A Brill Calendar: July 26
Few scholarly disciplines emanating in the European Enlightenment enjoyed a longer 'preamble' than archaeology.
Since the days of Olim, old objects deemed to be valuable in one way or another have been collected and conserved; in aristocratic collections and in chests and storages of merchants and land-owners. When the the Roman cities of Herculanaeum and Pompeii were discovered in the 18th century, both amateurs and scholars found themselves on the threshold of the innovative idea that all physical remnants of the past – and particularly all man-made objects, not only priceless treasure – and their arrangement in physical space ‘in situ’ could increase knowledge about Mankind’s past.
After Napoleon’s Egyptian ‘extravaganza’ 19th century scholarship had fully assimilated his idea; and it is seldom that the shift in awareness has been expressed so strikingly in one person as in the short life of Caspar Jacob Christiaan Reuvens (The Hague, January 22 1793 – Rotterdam, July 26 1835). Trained as a lawyer and classical scholar in Amsterdam, Leyden and Paris, Reuvens became confidante to the first King of The Netherlands, Willem I, in organizing the Royal Collection of Antiquities; it made Reuvens the first Director of the new State Museum in this field and the world’s first Professor in Archaeology.
In this stage of the intellectual evolution of Leyden a memorable change in outlook came into being, with the emphasis on historical growth and (per)mutation. The status-quo of scholarly disciplines ceased to be sacrosanct and above criticism; and even the opposite: becoming obsolete remains of old realities and irrelevant erudition.