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CFP: HARN 2018, Deadline Extended!

July 2, 2018

We’ve had a late flurry (outbreak? upsurge? eruption?) of abstracts for the conference and feel we may have put too short a deadline on the conference, so in order to give you all the chance to get those abstracts to us we’re extending the deadline to the 20th of July.

It’s the 10th anniversary of HARN this year, as well as 100 years since the 1st World War ended, so lets make it a really big, vibrant, newsworthy conference and spread the word about the importance and relevance of histories of archaeology.

New deadline – midnight (GMT) 20th July.


Book Review – Recollections of a Female Archaeologist: A Life of Brenda Swinbank

June 29, 2018


Recollections of a Female Archaeologist: A Life of Brenda Swinbank, Suzanne Heywood. Blurb, 2018. 

Thea De Armond

This slim volume gives an account of the life and work of Brenda Swinbank, a relatively little-known British archaeologist, whose published works are particularly occupied with the Vallum, an enormous earthwork associated with Hadrian’s Wall.

Swinbank was born on 2 February 1929, in Ackworth, England, 150 miles from the structure that defined her career. She studied history in Durham, becoming particularly enamored of the archaeology of Roman Britain after hearing Eric Birley (1906-1995) lecture on the topic. With Birley’s training and support, Swinbank—in Birley’s words—“developed into a really competent excavator and field archaeologist” (44). She secured a two-year research studentship in Durham, during which she conducted a series of excavations along Hadrian’s Wall. The fruits of that research—Swinbank’s doctoral dissertation, “The Vallum Reconsidered (Research 1949-52)”—made her the third British woman to be awarded a PhD for a thesis on the archaeology of Britain.

Despite Swinbank’s scholarly prowess, she was unable to secure a permanent university position. Thus, in the autumn of 1958, she took up an appointment as Assistant History Mistress at the Friends’ School in Ackworth. There, she met and married the school’s English teacher, Peter Heywood. Swinbank’s marriage to Heywood took her away from Roman Britain. It brought other, more pressing responsibilities, particularly, children, including a sickly daughter who suffered an untimely death. But in the late 1960s, she connected with Peter Wenham (1911-1990), a fellow acolyte of Eric Birley, whom she began to assist with lectures and excavations. Then, in 1974, Swinbank met Derek Phillips—another Durham archaeologist—whom she joined in the post-excavation processing of the great mass of archaeological materials (“rooms full of documents, soil samples, pieces of pottery and bone, 3,000 photographs, chunks of carved stonework and even one large block of dirt weighing several tonnes,” 74), unearthed during the stabilization of the York Minster. Upon publishing the first volume of the York Minster materials, Swinbank returned to her old work on the Vallum, which, with the assistance of David Breeze, she succeeded in publishing in the late 2000s.

Recollections of a Female Archaeologist was authored by Swinbank’s daughter-in-law, Suzanne Heywood (Heywood is married to Swinbank’s son Jeremy Heywood, a senior British civil servant, currently the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service). Accordingly, it is more family history than scholarly. The text is rife with anecdote (e.g., “neither Peter nor his sons could ever persuade Brenda to let them go on ‘Ask the Family,’” 68), and, except for a list of Swinbank’s publications, entirely lacking citations. This lack is unfortunate, as Swinbank’s story, with its stops and starts, her early successes and the late-in-life revival of her career—a narrative arc that is, perhaps, more common than its infrequent representation might suggest—merits telling. But Heywood’s sources are unclear—in her acknowledgments, she refers to past conversations with Swinbank (who now suffers from dementia), lectures by Swinbank (including one with the same title as the book), and Swinbank’s writings. One cannot help but hope that these materials might make their way into an archive someday.

Recollections is a quick, engaging read. It is clearly written, with few—if any—typographical or grammatical errors. The text is accompanied by several dozen (unfortunately, rather small) photographs. Ultimately, even with the aforementioned caveats, it is a welcome addition to our histories of archaeology, as well as, perhaps, an implicit injunction to produce more works on Swinbank and archaeologists like her.

Tea and (very practical) Sympathy

June 25, 2018

The tea of the title is twofold – try saying that in a hurry – it’s the third Tea with the Sphinx this week (28th-30th June) and I will be there! Oh yes! Birmingham, here I come! I am, as you may have gathered, rather excited about this and fully intend to drink many, many cups of tea, listen to fascinating papers, admire Nichola’s shoe collection, talk armadillos with Martyn and generally have a heap of fun. Remember last time I went I wrote this, this, this.and this and this as well as a lot of twitterisms – it was that awesome, so register now!


