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Towards a scientific phenomenology of the past, Mar 1

“The use of phenomenology in archaeology has been one of the most provocative theoretical developments in the discipline in recent years “ Bruck 2005

Experiential (“sensuous”) elements are significant to understanding human life generally and, specifically, the past. According to some the approach explicitly rejects “science “ as a way of knowing and there has been considerable discussion (much heat and some light) on the role and value of a phenomenological perspective in the field.

Many of the intellectual structures that have commonly been used to both describe and “explain” the past(s) are, however, based on processes of extensive abstraction and are thus essentially reductive. Yet much of human behavior must be understood as “expressive” or “artistic” or (at least) built on direct experience – the “opposite” of reductive thinking. In fact, a robust understanding of the world must be both abstracted and contextualized, humans are both “artistic” and “scientific.” The “digital turn” in the humanities is bringing together these areas and major research efforts in computer science in data acquisition, immersion, presence and visualization technologies are providing tools for bridging “reductive” and “expressive” ways of understanding the past. This talk will look at these tools and trends and how they are and/or will influence our understanding(s) of the past. Specific attention will be given to the role of the “scholarly apparatus” in this process, to the need for new ways of education and the value of a representational narrative format to connect scholarship to broader publics and (more importantly) to descendant communities.