This blog is for our thoughts on the markers of authenticity in human experience of the contemporary world and the past from a wide range of perspectives, asking a range of questions of the world around us, and the past. How do we confidently access and understand the past, and assimilate it into our present? On what basis do we trust our observations of, or what we are told about, the past and the world around us? What are the markers of authenticity, and to whom do we accord the authority to determine and tell us about them?
We are interested in a range of interrelated issues, including but not limited to:
- Forgery: How do we detect and guard against forgery, and what do forgeries of artifacts, and the manner in which we detect them, say about the relationship of present to past, and the importance of the later to the former?
- Authorship: With regard to pseudepigraphy, anonymous authorship, and other creative strategies, in what terms should we discuss the authorship of a text? In terms of language, lexica, style, or other factors? Can we do this electronically? How does the rise of full-text databases and richly tagged corpora effect the concepts of ‘authorship’ we use to study literature, and how they may best be utilised to assess the markers of authorial authenticity?
- Scribal practice: How can the process of drafting and copying be best understood? How are copies of manuscripts authenticated, and in what ways are the authority of the copy constructed in the pre-modern textual world?
- Cultural heritage and provenance: How does the collection of antiquities and other moveable objects, in historical and contemporary perspective, mediate our relationship with our world and the past? How do – and should – scholars react and relate to, and to what degree should they participate (at any remove), in the looting and trafficking of antiquities? How should modern developed societies deal with the inheritance of the colonial past and use it to inform the relationship with ‘source’ nations from which antiquities come? Who determines the authenticity of an expression of cultural identity, and on what basis should these decisions be made?
- Ethics and the Law: What legal mechanisms apply to the acquisition and study of artefacts, and how does (and should) this affect our relationship with them? What are the ethics of our interaction with the past, and how does the legal framework, especially as it relates to forgeries and the transfer of cultural heritage, effect both scholarly work on them, and the general public’s relationship with the past?
- Memory: Our experience of the past is built on our memories, and those of previous generations. How do we understand memory in contemporary and historical perspectives, and how do we best study it? How should new understandings of memory arising from cognitive science, psychology, and philosophy, be best used in the study of the past? Can concepts such as the Extended Mind, collective cognition, social memory, and cultural memory (to name only four), be coherently applied to the study of history?
- The Sciences and the Humanities: How do different disciplines and academic specialties establish and test the markers of authenticity? How should we position the wide range of chemical, biological, and molecular analytical techniques and increasingly sophisticated forms of imaging, against traditional analysis of artefacts? How do different disciplines work together to mediate our view of the past and the present?
- New technology: In what way have digital imaging and 3D-printing (to name only two recent developments) changed the way in which museums operate, and via this, the nature of our relationship with the world? How authentic an experience is an image of an artifact or a 3D printed scan of one? Do virtual museums allow the same sort of interaction with the past as physical ones do? What degree of authenticity is possessed by these virtual objects, and can we ‘touch the past’ in the same way with them?
These should be no means be understood as an exhaustive list: it simply represents the starting point for the issues we will engage with.