Monday 24 May 2010

"I am a Researcher, Not Interested in the Provenance of my Data"

One "Commios" writes on an artefact collecting discussion group:
I am a research collector rather than a hobby collector, my main responsibility is to the truth of the data rather than any background to the object. Most of what I collect is Celtic "high status" decoration -- and provenances can tell us only so much as this sort of material often traveled far from its origins.
This is just pig-ignorant self-serving justification for not acquiring "research materials" ethically. Surely the distance travelled by an item from its "origin" can only be enlightened by finding a cluster of objects of the same style/technology or whatever which define the point of origin, and the place of finds of the "travelled" ones. Likewise are the travelled ones found in high status assemblages, graves or hoards? Surely studying the provenances and associations of finds of objects of this type is vital to determining the manner in which they "travelled" and in what contexts they were consumed? Letting those objects pass into a no-questions asked market deletes any information of that type which may have been associated with the discovery. Encouraging that market quite obviously only encourages further information loss.

In truth there are few (if any) fields of research, even those concerning the past, where one can totally ignore the origin of the data used. The same "research collector" plays the part of a great Post-Modern philosopher when he can find a sentence or two in the stuff in Google Books which he can use to support a point. A fundamental point of Post-Modern critique is that the "data" are embedded in a context in which the observer is too embedded. To claim to only be being "true to the data" is simple arrogance when the very observed 'fact' ("Celtic decoration") is a construct. Whether or not gullible collectors over there on Ancient Artifacts accept it, Commios' claim is mere junk science.

The no-questions-asked purchase of antiquities of unknown origins for "research" is no more justifiable than the "hobby" purchaser who buys them for decoration, a cheap thrill or show off to the neighbour's children. Indeed, it is more incumbent on the "research collector" than the mere hobbyist to ensure the hygiene of their collection and a proper documentation of the origins of the objects it contains.


Damien Huffer said...

too right you are.

Paul Barford said...

Well, anybody who is more than a Google-Books academic wannabe will laugh at the notion of using any data in research which are of unknown origin.

Mr Mengele and co accumulated a lot of "data" in concentration camp experiments. I'd be wary of using them though. There was a fuss about a certain climate graph recently because the basic raw data on which it was based could not now be produced. And so on...

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