Centre Norbert Elias CNRS EHESS Marseille (France)
PASP Visiting Scholarship February – May 2014 Report
Research Project :
The Decipherment Paradigm : Sir A.Evans, E.L.Bennett, A.Kober, M.Ventris and the Linear B
My research stay as Visiting Scholar at the PASP – Department of Classics of the University of Texas at Austin has been related to the research project submitted in January 2013 to the Director of the PASP, Professor Tom Palaima: The Decipherment Paradigm: Sir A.Evans, ELBennett, A.Kober, M.Ventris and the Linear B.
This project is part of a wider research work in Anthropology of Decipherments and Codes – from the decipherments of ancient scripts to the modern cryptography and cryptanalysis – rooted in and started after my PhD in Anthropology at the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (Collège de France) and at the University of Paris 8 in 2010. Before my work at PASP, particular aspects of this research work had been developed in collaboration with several researchers and Institutions. In 2011 within the framework of the research team « Langage, Logique et informatique dans une perspective multiculturelle » (Université of Paris 1 & Université of Tokyo) and in particular with Clarisse Herrenschmidt (CNRS) and Jean Lassègue (Ecole Polytechnique, Paris) ; within the frame of the French-Danish research Fellowship (CNRS & DNRF) and thanks to the invitation of Prof. Marie-Louise Nosch ; at the Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie MAE of the University of Nanterre, and in particular thanks to the exchanges with Brigitte Baptandier (CNRS- LESC) and to the kind availability and help of Françoise Rougemont (CNRS-ArScAn) ; at the University of Florence within the DBAS works and seminars ; at the Centre Norbert Elias, in particular with Georges Guille-Escuret (CNRS). Furthermore, this work is in connection with the research project I will start in August 2014 at the DNRF and University of Copenhagen within the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Marie Sklodowska Curie.
But above all, the PASP fieldwork is the continuation of the research work started thanks and with Professor Pierre Carlier who first initiated me to the Linear B and to the Mycenaeans Studies since 2001, and then, in the years thereafter, accepted to participate in the ground of the ethnologist. This would not have been possible without the kind invitation of Professor Tom Palaima to whom I am sincerely grateful.
The main areas of my research are : Anthropology of Writing, Anthropology of Sciences, Sociology of Knowledge, Anthropology of Technology, Linguistic Anthropology. It is thus from these theoretical and methodological frames that I consider Linear B and its decipherment.
My PASP’s research work have consisted in an inquiry within the specific ground of the PASP’s archives and documentation – manuscripts, lectures, notes and sketches, photographs, letters and correspondence – concerning the decipherment of Linear B and through the work of the main actors who participated more or less directly to this extraordinary exploit.
Focusing on both writing and script features and the decipherment procedure, the project’s objective have been to deepen the analysis of this decipherment as regard to its uniqueness among the decipherments of ancient scripts and to its exemplarity in the history of codes, in their development as well as in their resolution.
Through a combined historical, anthropological and ethnographical approach, I aimed to grasp the decipherment « into the deciphering », and to analyze the epistemological as well as the knowing context of what I defined as a process of discovery and invention [Carraro, 2010 ; 2012 and forthcoming 2015]. This has involved, on one hand, describing the particularities of the cryptographic decipherment of Linear B, and on the other, relating the different stages of the process to the types of knowledge and knowing practices (historical, graphical, linguistic, logical) mobilized from script to writing and from writing to language.
From the discovery and the first studies of Mycenaean documentation to the very reading of it, the most important scholars engaged in deciphering Linear B – Michael Ventris, Alice Kober, Emmett Bennett and Arthur Evans – have been the central elements of this study, which thus presents itself as a contextual and scientific biography, and at the same time, as a genuine inquiry at the heart of the notion of decipherment.
