"Science of the Past" and Medieval History

A joint Jena University-MPI workshop

  • Date: Jan 9, 2020
  • Time: 12:00 - 18:00
  • Location: MPI SHH Jena
  • Room: Villa V14
  • Host: Palaeo-Science and History Group (PS&H)
  • Contact: izdebski@shh.mpg.de
"Science of the Past" and Medieval History
The Paleo-Science & History Group (with the support of the Department of Archaeogenetics) is organising a joint workshop with the Institute of History of the University of Jena (FSU) on the applications of scientific methods to the study of the Middle Ages.
The relationship between the natural sciences and the humanities has traditionally been rather distanced. The objects of investigation and research methods are too different; very emphatic reference is sometimes made to the fundamental differences in the respective modes of knowledge of "explaining" and "understanding" that characterize the analytical natural sciences and the hermeneutical humanities. Nevertheless, there are similarities which have become more apparent in recent years: newly developed scientific methods make it possible to draw on completely unfamiliar (non-written) sources to answer historical questions; historical sources (texts), on the other hand, allow conclusions to be drawn about natural phenomena such as climate development and its impact on the environment and human societies.
In particular, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, which has been based in Jena for several years, has contributed with its archaeogenetic research to a new understanding of prehistoric and also historical migratory movements and has attracted wide attention with spectacular research results. It is worthwhile for historians to take a closer look at this new scientific discipline, just as it is worthwhile for genetic history to seek dialogue with the "traditional" disciplines of the past in order to better sound out the potential and limits of its own approach. In this sense, the one-day workshop is intended as an event that offers the opportunity to get to know each other and to better understand traditional and new methods, and which invites a critical dialogue across disciplinary boundaries.
The nine presentations in three sections will focus on genetic history and its potential for historical knowledge as well as the climate, environmental and epidemic history of the Middle Ages. New methods of research in the natural sciences and humanities, such as a(ncient) DNA analysis, palynology (pollen analysis) and network analysis, will be presented and discussed. The lectures will be held partly in German and partly in English.


1. Sektion / Session 1 (Sprache: Deutsch)

Zwischen Archäogenetik und Geschichtsforschung: Genetic History in der Diskussion / Archaeogenetics and historical research: a debate on genetic history (Diskussionsleitung: Prof. Dr. Uwe Schirmer, Universität Jena)

12.00 – 12.10 Uhr Einleitung und Begrüßung
12.10 – 12.40 Uhr PD Dr. Jörg Feuchter (Berlin): Genetic History – Eine Herausforderung für die Geschichtswissenschaften
12.40 – 12.55 Uhr Dr. Wolfgang Haak (MPI): Über ‘pots equals people’ in der Vorgeschichte und warum dies vermeintlich manchmal funktioniert (German)
12.55 – 13.10 Uhr Dr. Stephan Schiffels (MPI): Neue Methoden und Erkenntnisse zur Europäischen Eisenzeit und Frühmittelalter aus der Genetik
13.10 – 13.30 Uhr Diskussion

13.30 – 14.30 Uhr Mittagspause (Buffet) / working lunch

2. Sektion / Session 2 (Language: English)

History between genetics and mathematics: studies into the dispersal of natural and cultural phenomena / Geschichte zwischen Genetik und Mathematik: Studien zur Ausbreitung von Natur- und Kulturphänomenen (Chair: Prof. Johannes Krause, MPI)

14.30 – 14.50 PD Dr. Robert Gramsch-Stehfest (Univ. Jena): „… pestis illa animarum”. Network analysis of the humanistic res publica litterarum and the spread of the Reformation ideas
14.50 – 15.05 Dr. Maria Spyrou (MPI): Tracing the initiation and progression of the second plague pandemic using ancient genomics
15.05 – 15.20 Dr. Kirsten Bos (MPI): Expect the unexpected: surprises from pathogen DNA screening of medieval skeletons
15.20 – 15.40 Diskussion

15.40 – 16.00 Uhr Kaffeepause / coffee break

3. Sektion / Session 3 (Language: English)

Climate and Environment: approaches from the humanities and the natural sciences / Klima und Umwelt: geistes- und naturwissenschaftliche Ansätze (Chair: Prof. Dr. Marcin Wołoszyn, GWZO Leipzig)

16.00 – 16.20 Dr. Martin Bauch (GWZO Leipzig): New questions and methods in the study of medieval catastrophes and climatic changes
16.20 – 16.45 Dr. Adam Izdebski (MPI): Environmental science and history: palynological data as historical evidence
16.45 – 17.00 Dr. Ricardo Fernandes (MPI): Implementing interdisciplinary research approaches for the study of the human past within the Pandora and IsoMemo Big Data initiatives
17.00 – 17.20 Diskussion

17.30-18.00 Schlussdiskussion / final discussion (Diskussionsleitung: PD Dr. Robert Gramsch-Stehfest und Dr. Adam Izdebski)

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