This introductory chapter defines English antiquarianism and traces its connections with the continental tradition. It presents an overview of the subject, outlining the interests, practices, and methods of the antiquaries in the early modern period, as well as exploring the reception of antiquarianism in the wider literary and intellectual culture. It explores a few examples, including John Aubrey, but its primary concern is to define the parameters of the English antiquarian projects. It also contains a literature review. The chapter (and indeed the book as a whole) argues that we need to eschew the teleological approach that previous scholars have tended to adopt, and instead assess antiquarianism on its own terms. Early modern antiquarianism should not be seen as the disreputable, ‘other face’ of history, but as a set of imaginative, restorative responses to the remains of the past. Antiquarianism, in short, was an essentially humanist project, a project concerned with resurrecting the past and making its fragments whole.
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