The investigation have focused mainly on the documents concerning Alice Kober and Emmett L.Bennett, but due to the particular features of the decipherment – and to the richness of the PASP’s archives – it has also taken into consideration the contributions of other scholars involved in this slow and laborious process and as they can be traced mainly in the correspondence and by internal reference. This true « paper work » – not so far from that one that epigraphists, paleographers and indeed all decipherers necessarily realize – has thus constituted the ground and the fieldwork of the anthropologist and ethnologist.
Goals and results of my work at PASP :
– Systematic study of the material on two levels: that of the decipherment and that one of the Linear B script itself on the basis of the inquiry and by the ethnographical approach.
– Description, transcription and analysis of the documents : manuscripts, lectures, notes and sketches, photographs, letters and correspondence.
– New categorization and indexation from the point of view of the knowing processes as well as of their epistemological framework.
– Test and verification of the hypotheses already advanced in my PhD and developed in my later research work, concerning a) the procedure of the decipherment, b) the relationship between the actors involved, c) the methodological frames of their work.
My previous analyses of the historical, sociological and epistemological aspects of the decipherment of Linear B, made on the basis of the literature (documents published or known and reported) has thus been enriched by a new inquiry on this old and unvaluable documentation.
During my stay, two conferences were given :
« “How did the Ancients write?” Modern decipherers and Ancient scribes in archaeological decipherments »,
within the frame of the Spring Talks of the Department of Classics, March 7th, 2014
« The PASP’s papers : from archives to practices », PASP & UT Austin, April 18th, 2014
Within the frame of my project, I integrated and participated in research activities also with others researchers and professors.
The creation at the UT of a multidisciplinary research team (professors, researchers and PhD students) and center for Scripts and Writing Studies, in progress during my stay, has been the frame for broadening the discussion on decipherments and codes, and on writing systems and theory and history of writing.
This experience has been very formative and allowed me also to exchange with UT students.
The work sessions and seminars with Professor John Huehnergard from the Middle Eastern Studies Department have been particularly precious for my work. Thanks to the different background and to the Professor Huehnergard’s knowledge and experience in the field of ancient languages and scripts, I have been able not only to deepen my comparative study of the decipherments, but also to extend my knowledge on ancient writing systems and documentation from the historiographical point of view. Moreover I sincerely enjoyed our conversations, at the Department and at the Café Medici, and his curiosity and openmindedness have been a great driving force.
In addition, after my PASP research work at Austin a research stay in Los Angeles with Elizabeth Wayland Barber concluded my visiting in US. Professor Barber kindly invited me for exchanging ideas about my work and her previous research with Emmett L.Bennett and about the decipherment at the time of her PhD. During this amazing week of intense and enjoyable work the discussions, lectures, confrontations, documents study and interviews have followed one another from the early morning to the evening and I am much obliged to Elizabeth and to her husband, Paul Barber, for their great hospitality and enthusiasm.
Besides my own research project and work at PASP, I enjoyed talks over lunch and coffee break with Prof. Lesley Dean-Jones, Prof. Paula Perlman, Prof. William Nethercut, Prof. Cristina Carusi, Prof. Adam Rabinowitz, and with Dr.Stefania Giombini. Our exchanges about research projects, past experiences and future plans have been inspiring and pleasant and I sincerely hope that we will have other opportunities to meet again.
The informal and rigourous discussions with Professor Elizabeth Keating and Professor Paul Kockelman at the Department of Anthropology on our own fieldworks and research topics and about the European and the American traditions in Anthropology and in Linguistics have been interesting and stimulating from all points of view and it has been a real pleasure for me to meet them.
My life at Austin with my family was wonderful and I will always keep the fond memories of my stay as my most cherished souvenir.
I want to thank Professor Lesley Dean-Jones, Chair of the Department of Classics, for her warm welcome, and Vanessa Noya and Kathryn Hernandez, from the administrative office, for their kindness and their help in many aspects of my life in Austin prior, during and after my stay (cakes was delicious!).
Many thanks to the PASP’s staff and all my special thanks to the Director, Professor Tom Palaima, for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to open PASPian boxes.