Institutionalisation and the History of Archaeology

I have been amazed by the power of blogging in terms of its ability to connect and initiate conversations between people who may never have previously interacted.  I hesitated for a long time over the potential hazards of blogs, but (so far) my fears have proven unfounded, and — more than this — had I yielded to them, I think my scholarship would have suffered.

My last post about archaeological illustration introduced me to several fantastic people who share my interests and who will likely make great contributions to the VIA project and to archaeology overall.  It also generally confirmed my sense of the lack of meaningful literature on illustrative traditions in the discipline.  I’m still in search of more references, so please do send any along!

I’ve been busy for the past month with end-of-term activities and thesis-writing.  My research of late has concentrated on the establishment of the Institute of Archaeology at London University (now at UCL).  As seems always to be the case for me, the Institute’s history has barely been analysed, and the pertinent archives, as well as the few relevant reports (which include a series of short comments from former pupils and faculty in Archaeology International), are scattered around (if not entirely inaccessible).  While often frustrated about the state of knowledge on the Institute (not to mention on academic institutionalisation generally), I’ve had wonderful experiences travelling across the country to speak with students who studied for the Institute’s postgrad diploma in its early days (between the late 1930s and the 1950s).

What’s especially fascinating about this research is the response with which it is typically greeted (particularly from current practitioners). Because my interests lie in processes and practices of visualisation (a topic that often, but ironically, tends to go unseen), the standard reaction is usually ‘you won’t find much.’  However, as my PhD is slowly piecing together, this response is deeply flawed and testifies to why archaeologists need to invest in more rigorous and astute disciplinary histories. For practitioners to suggest that visual media have little presence in archaeology’s past is to perpetuate seriously distorted views of the discipline and to fundamentally misunderstand archaeological practice.  The history of the Institute of Archaeology provides one very clear example of the embroilment of the visual in institutional development.  I’ll update this post with findings from my research — and from my related studies — as they continue to unfold.  So too am I looking forward to publishing these results over the upcoming year in a couple of academic journal articles!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s