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The Construction of Knowledge in Archaeology and Art History in Southeastern Europe

Duration: 2019 – 2023

A Research Program (2021-2023) coordinated by the Centre for Advanced Study, Sofia (Bulgaria), funded by the Getty Foundation as part of the Connecting Art Histories Initiative


The Program is structured through a series of Conferences and Spring Schools taking place in three different capital cities in the region (Sofia, Bucharest, and Athens) over three years. The overall structure has been envisaged as an opportunity for new synergies between scholars working across the region; given the current state of the discipline in the region (an overbearing “Western” bias associated with the neglect of intra-regional collaboration), it is not uncommon for archaeologists and art historians working across a national border from one another to never have interacted in the framework of a common academic research project. The two Conferences and the three Spring Schools proposed by our Program are designed as a way of deploying new academic networks – cross-national and cross-generational – across the region


Each Spring School (five to six days long) will consist of a segment of lectures by senior scholars, a one-day workshop on each School’s particular theme, a colloquium prepared by the junior participants, and one or two days of site visits. Junior participants to each School will be selected through open calls.

The Program is coordinated by the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS), in collaboration with Dr. Gheorghe Alexandru Niculescu (Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest) and Prof. Dimitris Plantzos (Department of History and Archaeology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens) who act as the Program’s co-directors. It is funded by the Getty Foundation, as part of the Connecting Art Histories Initiative.


With this Program, we plan to investigate how archaeology creates knowledge in Southeastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and the Turkish province of East Thrace), taking into account the particularities of the local research traditions and their connections with research traditions of other disciplines, especially art history. We hope to better understand why the culture-historical way of thinking about the past remains dominant in our region and encourage diversity and pluralism, generated by examining the ideas in which our research practices are grounded, their history, and what keeps them in place. We also seek to examine how we determine what is a useful novelty – an examination that has better chances of success if conducted by constantly comparing what we do with what is done in other traditions of archaeological research.

Culture-historical archaeology is shaped by the belief that historical time is defined by “archaeological cultures”, standing for distinct ethnic entities deployed in agreement with the nationalist imagination. Originating in the late 19th century, the culture-historical model was influenced by nationalist agendas, which saw modern nations as continuations and developments of ancient cultural wholes and ethnically coherent populations. Archaeology became of paramount importance for documenting such continuities. This was partly because of the scantiness of written sources, but mostly because the tactility of the archaeological record and its impact on public imagination was found to be more convincing than the written record. For the nation-states in Southeastern Europe, notably Greece and Cyprus, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Serbia, national identity is conceived as a primordial ontology, its historical validity being documented – indeed proven – through the materiality provided by archaeological remains. In this kind of archaeology, “culture” – is used for multitudes of prehistoric phenomena, starting with the Paleolithic, as well as for the Ancient Greeks and Romans, for medieval peoples, and for modern phenomena, in which the national (qualifying the culture of “majorities”) appears opposed to the ethnic (qualifying the culture of “minorities”) – is conceived as an integral, diachronic and continuous phenomenon, a biologically defined entity linking the nation’s primeval (and suitably glorified) past with its present.

The persistence of culture-historical representations has important consequences for the conceptualization of cultural heritage, especially regarding its archaeological component, which is made of artifacts displayed in hundreds of museums and archaeological sites, some of them well-known and popular with tourists, which are used for constructing public knowledge of the past in which the authorized heritage discourse, perpetuated by state institutions, tends to be reproduced by archaeologists.