Spaces: their making, usage and representation
The “Spaces: their making, usage and representation” research area is part of the tradition of the Ausonius Institute further to the works of Charles Higounet, the founder of the Land Use Research Centre in 1968. Although the subject of study has remained constant, scientific questioning has changed and has come to cover a broader time span with the adoption of a diachronic and a geographical perspective with the choice of a multi-scale view of the study areas (Aquitaine, Iberian Peninsula, Adriatic). This renewal has been driven by interdisciplinary research teams composed of archaeologists, historians, art historians, geomorphologists, geographers, urban planners, morphologists, archaeozoologists, palaeo-environmentalists, geomaticians, etc.; it has also been apparent in the methods for collecting and processing numerical data. This change in outlook on spaces elicits collaboration inside and outside Labex. The change also involves being geared to social demand and in particular research promotion projects. Two facts in particular are explored: spaces as a historical subject on the one side and epistemology and methodology of spatial analysis on the other.
- Spaces as a historical subject: space considered as a social product lends itself to a diachronic analysis that is attentive to deciphering and questioning the way it is constructed, appropriated, polarized, territorialized, perceived and represented. How is space constructed? What interactions are there between natural data and anthropic activities? How are they structured? How much is self-organized and how much is planned, and on what scales? What are the processes for continuity, inheritance and change? What spatial components are there? And among them, which ones form networks (forms of habitat, channels of communication, land divisions, etc.)? What flows impel those networks? What functions does space fulfil? What practices and usages? What common points, what singularities, what interactions are there between town and countryside? What perceptions of space are there? How does space become a territory and by what forms of action? What forms of representation and belonging are there: symbolic, ritual, cultural and material? What links are there between them? What articulations, interactions are there (if any) among different types of space? All these questions are addressed from three main perspectives:
Human settlements cannot be understood without taking account of the environment and natural resources. From the study of potentiality and environmental constraints, and the way they are managed, there results a better perception of the use of space by societies of the past, extended over the long term. The diversity of environments with which team members are likely to be involved (coastlines, river plains, mountains, forests, heaths and moors, wetlands, etc.) is an asset because it allows fruitful comparison of the different modes of settlement and adaptation of human communities depending on the characteristics of the landscape.
The study of habitat and territory requires a multi-scalar and diachronic approach. It involves better characterizing the various entities engaged in structuring territory, from the scale of the site to that of the network: status, typology, function, rank-ordering of sites (habitat, mining and production sites, cult establishments, funerary spaces, etc.) and networks (channels of communication, their hierarchization and the flows that move along them: economic, technical, technological, artistic, worship, etc.). Sites and networks are part of a dividing-up of the territory, from the field divisions to the various administrative divisions (from the pagus to the ancient civitas, from the diocese to the parish, etc.) and produce polarizing or segregating effects. To understand what territory was in ancient societies, allowance must be made for its symbolic, cultural, ritual dimensions, and so on, because the perception of territory is also a matter of mental representations. By combining archaeological and historical sources these representations can be addressed via their material, discursive and memorial expression.
This research perspective is a continuation of the Bordeaux “school” of urban history initiated by Charles Higounet, the founder of the Atlas historique des villes de France collection under the aegis of the International Commission for the History of Towns. It seeks to question the city in terms of its definition and its making on different scales of both space (from area of influence and territory to the building plot) and time (rhythm, periodization, breaks, continuity, inheritance). The birth of the city questions every period: scholars of protohistory and antiquity are now re-examining the earliest urban forms (oppidum of Châteaumeillant-Mediolanum) and the processes of continuity and change that led to the city of the ancient world. As concerns towns founded in medieval times, the topographic approach dear to Charles Higounet is supplemented by studies of the archaeology of the built environment (lower valleys of the Garonne and Dordogne, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux) and benefits from input from geomatics (GIS, La Réole and Saint-Macaire). Supplementing narrower thematic or chronological studies, the diachronic perspective adopted in the context of the Atlas historiques des villes de France collection (Bordeaux, Villes-têtes de l’Aquitaine: Agen, Bayonne, Mont-de-Marsan, Pau, Périgueux) and of GIS (SIGArH), much like the morphological approach and the comparative outlook provide insight into the spatio-temporal dynamics of the urban fabric; they also lead to a reconsideration of the town-territory pairing. Map making has become a requisite as a source, tool and even an end-purpose of spatial analysis and the inescapable vector for thinking about the city.
- Epistemology and methodology of spatial analysis: reflection on this is meant to mark a distance with the subject under study and question the scientific postulates and practices of spatial analysis on various levels:
What sources are to be collected? Current practices tend to collate data of various kinds (archaeological, environmental, textual, epigraphic, morphological, icono-cartographic) from which researchers build metadata that must be in keeping with the original source.
Investigative methods also play on multiplicity: excavation, prospecting (systematic walking, spot, aerial, geophysical, Lidar surveys), textual and icono-cartographic archives (the latter being increasingly digitized). The processing of sources raises a series of questions that precede any interpretation: How can they be compared and contrasted? What criteria are relevant for comparing and contrasting, classifying, for taxonomy and hierarchization? Analysis of them draws on both geomatics (database, GIS) and on comparative and modelling approaches, and leads to map making particularly in the form of atlases.
In their interpretative approach, researchers take into account the weight of historiography and question the relevance of certain concepts – such as those of the city and the countryside and of their opposition over the long time span – and guard against concocted interpretations. From this reflection on space, new paradigms emerge, sometimes borrowed from other disciplines or approaches, such as chrono-chorematics which, by acting on modelling and on comparison of particular cases/theoretical models, leads to a rethink of urban trajectories and, beyond that, of the city as a subject in itself.
Projets en cours
Opérations de terrain