Roots of the Modern World; the Archaeology of Scientific Discovery

Organisers James Morris (Museum of London Archaeology) and Don Walker (Museum of London Archaeology)

In our modern lives we are ubiquitous users of science and technology, much of which developed from discoveries and innovations from the 18th century onwards. This is a period that saw the transition to an industrial society, intellectual advances, and revolutionary socio-economic change. Until recently historical archaeology has been ignored by the majority of the archaeological community. However, work by advocates and groups such as the Post-Medieval Society, Association for Industrial Archaeology and Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) have shown how historical archaeology is well placed to combine the material and the social.

The aim of this session is to explore how archaeology can inform our understanding of scientific development and its consequences from AD1700 onwards. We welcome papers that utilise archaeological evidence and other sources in association with contemporary theory, to investigate both grand and individual narratives. One such area for investigation is the material culture of scientific investigation and development. This can range from ceramics associated with apothecaries to the dissected remains of humans and animals. Methodologically we can contemplate how we identify and analyse such assemblages, but we also need to consider the narratives associated with them, as they often allow the archaeologist the rare opportunity to investigate the actions and motives of individuals. Archaeology is well placed to investigate the grander narrative of scientific discoveries and developments. For example the work of ‘polite’ gentleman scientists led to advances in medicine and other fields, altering society’s view of death and the human body. Also in this period the agricultural and industrial revolutions resulted in changes to the rural and urban environs, changing people’s relationship with each other, animals and the environment.

We welcome papers from archaeologists, material specialists, historians and anthropologists that shed light on this important period. Although concerned with scientific and technological development we would reject that one must adopt either a ‘technocentric’ or a ‘sociocentric’ approach to the topic and would agree with Johnston’s (2009) observation that we cannot study social life without a deep understanding of technical process and vice versa.

Issues for papers could include;
– the material culture of scientific investigation at both the biographical and supra-biographical level
– the development of medicine and the human body as a material
– the effects of scientific discoveries on the rural and urban landscapes
– the changing relationships between humans, animals and the environment
– the social effects of scientific endeavor and discovery

Johnson, M. 2009. Forward: Crossing paths or sharing tracks?. In A. Horning, and M. Palmer. (eds.). Crossing Paths or Sharing Tracks? Future directions in the archaeological study of post-1550 Britain and Ireland. Woodbridge. The Boydell press.XV-XVII

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