Media, Memory, and the Archaeologist

Organiser: Clare Rowan (University of Warwick)

In 2014 the archaeologist Sarah Perry observed that ‘archaeology is simultaneously recognised as both highly and hardly theorised in terms of its mediation.’ Although we commonly describe objects from the Roman world as media (of communication, exchange, etc), our approach to these objects rarely draws upon media studies as a discipline. And yet with the development of New Media Theory (a response to the development of digital technologies) and a ‘Media Archaeology’ within media studies, an extended dialogue between the two disciplines is a desideratum.

This session draws upon works and ideas within media studies to begin developing an approach to the interpretation of objects as media. How did media (objects for doing/saying/sharing/conveying things) determine the social in the Roman world, and how does it shape us as scholars today? How do objects mediate? Is media the message (McLuhan)? How do media determine historical situations (Kittler)?

The session will also explore what new directions in media studies offer the Roman archaeologist. The application of New Media theory to literature has demonstrated that existent media that within a given society provide schemata for new experience and representations (Erill, Mediation, remediation, and the dynamics of cultural memory). How then did Roman media (objects carrying myths, topoi, legends, cultic ideologies, etc) similarly ‘pre-mediate’ or shape human experience (e.g. the representation of historical events, or life courses)? Does pre-mediation influence our practice as scholars today? What role did re-mediation (the representation of one media in another) have in shaping the material culture and social relations of the Roman world? How did the interaction between media and the mind contribute to the formation of (trans)cultural memory? How do media of memory shape what they contain?

By inviting a broad spectrum of papers engaging with different aspects of media theory, this session will explore what a sophisticated understanding of media theory can contribute to Roman archaeology. By seriously considering the role of objects as ‘media’ in the fullest sense, and the active role played by these media in shaping (the representation of) human experience, the panel will contribute to the broader movement within archaeology to re-member things.

Session Programme

This session is made up of four papers.

1. Premediation, Remediation, and Cultural Memory in the Roman World
2. Premediation and Perception: Colour in Roman Archaeology
4. Reduction as a Medial Strategy in Roman Portraiture?
4. Portrait as a medium. Reading Palmyra Reliefs
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