Saturday, November 15, 2008

AIA Lectures About Coins

Nathan Elkins has publicized lectures related to numismatics scheduled for the upcoming AIA meeting in Philadelphia. For more, see here:

It's good to see this emphasis on coins at the AIA meeting. I attended a symposium some years back where archaeologists who focused on coins complained about a general lack of interest in the subject in the wider world of archaeology. Still, one wonders how much of this emphasis on coins will be used as a justification for limiting the ability of collectors to study, display and preserve ancient coins themselves. If so, that would be pity.


Nathan Elkins said...

Dear Peter,

Thanks for sharing the announcement of some numismatic activities at the AIA. I am hopeful our panel will present some interesting new research questions and offer some insight into innovative methodologies that have been developed most actively on the European continent. The eight panelists will be representing six countries (Germany/Austria; Sweden; France; Romania; Netherlands; USA).

I am saddened that you seem to imply an agenda behind the organization of the session. As the program shows, all papers highlight methodological questions to studying coins in archaeological contexts and interdisciplinary and theoretical frameworks pertinent to the study of material culture and objects. Although I have been speaking about the "material and intellectual consequences" of the unregulated and indiscriminate trade in ancient coins, which largely profits from recent looting, I have only been doing so since the late summer/early fall of 2007. Stefan Krmnicek and I started talking about organizing a session on contextual and interdisciplinary numismatic research at the end of the 2007 AIA meeting in January of that year - before I ever spoke out on the issues that collectors and especially dealers criticize me for. I began studies at Frankfurt University in the fall of 2006. I had already greatly diminished collecting myself by that time and had considered ethical perspectives to some extent, but as I was increasingly exposed the value of contextual study applied to numismatics - a large component of numismatic research at Frankfurt University - I began to consider the role the trade as a whole plays in destroying this vital information. Coins in context do more than date stratigraphy and archaeological sites. They provide nuanced information on coin circulation, economy, trade, topography, cult and ritual, burial practices, iconography (imperial ideology and the semantic system on regional levels), etc. Many papers within the session address the value of context in these approaches. Frankly, it was after reading the nonsensical and abrasive arguments made against archaeologists in general and the absurd assertion that context is not important to the study of ancient coins made by certain dealer demagogues and collectors on the Moneta-L list during the period of comment for Cyprus' request that I began to research the issues myself. Therefore, you see you are putting the cart before the horse. My criticism of trade activities in their present form is the result of the broader understanding of numismatics and the role it plays within the broader context of material culture and archaeology that has prompted me personally to speak out on the issues. I am concerned about the unprecedented destruction of knowledge. That coins themselves are most important in their own right is a notion propagated by dealers who wish excuse their actions and this, in my view, is rather foolish. Context is an intrinsic part of anything, especially the study of material objects, so why not coins too. The approaches I speak of may not be as common in the research of American and British scholars as it is on the Continent, but that does not mean they have less value. It is a simply the result of various research traditions that tend to part on linguistic lines. British and American research on the ancient world tends to be more theoretically based and rooted more so in perspectives applied from ancient history and also art history. Germanic scholarship is more centered around systematic analysis, following the tradition of Mommsen, who is often credited with modernizing the study of ancient numismatics.

This session was not organized to promote any agenda and certainly the panelists are promoting no agenda, they simply want to share their approaches with a wider audience that has less often engaged with these sorts of methods.

I must also take issue with your suggestion that the AIA has not engaged well with numismatists and numismatic research. On the contrary, numismatic specialists have always been a strong component of the AIA and numismatic research is typically presented at the annual meetings. Wayne Sayles has tried to promote his agenda by claiming that the AIA and archaeologists in general are not concerned with the study coins. I responded with abundant evidence to the contrary in my discussion
"Archaeologists don't care about ancient coins?"
and Sebastian Heath and I provided several more historic examples in comments to Sayles'
blog post
in which asserted the same false information.

Again, thank you for sharing the link to numismatic activities at the AIA, but please do not confuse my academic research (that which addresses the trade or not) and that of my colleagues as being conducted simply to "attack collectors." It is because I understand the value of context which can be applied throughout the field of numismatic study that I have engaged with research on the effects of the market activities. Some of my colleagues may have also spoken out on the trade, but I am certain that many of the panelists would be happy to stay out the controversy and the name-calling it often degenerates into.

Contextual and cross-disciplinary approaches in numismatics are at the fore of developing methodologies in scholarly numismatic and archaeological research and I am excited that our panelists will have the opportunity to share their insights with archaeologists and classicists at the joint AIA/APA meeting in January.

Might you be able to join us on Sunday Jan. 11?

All best,

Cultural Property Observer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cultural Property Observer said...

Nathan- Thanks for your comments. I will try to make these talks if my work schedule permits. There are a number of archaeologists that think that the study of coins is important in itself. Most are also members of the ANS. Still, in 2002, I attended a symposium at Mary Washington College, entitled "A Rich Resource: Contributions of Field Numismatics to Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies." A number of the speakers there complained that their discipline was not take seriously by their colleagues in field archaeology. Moreover, during one of the CPAC hearings one of the CPAC members representing the archaeological community spoke about coins being important for dating archaeological stratum, but did not mention any other use for them. If this has changed, so much the better.

Best wishes,

Peter Tompa

Nathan Elkins said...

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for the clarification on that point. I agree that many archaeologists do not seem to grasp the full potential of numismatic studies applied to archaeological contexts. In archaeology, we tend to specialize in certain areas or objects and numismatics especially is perceived as something very different and in decades past, coins were often passed on to a museum curator to get dates. This is changing with staff numismatists more frequently participating at the site-level.

Generally speaking and as I mentioned in the above comment, I think the lack of knowledge is a bigger problem in English-speaking schools of research. It is the goal of our AIA panel to illustrate the potential uses of coins in material contexts for applications apart from the mere dating of stratigraphy. I hope we are successful in that regard.