“Auxiliary sciences” – the loathed stepchildren?

As an archaeologist by training and working in the environment of the northwestern Roman provices, my life and bookshelves are crowded with findings and research on various objects and excavations. But: Even if we prepare and analyse those things that we found somewhere in the wild, when we talk hadcore interpretation stuff, we have to broaden our dirty minds and find other ways and sources, helping us to understand our findings.

Therefore, I use methods and research sources based in epigraphy, numismatology, ancient history and philology. My so-called auxiliary sciences. Ask Sarah, and she will tell you different about it, being a trained philologist. We even had the discussion of Digital Humanities being an auxiliary science or toolbox or whatever. And this discussion is actually a vital one if you ask me.

I am now based at a department which deals with Roman provincial archaeology – or the archaeology of the Roman provinces. When you read introductions on Roman provincial archaeology, they all name epigraphy, numismatology, sometimes papyrology, even classical archaeology as an auxiliary science. So, actually, an auxiliary science is, like beauty, defined by the view of the beholder. And there is beauty in every part of research. Which means that there is an auxiliary science in all our disciplines.

Why am I speaking of loathed and unloved “stepchildren”, you may ask. I experienced it myself, being a hybrid classicist, with my degrees in archaeology and ancient history (and no, not Classics. It is more than Classics).  Archaeologists as well as historians complimented me for having studied one of my auxiliary sciences as well. Or, sometimes, they have asked me, if there was nothing better to do with my time spent on the “unimportant” auxiliary science.

When I am getting lost in my identity difficulties (at least concerning my university education…), I sometimes end up feeling like the unwanted double-feature of auxiliary sciences. Sometimes I focus on the saying of one of my professors, who told me that archaeology is the bone, while ancient history is the flesh of the things we study. He smiled at me, telling me that I am the only full body in this room. I didn’t give this episode a thought for a very long time, until recently, when the claws of the well-known monster of academia (also known as imposter syndrom) pierced me, due to the existential crisis we all experience every once on a while. And even if everything is going well despite the pandemic, I sometimes feel unprepared for everything. And tired. Too tired. Maybe this is a sign of CoViD-19 ennui…

Being some kind of hybrid is a good thing, but you will be unique (also, a really good thing, you found a niche!) and you will be alone because of being unique. I had to learn that a lot of my archaeology colleagues have no idea about inscriptions or coins or ancient texts. I learned that a lot of my students had no idea that there is a ‘literate’ side of archaeology, meaning ancient written sources or inscriptions that will and have to be part of an archaeological investigation and interpretation. And I have to accept that epigraphists will never see an inscribed object as a thing you can find in an archaeological context first place. I will tell them and maybe my arguments will be reasonable enough for them to just go with my point of view.

The most important thing is to talk about it. Sometimes I find out people feeling uncomfortable trying out methods or theories of disciplones they had only minimal training in. I can totally relate, but the era of researchers being allround geniuses has ended a long time ago, so could we please share our experiences and have a nice chat about possibilities in our research?

Maybe this is the really good thing about these ‘unloved stepchildren’. I just will continue using all my techniques, all my sources, all my methods and theories learned, no matter what discipline they come from or belong to. If they can help you to figure out some things, to contextualise things, to think about a good explanation and interpretation – why not? There are no limits to ideas, right? The end does justify all means – well, all those you are capeable to perform and think about. One definitely is to talk about your research with colleagues from different fields and research groups, asking about their methods and discuss different points of view.

And with all the talking happening, what will be there in the end? A happy interdisciplinary family. With respect and recognition for each other. Oh my, I guess that is quite naive and romantic. 😉 But, hey, even dreaming is important, right?
But Sarah and I will continue our talking and discussing, with all our crazy lovely friends – it worked our quite well for now. It will work out fine for the future. Cheers to all the vivid discussions and all the auxiliary sciences out there!

And of course, a very hearty shoutout to all the academic warriors out there. You are doing great! 🙂

All the best,
Astrid


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