Historical Evidence

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Historical Evidence

The study of the ancient world is possibly the oldest discipline to be found in universities: its expertise in interpreting minimal or obscure evidence has a long standing. It is also necessarily inter-disciplinary, since it must draw on any available evidence. Notwithstanding this relative poverty of data, it can represent a sophisticated society in an intelligible form and there is enough material for us realistically to address probing questions as to how complex evidence was handled. This project will focus specifically on the treatment of evidence in three related modes of thought: medicine, religion and science.

Evidence for ancient history: making the most of evidence

The discipline of ancient history encounters unique types of evidence and therefore has expertise in areas where evidence is of a limited or compromised nature. As a discipline, it has had to develop ways of interpreting data that is not only obscure but often unique and/or damaged. In addition, and unlike the majority of disciplines, it can rarely supplement existing evidence. Historically this has shifted the burden of research to a discourse on methodology and complex interpretative systems, whereby the same evidence is examined repeatedly from a number of different angles or in different combinations. This tends to produce a level of sophistication that is rarely necessary in disciplines where clarification can be sought in the form of further research. As such the only checks on the validity of our understanding of ancient history are normally internal: there can be few experiments; control groups are only available as uneasy comparative studies; and orthodoxies can be instantly overthrown merely by the chance discovery of a single archaeological item.

The learning process in this interdisciplinary project will, then, potentially be two-way: ancient historians are only erratically aware of methodologies used in other disciplines, and any remedy to this situation, even in the short-term, could be of immense benefit in studying the ancient world (the 2003 Journal of Hellenic Studies contains a piece that supplements our scant knowledge of population levels by using modern models). On the other hand, the inherently multidisciplinary methodologies used in ancient history may throw new light on the approaches used by other disciplines.

Date Title First Author
Publication Type
01/02/2006
Philology versus linguistics and Aramaic phonology
Mark Geller
Published paper / book
(No date)
Religion and Historiography
Jason Davies
Article/chapter/pages in book
01/01/2005
Rome's Religious History
Jason Davies
Book

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