Shane McCausland is Percival David Professor of the History of Art in the Department of History of Art & Archaeology at SOAS University of London. He also serves as Head of the School of Arts and as a member of the university’s Executive Board. As an undergraduate he read Oriental Studies (Chinese) at Cambridge University and received his PhD in Art History with East Asian Studies from Princeton University in 2000. He has curated exhibitions in China, Europe and the USA and published widely on Chinese and East Asian arts. His most recent book is The Mongol Century: Visual Cultures of Yuan China, 1271-1368 (Reaktion/Hawaii, 2015). He is currently working on an exhibition of the arts of the Mongol world across Eurasia in the long thirteenth century, to be mounted at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2024.
On the logics of art history and archaeology in a global Sinological framework
My response to the question, ‘What can archaeologists and art historians learn from each other?’, is necessarily shaped by my disciplinary specialism as an art historian and curator of the visual arts of dynastic China, one who also freely avails of archaeologically generated knowledge, and as a member – and currently head – of a School of Arts within which sits a ‘Department of History of Art & Archaeology’, specialising in the arts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
In the context of academic discourse in mainland China, both disciplines are united in their fealty to a broader ethno-linguistic nationalism shaped by the party-state in its own interest and largely in tune with other contemporary nationalist (and now imperialist) command economies for cultural knowledge. Meantime, the work in both disciplines as a global critical endeavour faces a profound challenge in the degree to which it relies upon and attaches value to localised knowledge and access frameworks, which may be situated stratigraphically on top of the corpus of material culture under scrutiny.
This paper presents thematic, interlaced reflections across four issues highlighted by the workshop organisers in the contestation between the disciplines of art history and archaeology. These are the confrontation between taxonomic approaches and classificatory practices; comparison of analytical and ekphrastic disciplinary frameworks and their relative autonomy; comparison between amateur knowledge systems in the disciplines; and comparison and contrast between the disciplines in their proprietary museum contexts.