Authenticity

Authenticity is an important category for scholarship on past and present manuscripts and texts, and is also the theme for our fall seminar in 2022. How does different types of authenticity spill over into each other in academic interpretations of text and in the reception of such interpretations? 

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Theme

Authenticity is an important category for scholarship on past and present manuscripts and texts. However, the concept as used in academic discourse is very broad. A simple account of current use is presented by Newman and Smith (2016). They count 12 different concepts in five different taxonomies of the concept, and one could easily find additional taxonomies and concepts. Newman and Smith categorize their assortment into four main types of authenticity: historical authenticity, categorical authenticity, value authenticity, and self-authenticity. Again, differing and additional main types could be proposed. The point for the present seminar, however, is not primarily the typology of authenticities, but the study of how different types of authenticity spill over into each other in academic interpretations of text and in the reception of such interpretations.

Authenticity and sources 

Determining the authenticity of one’s sources lies at the core of every historical evaluation. Already such “simple” constructions of authenticity may have huge impact on the value of the sources. One dimension of value relates to their economic value to the people or institutions that own them. But the notion of authentic sources carries additional connotations of value. For instance, the notion of an authentic source rapidly translates into a sense of its representativity for a group or a period, thus relating as much to a scholarly reconstruction of the period as to the manuscript or source itself. Authenticity may also become a label for the reliability, credibility, perhaps sincerity, of a textual source and/or its author. Moreover, authentic sources aspire to become part of what is sometimes labelled authentic cultural heritage – a deeply value-laden category that has been much discussed in cultural studies, including tourism studies, over the last decade or so.

Not simply a historical fact

In all these settings authenticity is not simply a historical fact. It is established according to certain procedures determined by the research community or by society. For this reason, authentic sources also demand authentic interpretation in order to become part of a broader discourse: Authentic scholarship maintains current ethical standards for research, but it also aspires towards beneficial or useful insights – for the research community and for its constituent society. The reception of professed authentic sources relies upon the perceived authenticity of the research on these sources. This activates the layer of social and cultural values measuring the standing of research in society. Attached to these values are also psychological notions of authentic people (researchers) as individuals able to balance their own convictions and wishes with research data produced in the scholarly community.

A moral phenomenon?

The philosopher Charles Taylor famously interpreted authenticity as a moral phenomenon pertaining to human relations to ourselves, to other people, and to the world. Based on the above, we might add that authenticity also relates to culturally and socially constructed moralities, as well as to the making of economic values in diverse markets. For scholars to successfully identify authentic sources and provide authentic interpretations of them, it is necessary to consider these various dimensions of authenticity – not least those that pertain to the reception of these sources, and of the scholarship, in the research community and in society at large.

Program 

TBA

Published Jan. 7, 2022 2:51 PM - Last modified Jan. 11, 2022 3:43 PM