Histories of Archaeological Representation: Scales of the Past in the 19th- and 20th-Century World

AHA Session 232
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Suzanne Lynn Marchand, Louisiana State University
Suzanne Lynn Marchand, Louisiana State University

Session Abstract

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, archaeology and its practitioners took on a prominent role around the world as arbiters of knowledge about the material remains of the past. Yet despite these growing claims of archaeologists to authority in constituting modern visions of ancient cultures, scholars have carried out surprisingly little work directed toward understanding the history of the discipline and its development. Our panel will overcome this disparity by interrogating a variety of representations and representational phenomena generated by, and in connection with, the discipline of archaeology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. What purposes did these representations serve, and how did these purposes intersect with the issues of scale inherent to any discussion of modernity?  Drawing on a set of geographically disparate case studies, this panel will answer these questions. Historicizing and comparing archaeological representations and the practices behind them, it will highlight the different ways that the making of these various depictions, descriptions, displays, and events helped to constitute the modern world.

The thematic and temporal range of the material under discussion will allow the panel members to illustrate the potential of archaeological representations in terms of thinking about these histories. From imperial Russian archaeological congresses in the late nineteenth century to media coverage of archaeological work in interwar France, and from international commissions and international meetings in both these countries to the paperwork generated by archaeological work in post-war, and newly independent, Egypt and Sudan, our panel will illustrate the rich variety of ways in which archaeological representations have constituted the means to imagine and re-imagine the historical and immemorial past and the present. The panel will also illustrate the various ways in which these representations have been linked to scale. Not only will the papers discuss the way such representations worked in contexts from the local to the transnational, but the geographic make up of this material will also provide an exciting (and novel) comparative aspect of discussion, investigating the intersection of archaeological representations and scale across multiple continents.    

Furthermore, the different disciplinary backgrounds of the panel members will highlight the analytical and explanatory fecundity of the material that their papers focus on. William Carruthers, a historian of science, will also bring his archaeological training to bear on the representations he discusses. Meanwhile, Louise McReynolds will bring her expertise in understanding the historical relationship between nation and empire, underpinning the panel’s discussion of scale with theoretical insights relating to the theme. Simultaneously, Daniel Sherman will bring perspectives from art history and critical museum studies into play, analyzing the relationship between text, image, display, and purpose that the panel will illustrate has been crucial to archaeology’s development as a modern discipline. Chairing, Suzanne Marchand will bring her deep knowledge of intellectual and cultural history to discussions of the phenomena at hand. Understanding archaeological representations can help us to understand the development of archaeology as an authoritative force at various different scales. Our panel will illustrate why, opening its topic to historians of all stripes.

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