I’m particularly excited because it looked, back in May, as though I wouldn’t be going. I am currently unaffiliated to any institution, I am a freelance, independent, autonomous researcher, I am unpaid. Conference fees (however reasonable and TwtS is very reasonably priced) accommodation fees, even train fares all add up to beyond my means right now. Over a cup of tea with friends (this is the other tea of the title) I was bemoaning my poverty and how I really, really wanted to go to this conference. I was expecting expressions of sympathy but what I actually got was very practical assistance in the shape of hotel vouchers and travel vouchers. I have been crowdfunded! It’s the academic version of Cinderella!  I would like to publicly thank my wonderful friends for their kindness – knitters are the best sort of friends to have, by the way – as well as telling you a heartwarming tale to begin your week.

Hope to see you in Edgbaston,



Book Review – ‘My dear Miss Ransom’

June 20, 2018


‘My dear Miss Ransom…’ Letters between Caroline Ransom Williams and James Henry Breasted, 1898-1935, edited by Kathleen L. Sheppard, Oxford: Archaeopress 2018.

Rosalind Janssen, UCL-IoE

HARN’s own Kate Sheppard, and my erstwhile student, here publishes for the first time a remarkable correspondence of 239 letters housed in the Oriental Institute Archives at the University of Chicago. These plot the 37 year friendship between James Henry Breasted, one of the Egyptology’s giants, and his student Caroline Ransom (1872-1952), a woman, who as Sheppard, correctly notes is merely one of the discipline’s footnotes. Yet, with her 1905 thesis ‘Studies in Egyptian Furniture’, Ransom became the first female doctoral student in the United States. Moreover, from 1900-1903, she had achieved the pinnacle for a young scholar: studying with the great philologist Adolf Erman in Berlin, and that as his first female student.

As Sheppard notes in her introduction, it was the men who went out to dig while the women stayed at home to undertake the administrative duties in universities and museums. We only have to think of Margaret Murray – a biographical subject already brought vividly to life by Sheppard – to confirm the veracity of her statement. Ransom experienced additional domestic concerns, aggravated from 1916 following marriage to her long-term suitor Mr. Williams, increased caring responsibilities for her ageing and demanding mother, and the constant worry about being properly paid for her Egyptological endeavours. Telling her that ‘your energy and aggressiveness stir my admiration’, Breasted even encouraged her to bring her mother along when in 1926-27 she was a member of his Epigraphic Survey at Medinet Habu.

It is a delight to enter an earlier era of Egyptological gossip. In 1930 Ransom asks Breasted ‘who do you suppose will succeed Mr. H.R. Hall in the British Museum? Has Mr. Glanville the position and influence to be appointed to it?’ Many of the discipline’s great names pass review, and her lifelong friendship with the Ermans provides a salutary window into the impact of the rise of Nazism on German Egyptology, now a popular research topic. A fleeting and intriguing mention of John Pendlebury – the subject of my own investigations – immediately caught my attention. Writing in 1930 about the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Amarna, Breasted tells Ransom: ‘I wish I did not feel so reluctant to see young Mr. Pendlebury [he was then 26] on his own there’.

As Sheppard notes in her epilogue, this volume is just the beginning, and much archival work remains to be done to tease out Ransom’s accomplishments. Having commenced this review with Sheppard’s reference to Ransom as a mere Egyptological footnote, it is fitting to conclude by referencing tangible footnotes from another discipline. It had long been stated that Charlotte von Kirschbaum was responsible for compiling the copious footnotes to the Church Dogmatics, the fourteen-volume magnum opus of her teacher, the renowned theologian Karl Barth. However, recent reconsiderations have revealed her own considerable theological input. Caroline Ransom deserves similar reappraisal and the awarding of due credit. Meanwhile, we must thank Kate Sheppard for her major contribution in ‘writing about women who have been, but should not be, left out of the narrative’.

Launch – Ice Without, Fire Within: A Life Of Jacquetta Hawkes by Christine Finn

June 19, 2018

Christine Finn has sent us notice of her latest publication, you can find details here of how to pledge support for this publication and also read an excerpt.

From the webpage:


The story of the poet, archaeologist, film-maker, and author.

