A day at the archives… Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir

Ylenia Olibet, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

15 November 2019


Sitting in one of the biggest writing rooms of Concordia University’s library in Montreal, where I spend most of my days doing research as a doctoral student — a Proustian trick of memory takes me back to the two months I spent in Paris this past spring. In a state of scholarly reverie, I think back, reflecting and re-elaborating on the archival research conducted in May and June at the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir (CASdB).

The CASdB is a feminist audio-visual archive, located in a small apartment of the elegant 28 Place Saint-Georges in Paris, right at the foot of Montmartre. 19th century buildings circle the quaint place, with a fountain laying at its centre. All of this, and the Theatre St-Georges, where Truffaut shot some of the sequences of Le Dernier Métro (The Last Metro, 1980), constitute the Parisian urban background in which the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir currently finds itself. However, with the bobo[i] atmosphere of the square, the role and meaning of the feminist archive is ironically enhanced, as its vault of subversive material is tucked away in a historic building within a trending hotbed of Paris. The existence of this archive is known mostly to the people who work there and or to feminist locals and tourists, queering Place St. Georges by means of the center’s mission to challenge a canonical and dominant history, bringing forth a counter-history of the feminist struggle, encased by this archive. The collection of feminist and LGBTQ militant videos preserved at the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir plays a crucial role in documenting and sustaining the cultural memory of the women’s movement and of feminist struggles, thus helping to institutionalize and integrate feminist historiography in France.

Figure 1: 28, Place St George, Paris. The Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir is located on the fourth floor of the mansion that was the residence of the famous French courtesan La Paiva in the XIX century.

The origins of the center are a part of the same media history as that of the 1970s, which saw women and feminist militants able to take on video technology in order to document the activities of the feminist movement and to create experimental work. This largely became possible given the flexibility of the new filmic medium. Instead of the heavier, outdated film equipment, the ease of video-taping allowed for these projects to emerge despite the lack of solid infrastructure available throughout the transition from film to video in the industry, especially for women (Jeanjean 2011). In 1982, Carole Roussopoulos, Delphine Seyrig, and Ioana Wieder, founders of the video collective Les Muses s’amusent in 1974, spawned the CASdB in collaboration with and thanks to the support of both grassroot feminist collectives as well as institutionalized feminist groups. The mission of the Centre was to archive, and support the production and dissemination of feminist and queer militant films and videos. In practice, since 1982, the centre has been active in promoting feminist works, as well as devising and instituting a distribution infrastructure built to circulate such work.[ii] Moreover, the center’s distribution and exhibition practices, which take place mainly through community-based screenings, expands the archival function of the CASdB beyond one solely of preservation. Similarly, CASdB organizes educational activities in schools and prisons, using the resources of its catalogue to inform of the necessity to deconstruct gender stereotypes in media. Finally, today, the center has established a partnership with Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the official French state archive, to digitize the videos of its collection. Through these operations of “remediation” and “recontextualization,” which Brunow finds characterizing contemporary archival practices across several European film archives (2017:98), CASdB creates a collective audiovisual memory, a testament to the feminist cultural and political militant experiences from the late 1960s onward.

The main collection of the archive is made up of feminist and LGBTQ videos made in France, including Sois belle et tais-toi ! (Delphine Seyrig, 1976) and more recent No Gravity (Silvia Casalino, 2011). The archive also stores books, distribution catalogues, programs of feminist film festivals and cultural events, journals on feminist film theory, like the Sorcieres and Les Cahiers du GRIF, film paratexts (such as posters and catalogues featuring said films), as well as dossiers on feminist filmmakers. Furthermore, the CASdB houses a special “metatextual” collection of documents that together reassemble the origin story and overall history of the center. This variety of collections, thus, provides a reservoir of primary sources that not only allow for historiographic research on the women’s movement in France, but also, more importantly, helps retrace the very establishment of feminist film culture. The audiovisual texts, indexed in their digital database, remain the primary focus of the centre, with digitization fast becoming the CASdB’s leading task. Through its collection of militant videos, contemporary documentaries and experimental videos, the centre plays a crucial role in substantiating the legacy of women’s and queer cinema. Archival research at the CASdB enables one to get to know the formal strategies involved in video-making within militant feminist media production as well as the ability to retrace the work of women in the film and video industry at large.

