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Chapter 1

A Time of Transition

The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution fostered curiosity about nature, society, institutions, human relations, and the past. Instead of relying on inherited ideas, intellectuals sought a concrete and rational understanding of phenomena based on experience and facts. This initiated an age of exploration concerned with human physiognomy, psychology, and values, wtih natural entities and their causes and significance, and with a desire to construct an accurate picture of ancient times. Focus on contemporary human conditions accompanied this empirical mindset, giving rise to conflicting ideas about the role of tradition and hierarchies in nature and society.


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A Time of Transition

C.W. Ceram describes the significance of Winckelmann’s History of the Art of Antiquity (1764):

 “In this masterpiece he succeeded in impressing a recognizable order of an immense accumulation of antique material that hitherto had languished as the loosest sort of aggregation. The book was written, as he proudly remarks, ‘without a model’ to go by. It broke first ground in approaching the subject of ancient art from a developmental point of view. Winckelmann built his system out of the meager accounts bequeathed to posterity by the ancients. With unerring sensitivity he groped toward original insights, and expressed them with such power of language that the cultured European world was carried away by a wave of enthusiasm for the antique ideal. This rush of surrender was of prime importance in shaping the course of archaeology in the following century. Winckelmann’s book excited a lively interest in tracking down beautiful objects wherever they lay hidden. It demonstrated means of understanding ancient cultures through their artifacts; it awakened the hope of uncovering new treasure trove, as replete with wonders as Pompeii.”

C.W. Ceram, Gods, Graves, and Scholars. The Story of Archaeology (New York: Vintage Books, 1986), 45.


Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that inequality was the unavoidable result of civilization:

 “As long as men were content with their rustic huts, as long as they were limited to sewing their clothing of skins with thorn or fish bones, adorning themselves with feathers and shells, painting their bodies with various colors, perfecting or embellishing their bows and arrows, carving with sharp stones a few fishing Canoes or a few crude Musical instruments; in a word, as long as they applied themselves only to tasks that a single person could do and to arts that did not require the cooperation of several hands, the y lived free, healthy, good, and happy insofar as they could be according to their Nature, and they continued to enjoy among themselves the 24 sweetness of independent intercourse. But from the moment one man needed the help of another, as soon as they observed that it was useful for a single person to have provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, labor became necessary; and vast forests were changed into smiling Fields which had to be watered with the sweat of men, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow with the crops.”

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origins of Inequality,” (1754) in John Zerzan (ed.), Against Civilization. Readings and Reflectons. Los Angeles: Feral House, 2005, 23-4.


Web Resources

Metmuseum: French Academy in Rome

Metmuseum: Grand Tour

Fieldmuseum: Pompeii


map of locations

Map of Europe in 1700