Mesopotamia
The Land of the Four River Banks

History of the discipline

Giorgio Buccellati – July 2020

Home

Historiography as hermeneutics
The first hermeneutics
The second hermeneutics
Two examples
The notion of "heritage"

Historiography as hermeneutics

     To study the growth of awareness in any given field is a special form of hermeneutics.
     In some ways, perhaps, it is hermeneutics at its best.
     Historiography becomes then much more that an account of moments, sorted in chronological order -- a chronicle. By bringing out trends, it shows how scholars have confronted issues: identifying structures and patterns in the data, meant reaching for the deeper meaning behind them. However unreflected this effort may have been in many cases, possibly in most, the very confrontation implied adherence to a methodology which, even if unstated, guided the procdess of analysis.
     The history of a discipline, in each of the websites in this cluster, aims thus at tracing a journey and at highlighting the vistas that progressivley opened up during the journay itsslf. Thus it is that we can go beyond the documentary dimension and gain a double hermeneutic result.
     Back to top: History of the discipline

The first hermeneutics

     The first hermeneutic level of a history of the discipline pertains to the scholarly effort as such . Our understanding of Mesopotamia is inescapably filtered through the lens, in fact the lenses, created by the scholars who have confronted the data over time, even where there seems to be an intentionally myopic approach to methodology, even where a search for a deeper meaning was in the background, if not outright denied as to its very possibility. Even then, there always was, truly inescapbly, a methodology, a search for meaning.
     The first hermeneutic goal of our historiographic approach (which the hsitory of the discipione is), is tyo bear this out, and to thus make us aware of the lenses which filter, today, our vision of things Mesopotamian.
     Back to top: History of the discipline

The second hermeneutics

     The second hermeneutics pertains to this very vision. Ultimately, it is a matter of experience. Knowing data for the sake of knowing data is valuable, but it does not nourish. Thus the second hermeneutics aims to go beyond the filter.
     What is the inherent structure of the Mesopotamian world?
     The filter, while remaining a filter, seeks to identify the reality of what is filtered. Different filters achieve different results on what is filtered. Depending on how fine the filter, we will gain different dimensions of what is filtered. The finer the filter, the more diversified the result. But the combination of all the filters yields the more comlprehensive view of the filtered, and the more insighful the understanding of its reality.
     Another metaphor is that of a lens. Different lenses give us different perceptual ranges of the observed, and it is their combination that allows us to define ever more precisely the reality of what we observe, the object of the observation.
     The second hermeneutics works in a simliar way. We gain an ever richer understanding of Meospotamian culture, in its many facets, by identifying the filters and the lenses through which this culture has been observed. The coarser filters or lesnes (as in the early periods of the deiscipline) often yield insights not only on the early observers (the first hermeneutics), but also on the "obejctive" reality of Mesopotamia (the second hermeneutic).
     Back to top: History of the discipline

Two examples

     Two examples will illustrate the usefulness of a historically minded approach to the discipline, one from linguistcis and the other from archaeology.
     At the very beginning of the scholarly confrontation with Akkadian, the "decypherment" related primarily to the nuts and bolts of the process: reading of the cuneiform signs, lexical identifications, rough comparisons with cognate Semitic languages. One scholar, Edward Hincks, was a key player in this phase of the decypherment, especially as a result of his successful participation in the interpretive "competition" at the Royal Asiatic Society in 1857. For this, his contribution was duly recognized, but not so his linguistic contributions – which we highlight in the language website, in both the history of the discipline and the bibliography. Hinck's insights into the verbal system were ignored because of his "lower" standing in the world of Academia, and this caused a serious delay in teh appreciation of the "conceptual autnonomy" of Akkadian (Landsberger's Eigenbegrifflichkeit).
     The second example is of different nature. Delougaz' publication on the pottery from the Diyala [link to be given in the Critique to the "Degrees of dsigitality" article Lutz Martin FS] is recognized as a landmark in the field, however, his categorizaiton system was not picked up by other archaeologists. And yet, looking at it today from the vantage point of all the efforts that have gone into creating coding systems for ceramic analysis, the system appears to be truly pioneering. It shows all the sensitivity for what would be today a digital organization of the data. Reviewing carefully his approach, helps to understand the susbstantive conceptual merits of such organization, apart from whatever shape, digital or not, it might take.
     Back to top: History of the discipline

The notion of heritage

we teach heritage to others -- we should look at our own

     Back to top: History of the discipline