Seeing as my doctoral research tackles the genealogy of transnational feminist film culture, when conducting my field work at the CASdB, I was particularly interested in looking for the paper trail of exchanges, collaborations, and correspondences between different locally-situated feminist groups and artists that were active in fostering the engagement of women with media technologies and providing platforms for the circulation and exhibition of women’s films and videos. Thus, I divided my archival research between looking through boxes of feminist journals and film paratexts as well as watching videos catalogued in the database of the Centre. The militant practices documented and archived at the CASdB bring to light the complexity and the variety of experiences that characterize the women’s movement and practices around feminist film- and video-making.

The documentary videos I encountered demonstrate the establishment of feminist circuits of solidarity — both at the level of grassroots politics and of theoretical conversations, since the 1960s. For example, the documentary Manifestation à Hendaye-5 octobre (Anne-Marie Faure-Fraisse & Isabelle Fraisse, 1975) exposes the experience of a march organized by French feminists to support Spanish women protesting the Francoist dictatorship. The film lingers on the moments of discussions among the participants after the march, who reflect and make explicit the links between the feminist movements and antifascist struggles. On the other hand, footage from American Feminism (Beauvoir et les Québecoises) (Luce Guilbeault, year unknown) and Flo Kennedy, portrait d’une féministe americaine (Carole Roussoupoulos and Ioana Wider, 1982), captures the commitment of militants from various contexts to create feminist theory through conversations with other feminists from different contexts, foregrounding what Adrienne Rich would call “politics of location” (1989), instead of a universal feminist discourse.

During my residency at the Centre, I was given a desk and access to a hard disk that stores most of the digitized videos of the catalogue. As I was watching videos at the computer or browsing amidst the boxes containing posters, brochures, and catalogues — I was sharing the work space with Anna, the person in charge of distribution, Annette, the accountant, and the interns, Aliénor and Peggy. Nicole, the director of the center, would sometimes join us, too, if she was not giving educational workshops on gender stereotypes or travelling the film festival circuit. My conversations and exchanges with these archivists and administrators about feminism, film, theatre, and feminist queer spaces around Paris became as important as the archival objects and audiovisual texts that I was studying. In this respect, conducting research at a small archive like the CASdB allows for the researcher to work tête-à-tête with varying feminist media practitionners. In this way, it becomes clear that the archive is not monolithic, static, nor neutral, but an active assemblage — performatively brought about by the work of people (Ghani). Especially if considering the case of a feminist (counter-)archive, the collaborative methods of working as well as horizontal decision-making across the collective at the CASdB points at the affective labour involved and required in the functionality and maintenance of the archive. Immersing into archival research at CASdB gave me access to substantial historiographical media, but also functioned as a training session for developing feminist methodologies of labour, research, and collaborations.

Link to Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir website: http://www.centre-simone-de-beauvoir.com


Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Nicole Fernandez Ferrer, Anna Dzhangiryan, Annette Gourdon, Aliénor Grancher, and Peggy Préau for all their assistance and lovely conversations! Thanks in particular to Nicole and Anna for re-reading the piece.


[i] In the young and colloquial register of French, this term designates the French Parisians “hipsters”. The term is a portmanteau of the words bourgeois and bohemian.

[ii] A very accurate reconstruction of the history of the centre was written by Joelle Bolloch. Her Historique du centre, from which factual information in this paragraph is drawn on, is available online at: http://www.centre-simone-de-beauvoir.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/HistoriqueCASdB-Mai2017.pdf .


References:

Brunow, Dagmar. 2017. “Curating Access to Audiovisual Heritage: Cultural Memory and Diversity in European Film Archives.” Image & Narrative 18 (1): 97-110.

Ghani, Miriam. 2015. “What We Left Unfinished. The Artist and the Archive” in Dissonant Archives. Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, ed. Anthony Downey. London: British Academic Press. 78-120.

Jeanjean, Stephanie. 2011. “Disobedient Video in France in the 1970s: Video production by women’s collectives”. Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 27: 5-16.

Rich, Adrienne. 1989. “Notes toward a Politics of Location” in Blood, Bread, and Poetry. New York: Norton. 210-231.


