Familiarity with unearthed materials has become the norm among scholars of early China across the world. The field has come to re‐examine narratives of early Chinese history in a more nuanced way, moving beyond questions of “doubting” or “verifying antiquity” to detail how the situation on the ground in early China related to its representation in traditional historical constructs. The fruits of this process are undeniable. Confronting entrenched historical narratives through archaeology, however, has widespread methodological and epistemological implications. Unquestioned, traditional narratives can distract scholars from the motivations of ancient actors; moreover, they can limit the broad humanistic value of early China scholarship and its reception outside the field. Unchecked, however, the incautious deconstruction of such narratives can cast pointless doubt on well-founded networks of knowledge. Further, deploying unearthed material in historiography brings the narratological habits of history into contact with the customs of field archaeology, raising both practical problems of data management and theoretical issues about the production of knowledge about the past.
With these issues in mind, the lecture series “On Altars of Soil: Unearthing New Narratives of Early Chinese History” explores the method and theory of building and revising narratives (intellectual‐historical, social historical, and literary) with unearthed materials. Bringing together field archaeologists, textual specialists, and scholars whose work stands between those poles, the initiative will strive toward a logical synthesis of diverse views about the relationship between received and unearthed sources, as well as about archaeology, its relationship to history, and its own narratological practices, that continue to drive the creation of new narratives about early China.
In the Spring and Fall semesters of 2021, the On Altars of Soil initiative will present ten virtual lectures by scholars of early Chinese archaeology, history, and literature. The Spring schedule is as follows:
March 5, 2021: Lothar von Falkenhausen, UCLA: “Ancient Chinese Bells and Tripods: The Texts vs. the Archaeological Finds”
April 2, 2021: Christopher Foster, SOAS, University of London: “Reimagining Textual Identity in Early China: A Case Study”
April 9, 2021: Guo Jue, Barnard College – “De-centering Zhou Historiography: History of the Jiang Han Region in Excavated Sources (1st millennium BCE)”
April 16, 2021: Camilla Sturm, Columbia University: “From guguo to gucheng: Revising the Role of Neolithic Walled Towns in the Story of Chinese Civilization”
April 30, 2021: Nick Vogt, Indiana University: “Meeting the Vessel’s Gaze: Assessing the Reach and Impact of Western Zhou Bronze Assemblages”
All lectures will occur at 12:00 noon EST over Zoom.
To register for the upcoming first lecture by Lothar von Falkenhausen, “Ancient Chinese Bells and Tripods: The Texts vs. the Archaeological Finds”, please visit:
With any further inquiries, please contact the organizers, Glenda Chao (Ursinus College) and Nick Vogt (Indiana University), at: onaltar s ofsoil (at) gmail.com.
We look forward to hearing from you!
The On Altars of Soil series is sponsored by the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University; the College Arts and Humanities Center, Indiana University; and the Tang Center for Early China, Columbia University. The lectures of Professors von Falkenhausen and Guo are presented in conjunction with the IU East Asian Studies Center Colloquium Lecture Series.