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Antiquarianism: A Reinterpretation

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters
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  • 1 Division of Literature and Languages, University of Stirling, A12, Pathfoot Building, Stirling fk9 4la, UK, k.j.williams@stir.ac.uk
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Antiquarianism, the early modern study of the past, occupies a central role in modern studies of humanist and post-humanist scholarship. Its relationship to modern disciplines such as archaeology is widely acknowledged, and at least some antiquaries—such as John Aubrey, William Camden, and William Dugdale—are well-known to Anglophone historians. But what was antiquarianism and how can twenty-first century scholars begin to make sense of it? To answer these questions, the article begins with a survey of recent scholarship, outlining how our understanding of antiquarianism has developed since the ground-breaking work of Arnaldo Momigliano in the mid-twentieth century. It then explores the definition and scope of antiquarian practice through close attention to contemporaneous accounts and actors’ categories before turning to three case-studies of antiquaries in Denmark, Scotland, and England. By way of conclusion, it develops a series of propositions for reassessing our understanding of antiquarianism. It reaffirms antiquarianism’s central role in the learned culture of the early modern world and offers suggestions for avenues which might be taken in future research on the discipline.

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