Ylenia Olibet is a PhD candidate at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on contemporary feminist film culture in Quebec from a transnational perspective, under the supervision of Professor Rosanna Maule. Her research is funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Societé et Culture. She is the co-editor in chief of Synoptique – An Online Journal of Film and Moving Images Studies. She is also affiliated to the Global Emergent Media Lab where she currently curates the Works-In-Progress workshops series.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Pride and Prejudice in the Archives: issues with representation and access

Dr Natalie Hayton, Assistant Archivist, Special Collections, De Montfort University, Leicester

1 October 2019


This piece reflects on a session delivered by myself and fellow archivist Katharine Short as part of a Postgraduate Archives Open Day event. Organised by Dr Ellen Wright of the Cinema and Television History Institute (CATHI) at DMU, the day was geared towards encouraging archival research and debate in relation to film archives. The title of our session neatly reflects some of the issues raised in the session, while also acknowledging our most significant collection relating to television history: the Papers of screenwriter Andrew Davies, writer of the famous 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Figure 1: Special Collections Manager, Katharine, organising the papers of the Andrew Davies archival collection in the Special Collections reader room at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Still taken from the BBC 4 documentary Andrew Davies: Rewriting the Classics. Last aired on January 28th 2019.

The session was developed with the intention of providing a behind-the-scenes approach to discussing some of the debates within the archive sector around access to archives, their use and how they reflect wider society. We chose five problematic items from our collections and asked attendees to write brief catalogue entries for them, encouraging them to consider issues of physical access, ownership and authorship, and cataloguing language. This blog post will highlight the issues raised in relation to access while touching on representation and copyright. The democratisation process within archives is very important to us at DMU, and through our work with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, the Equality and Diversity Team and regularly reading up on sector guidance and finding out what other repositories are doing, such as the National Archives, Archives For Everyone policy framework and Jass Thethi’s work on ‘creating a space for marginalised voices in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector’, we hope to improve our catalogues and collections. [i], [ii] & [iii] Having said that, we are aware that as archivists, we are still learning how to best catalogue, describe and make accessible problematic records.

Access all Archival Areas?

Providing access to archives is a fundamental part of our job as archivists that is found in sector standards, such as the Principles of Access to Archives produced by the International Council on Archives. Significantly, this creates a tension at the heart of the archivist role: our two core duties are to protect originals from deterioration and to provide access to them, but we believe these should not be viewed as antithetical. Extensive use of an archival item will cause damage, but at the same time it is a human right, not a privilege, to be able to view the information contained within records held in public repositories, even if the original item cannot be produced.

However, as much as we may want to assist our readers, there will always be times when we are bound by legislation, donor restrictions, technical issues or concerns surrounding security and preservation. While we are committed to seeking creative solutions, there will always be instances where access is denied, or at least postponed.

Assessing the Archives/Artefacts: Content Warning

The following examples are the items we used for the session, some of which brought forth some strong opinions regarding privileging access to collections unintentionally and whether promoting access is to the benefit of repositories and readers in all circumstances. Before moving into an examination of the objects, I want to offer a content warning as one of the items discussed is a collection of Robertson’s Preserve Manufacturers Ltd. promotional figurines known as “Golliwogs”, offensive caricatures of African American people inspired by nineteenth-century minstrelsy.

The Exhibits

Exhibit 1: Correspondence of Andrew Davies from the Papers of Andrew Davies, Screenwriter D/061

Figure 2: Redacted letter from D/061 Papers of Andrew Davies held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.

Just from looking at this image, it is fairly obvious that we have some access issues here! Although Davies has given permission for researchers to access any of his letters in the collection, what he cannot give permission for is access to material produced by third parties (the letters he received from others) or that which references living individuals who may have no idea that items relating to them are held in a public archive. In instances such as these it is an archivist’s responsibility and ethical duty to comply with privacy legislation such as Data Protection by either redacting information or closing the item until such a time as those mentioned are deceased. While this can be frustrating for readers and archivists alike, ultimately the protection of 3rd parties (as well as being legally binding) is not something we would want to compromise. It was in relation to this item that points were raised regarding whether it is worth promoting the existence of these letters at all, as such practice can lead to unwanted media attention and once the existence of letters of someone famous becomes more widely known, disappointment will inevitably follow when it is discovered they are off limits (for now, at least). Closures can be made at collection, series or item level and decisions are typically made on a case by case basis. At DMU we have decided to close and redact where necessary while still listing the correspondence in the catalogue in a way that favours promoting the collection as a whole as well as ensuring we are protecting individuals at item level.

