CfP: Archaeology, Text, Narrative, and the Usable Past in Global Perspective (Session #1108, EAA Rome)

The concept of the/a “usable past” was coined by Van Wyck Brooks in 1918 in an attempt to retrospectively bind together disparate cultural elements in the USA. The instrumentalising of the past to shape collective memory is a feature of all human collectivities. Salient examples of this in the politics of the present and the past are to be found in the use of the shared-but-exclusive heritage of perceived golden ages from around the globe—e.g., the Rashidun Caliphate, Roman Empire, Gupta Empire, Tawantinsuyu, Mali Empire or Tang era, among many other points in space and time—to justify contemporary political systems, social stratification and inter-polity relations. However, it would be difficult to argue that the deployment of a usable past by established social groups this is ever totalising, with individuals and groups having complex relationships with the past and narratives associated with it.

This session seeks to take stock of the research being done across the globe on these issues, both in the present and the use of the past in the past. Papers are encouraged in relation to both case-studies where textual and archaeological evidence intersect and contradict, and on areas for which documentary narratives do not survive. Studies treating these processes outside Europe are particularly encouraged, as are comparative treatments of the problematic. Research questions that could be posed include—but are not limited to—why usable pasts are so often linked to military highpoints; the use of the past by groups writing against one another in narrative complexes; gatekeeping and selectivity and the past; the removal of the past in colonial relations; archaeology shaping and being shaped by narrative; and on the past as a socio-political and cultural resource more widely.

Conference: The European Association of Archaeologists, 30th annual meeting in Rome, 28-31 August 2024. Session: #1108: Archaeology, Text, Narrative, and the Usable Past in Global Perspective

Organisers: Russell Ó Ríagáin, University College Dublin (Ireland), Hagit Nol, Goethe Universität, Frankfurt-am-Main (Germany)

Deadline: February 8th 2024

Additional details:

  • Presentations are planned for 15 minutes each.
  • Abstracts need to have between 150 and 300 words. 3-6 keywords should be added.
  • The maximum number of authors is 10, the main author.
  • For submitting an abstract, consult
  • Please note that ultimately all Annual Meeting delegates must be current EAA members (paid-up for 2024) and pay the Annual Meeting registration fee.

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