Jacquetta was a unique woman – poet, archaeologist, film-maker, and author, famous on both sides of the Atlantic – but she is best remembered today as the third wife of JB Priestley, with whom she founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

In “Ice Without, Fire Within”, Christine Finn uses her own archaeological training to investigate Jacquetta’s personal past, to dig not just into Hawkes’ work, but the woman herself. Jacquetta’s life is the unjustly forgotten missing link between such key writers as Robert Graves and Vita Sackville-West, and this is the long overdue first biography of a fascinating woman.

But the book is also a bridge between archaeologies – that driven by science, and the other by the arts. Tracing her life and work from its origins in Cambridge to her celebrity status in London in postwar Britain, Finn draws on more than 20 years of access to Jacquetta’s papers, which she rescued after her death in 1996, and journeys in her footsteps from Orkney and Venice to New York and New Mexico.

How did this woman at the centre of Britain’s postwar cultural scene become out of print and forgotten, even before her death? It is time to bring to light the complex personality which prompted Jack Priestley to remark: “What a woman, ice without and fire within!” Her nature writing and passion for the past – and the future – appreciated by a new generation of archaeologists, poets and artists.

This passionate literary excavation echoes Jacquetta Hawkes’s own championing of public archaeology and public art – please pledge to help us bring Jacquetta Hawkes’ story back to the world.

Book Review–Aristocrats and Archaeologists, @AUCPress 2017

June 1, 2018

Toby Wilkinson and Julian Platt (eds), Aristocrats and Archaeologists: An Edwardian Journey on the Nile. Cairo: AUC Press, 2017.


Cover image, courtesy AUC Press.


This book presents recently found private letters from Arthur Ferdinand Rowley Platt (1863-1946), known to his family as Ferdy, to his wife Mabel or May. In 1907-1908 he was the doctor for the 8th Duke of Devonshire, Spencer Cavendish, on a trip up and down the Nile. Through the dozens of letters home, readers get a candid glimpse into Ferdy’s experiences of Egypt, his thoughts about the Duke and his party, and his love for his family and children. This was the Golden Age of travel on the Nile, and correspondence or diaries are the best way for 21st century readers to experience this.

The main point of the published collection of correspondence is to present these ideas within some historical context, and it does just that. As an experienced correspondence editor myself, I see the inherent value in presenting letters in this way; full disclosure–I also have my own ideas as to how to do this. This book ticks most of those boxes.  The letters tell a one-sided story in this book, but Wilkinson, the main editor, attempts to fill in the blanks throughout.  There are brief introductions to various sections of the trip as well as small boxes that present more information about people and events. These are extremely informative and useful. Unlike a lot of books these days, there are two sections of color plates! I am very excited about this, maybe too excited, but in the days of attempting to make the printing of books as cost-effective as possible, plates are a rarity. These add a lot to the story. But there are some unfortunate omissions. For example, in the middle of the journey Ferdy tried to explain to May about a pile of fresh green figs that he got every day in Aswan (62). He even drew her a picture of the pile of figs, noted in a bracketed statement, but for some reason, the reader does not get to see that drawing, yet it would have added an important, human detail to the story.  However, the itinerary and the family trees were very useful references throughout reading the letters.

For me, a historian of Egyptology, the explanations that Ferdy (and Wilkinson) gave about different sites and people he encountered were helpful and full of detail. Ferdy met Egyptologists such as Flinders Petrie, Howard Carter, Theodore Davis, Archibald Sayce, and George Reisner. He was candid in his discussion of them to his wife, and the reader sees part of the private men they were, away from journalists and other colleagues.

While this book is intended for the popular market as well as an academic audience, even with all of the explanatory sections that the editor includes, the reader may be left wanting more explanatory footnotes. The boxes can break up the narrative and some are presented a little too late for the questions that arise in the letters. There are a lot of people, places, ideas that tend to get lost in the rich story of the journey. This is not the only criticism that can be levelled at Wilkinson’s and Platt’s referencing, the selected bibliography consists of half of a single page and the index needs much more detail to be useful.

However, in the end, this book is a useful addition for researchers and interesting for general readers. It is a full and rich travelogue, a touching family story, and contains a lot of informative historical information that most volumes like this one lack.


PS–Don’t forget our call for papers for our 10th Anniversary HARN conference in Lisbon!

CFP – Archaeological Movements

May 31, 2018

HARN member, Beth Hodgett, is organising a session at this year’s TAG Conference and has issued the following call for papers:

Archaeological Movements CFP_TAG