Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tail Wags Dog

Nathan Elkins has publicized a workshop he helped organize.   While I’m all for numismatic research, a perusal of the workshop topics just underscores what a former CPAC member told me: that he thought the State Department has allowed the archaeological tail to wag the numismatic dog.
The archaeological establishment has preached at CPAC meetings and elsewhere that coins—like other artifacts--lose their meaning without context, and that import restrictions are necessary to encourage academic research.  But all the workshop topics about coin iconography (including one Elkins himself chaired) simply belie this claim.   

Are import restrictions on coins and the considerable damage they have already done to thousands of American collectors and hundreds of American small businesses of the numismatic trade really justified by such academic endeavors?   Or does Elkins' workshop just provide more evidence that the archaeological tail has been allowed to wag the numismatic dog with little reflection on the veracity of the archaeological establishment’s claims?

Addendum (3/1/13):  On his blog, Elkins now confirms (rightly in my view) that despite the AIA's position to the contrary on unprovenanced objects, coins do indeed retain meaning without context.  He further states on Barford's blog (again rightly in my view) that the AIA's 1970 date should not apply to coins.  [I'm not posting either statement here, however, because frankly they are written in a rather insulting manner.]

But if so, how does Elkins square all this with his association with the AIA's position on cultural heritage issues, particularly if memory serves (it's not available on the AIA webstite) that Elkins is or has been a member of the AIA's Cultural Heritage Policy Committee?  Are the positions the AIA stakes out serious ones that its own members are expected to accept or are they to be conveniently discarded when their application might interfere with an AIA member's research interests?  It would seem the AIA is happy to try to hold museums, collectors and dealers to its views, but how about those associated with the organization itself? 


Wayne G. Sayles said...

Anyone who has read the Elkins diatribe in "All the King's Horses" will understand immediately that this is not someone with a balanced view of social intercourse, and so not any great surprise that he talks out of both sides of his mouth -- PhD notwithstanding.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Even worse, it's easy to imagine that Elkins and others referenced coins without a provenance dating back to 1970 for their papers.