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Amara’s Post

April 4, 2014

The history of archaeology is a wide and interdisciplinary field.  When I finished my undergraduate degree (in History), I never thought I would end up doing a PhD on the history of British archaeology in the Middle East and revelling in the archives of British archaeologists.  For me, the path to a postdoc in the History of Archaeology has been entirely organic.  It started out as an unassessed research project that was part of my MA Museum Studies degree.  I became fascinated by a collection of personal photographs belonging to George and Agnes Horsfield, which I’d discovered purely by chance in a larger collection of RAF aerial survey photographs from the 1920s and 1930s that were in the Institute of Archaeology’s collections (see Thornton 2007).  I started asking myself: who were these two archaeologists?  What brought them to the Middle East?  What were their lives like as archaeologists?  These initial questions led to larger ones – what did their archive have to say about the context of archaeology in the Middle East?  How did the process of archaeology work during this period?  How did archaeology fit within the context of other events and developments – political, social, cultural, economic?


Eight years later, here I am, still hooked.  There’s something profoundly appealing about getting to know people through what they leave behind (I’m sure archaeologists can relate), and in particular, their papers – letters, diaries, photographs, drawings, ephemera – their thoughts, observations, feelings on the page for you to see.  And underneath all of that the elusive whiff of a different time – but not so far back that you can’t identify with it yourself.  It’s a time when people related to each other in a different way, knew different food, wore different clothes, operated in a context that is now entirely different.  This has led me down a number of different, sometimes odd pathways in varying degrees of intensity, including but not limited to exploring archaeological publishing (my current postdoc project), archaeologists and psychical research, archaeological shopping, the history of heritage tourism, relationships in archaeological archives… the list could go on, but I think that’s a decent summary.

Amara Thornton

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