Back to the Future: The "Auxiliary Sciences" Today
"The study that deals with deciphering, interpreting, and classifying inscriptions, especially ancient inscriptions"
"The science of ascertaining the fixed periods when past events took place and of arranging them in the order of occurrence"
"The science of identification, description, classification, and interpretation of symbols, themes and subject matter in the visual art"
"The science of deciphering old official and historical documents, determining their authenticity and age"
"The science of weights and measures"
"The study or collections of coins, medals, medallions, and tokens"
When History was a young discipline, two centuries ago, it was thought that it needed help in growing up. And so, various "auxiliary sciences"—Hilfswissenschaften, Sciences Annexes—were introduced into the curriculum of the first professionalized programs for training historians. Diplomatics, Numismatics, Epigraphy, Metrology, Iconography, and Chronology were some of the most important of these. But none of them were considered important except as preparatory for the main task of the historian, writing narratives of men and events. The twentieth century was one long rebellion against this notion of history and the "auxiliary sciences" fell with it.
But, oddly and ironically, the triumph of social and material history has also reached and altered the working practices of cultural and intellectual historians. And with this shift in perspective, the same despised preliminary sciences, now freed from the stigma of their subordination to political narrative, have emerged as tools of great precision in the hunt for the kind of evidence that was previously considered subordinate and preparatory, but which answers directly the questions that historians are now most interested in. This year's series presents notable practitioners and examples of this return to the historian's craft.
Dept. of History, Yale University
"2000 Years of Papal Letters and 200 Years of Papal Diplomatics"
September 8, 2004
Dept. of History, University of Rutgers-Camden
"Of Princes and Paperwork: Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Secret Information System"
October 13, 2004
Dept. of Romance Languages & Literatures, Wesleyan University
"The Montefeltro Code: How to Solve a Renaissance Mystery with Paleography and Cryptography"
November 11, 2004
Dept. of History, Queens College/ CUNY Graduate Center
"Calendars and their Makers in Early Modern Ashkenaz "
December 15, 2004
Dept. of History, Columbia University
"The Bones, Nerves, and Invisible Spirits of History: Leibniz's Inductive Practice and the Auxiliary Sciences "
January 12, 2005
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
"Beyond Style: China and Elsewhere "
February 16, 2005
Dept. of History, Harvard University
"The Molecular Middle Ages: Applying the Natural Sciences to Make Medieval Objects Speak "
March 9, 2005
Director, American Numismatic Society
" Who Invented Coins? A Survey of Theories from the Early 5th Century BC to the Present Day"
April 13, 2005
Back to top
- About the Library
- Research Tools + Services
- Visual Media Resources
- Research Institute Programs
- Seminar Series 2013-14
- Digital Initiatives
- BGC In-House
- Fellowship Programs
- Cultures of Conservation