefit of the humanities must be projected and explained better.

And we hope to think about ways in which we might do that as we examine issues of authenticity in this series. From the way we conceptualise authorship and performance, through the way we engage with issues of cultural heritage and assess the transmission of traditions, to the ways in which we present our visions of the past and our interpretations of the present to our peers and the public. From the realia of material objects, their provenance, looting, acquisition, collection, display, status, and connection to communities living and past; to more abstract – but no less important – reflections on the role of memory and the mind in mediating our view of the past, near or distant; from the application of such models in the present day, to the examination of copying practice and authorising strategies of long-dead scribes.

If this sounds like it’s about everything, that’s because it is meant to be so: an issue around which many people can come together, hear about each other’s interests, and have discussions about what it means for our research, for our disciplines, for the University sector, and for our relationship with the public. We need to provoke conversations within and beyond our home disciplines, and hope to do that by raising issues about authenticity, conceived from a diverse range of perspectives, and articulated via a range of different topics.

We could explain this all a lot better, but we’ll leave this first post here, and leave further explanations to future posts. On the ‘About’ page you’ll find a fuller discussion of our interests; and on the ‘Seminars’ page, a list of the seminars in the ‘Markers of Authenticity’ seminar series being held at Macquarie in the first half of the year. More posts to follow!


– Malcolm Choat

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