Semi-introduction: An Archaeologist? Digital Epigrapher? Historian? Does it matter?
My PhD research — about which you will all be hearing much about in the weeks, months, years(?) to come — combines relational and new materialist archaeological theories and socio-symbolic theories of community, with Roman epigraphic and small-finds evidence from Romano-Dalmatian contexts to explore how the Roman army community ‘came to be’ or ‘became’ through the constantly (re)assembling of objects and humans.
I also practice several components of open research and digital epigraphy/archaeology to facilitate and distribute this research, and have been known to dabble in public history/archaeology and classical reception (all topics I plan to write about here on this blog(?) newsletter(?) thing).
These wide-ranging interests and fields of study are well illustrated by this list of several Twitter accounts I follow:
How on earth are they all related? I could probably tell you if you gave me a minute (or an entire PhD thesis… maybe). But the main thing to note is, they do intersect in my research. I may put on my archaeological cap at the start of the day (Sorry Indy, not wide-brims here) only to end the day with my digital epigrapher beanie. All my hats help me explore the people of the past and their relationships with objects, as well as our contemporary world.
The nature of these interests, though, mean that at times I feel out of place at Classics conferences, overwhelmed by the practical experience of others at Archaeological conferences, and completely bedazzled (and lost) in Digital Humanities or Computational Archaeology spaces — and might I add, this has zilch to do with the conferences themselves and their organisers whom typically do a great job.
If I do not feel at home in these spaces, perhaps my research is too multi-pronged? Or worse… am I a jack of all trades, master of none? Where do I, as a researcher, belong? These have been pressing questions on my mind for the last few months in particular, but I am also starting to realise that they have been subconscious anxieties for years.
Surprise surprise, it turns out I am by no means the first to acknowledge or wrangle with this idea. In fact, I bumped into some twitter musings a few months ago by academics much more established than myself which got me thinking (and also revealed that others feel the same — insert Brooklyn 99 vindication GIF): it may be a by product of history and archaeology.
As Professor Carlos F. Noreña and Professor Derek B. Counts note, the identity crisis-inducing (for me anyway) fluidity of archaeology’s and history’s boundaries is part of their beauty. They sit within several spaces. At a more close-to-home level, it seems Classical studies too has always been such a space, at the intersection between many fields yet also its own distinct body (Cooper 2021).
Maybe these fields can accommodate my seemingly ‘hard to pin down’ research after all…
Upon reflection, this may actually be, in part, why I was — and am — drawn to these fields: their place at the intersection(s). It may also explain why I am always so hesitant to ‘commit’ to a single research label. Perhaps this is why researchers, students, public practitioners, and aficionados are likewise drawn to the many manifestations of history and archaeology.
It is only through outside pressures (universities, funding bodies, governments) we are forced to entrench, pick and thus construct boundaries. More broadly speaking, this is something the ‘Humanities’ — whatever they may be — have always tussled over (see the aptly named Permanent Crisis by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon). Even in making this newsletter, I had to give Substack two ‘categories’ to put my work under — and as usual ‘archaeology’ was not an option, nor was ‘humanities’.
Exploring the past, present and future through archaeology and history can and should be done in a multiplicity of ways. While it may prove a challenge for me when choosing Field of Research (FOR) codes or when writing another short bio, I am going to start embracing my, uh… ‘research recipe’ as a reflection of my field(s) of study, the ArchaeoHumanities, and its(their) potential for interdisciplinarity. Tis’ comforting in a weird, chaotic, kind of way.
I am interested to hear what other researchers in my field(s) have to say, or beyond mine in other areas of the ‘social sciences’, ‘humanities’ or ‘arts’. Is it just me who feels this way? Or is it a trend throughout? Do we all need to learn to love it? I know I am no means the first to ask these questions, nor will I be the last.
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