Exhibit 2: Picture Show Annuals 1926-1960 held in the rare books section at Special Collections and listed on the DMU Kimberlin Library catalogue

Figure 3: Picture Show Annual, 1955, held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.

We specifically wanted the discussion of these books to focus on whether we should use our catalogues to highlight the white patriarchal heteronormative framework inherent to this series (seen in images featuring actors wearing black/brown and yellow face, the complete lack/under-representation of actors of colour and the gender essentialism apparent even on the front cover this 1955 edition in its depiction of complicit sexual violence). However, there are also some important physical access issues surrounding these magazines.

Figure 4: Picture Show Annual, 1955.

Figure 5: Picture Show Annual, 1955.

Like all repositories, we always offer our researchers some friendly instructions when handling items to ensure they are cared for properly when being used and to encourage readers to feel more confident about handling archives. For example, using support cushions, page weights and turning pages carefully using only the corners is not knowledge we take for granted. Unfortunately, like the Picture Annuals, some items may already be damaged, either by age or design. As you can see from the first image, some of the pages have come loose and there is a risk here that pages could become muddled with pages from other books, or taken out of order. As there is no justification for the cost of digitising we do allow access to the originals but ask readers to be mindful of the loose pages and the likelihood that others may also come out if proper care is not taken. The second image highlights a page where a feature has intentionally been removed. This obviously has implications for those readers who may have been looking for a specific piece but it does perhaps offer insight on how the books were used by previous owners e.g. cutting out images for scrap books (Special Collections has two such film star scrap book collections: Film Star Scrap Books, 1930s and Film Star Scrap Books 1925-1945).

Exhibit 3: Interview with Benazir Bhutto (Politician and Prime Minister of Pakistan 1988-2007) from the Anita Anand (Zee TV Collection).[iv]

Figure 6: Betacam tape from the Anita Anand Collection (Zee TV Collection) held at Special Collections, De Montfort University, Leicester UK.

Again, the access issue here will be obvious for those who have wanted to view materials that require obsolete technology. While many organisations will have a way of migrating recordings from VHS (video) to a digital format, unfortunately, transferring the contents of Betamax and Betacam tapes is not so readily available. The newly acquired Anita Anand (Zee TV) Collection comprises over 60 linear metres of Betacam tapes donated by the journalist and radio and television presenter. While we are doing our best to organise and begin cataloguing using the labelling on the tapes, at the moment we have no way of determining what is actually on them and it is proving difficult for us to find the resources needed to provide full access to the tapes (budget, time, storage space, expertise). In the short-term we are attempting to source a Betacam player but we are also discussing options with specialists at Media Archive of Central England and intend to put together a funding bid to get this amazing collection of Asian TV digitised and accessible to all.

Exhibit 4: Robertson’s “Golliwog” Figurines

Another recently acquired collection includes these figurines which were created by the UK’s Robertson’s Preserve Manufacturer Ltd. in the 1960s and 70s. The “Golliwog” was the mascot for the company until 2001 and these figures were redeemed for tokens collected from the labels found on purchased products.

Figure 7: 6 musician figurines from the RF Robertson’s “Golliwog” Figurines Collection held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.

While still viewed as collectibles and defended by many as ‘innocent and lovable’ characters rather than examples of systemic racism, this is unquestionably a naïve position. The original literary Golliwogg, found in Florence Kate Upton’s children’s books, was inspired by minstrelsy entertainment, which began in the US around the 1830s: minstrelsy typically involved troupes wearing blackface to perform songs and sketches that reinforced white supremacy and dehumanised and degraded African American people. While our discussion for this collection focused on considering the best way of conveying this information in a catalogue in terms of language and description, questions surrounding access were also plentiful. The donor of this collection specifically requested they be used as a tool for highlighting the pervasive and insidious nature of racism in cultural products, so does that mean we should restrict access to collectors or enthusiasts who only wish to view them out of curiosity?

Another issue discussed was that while we are dealing with two very different formats when working with the Anita Anand Collection and the figurines (making them incomparable in some ways), the fact that examples of racist oppression are more readily accessible than a collection that more positively contributes to archival inclusivity and diverse social representation raises questions about whether we are unwittingly upholding oppressive frameworks by failing to provide access to the tapes. This is something of a dilemma for us because obviously we do not want to give items like the figurines more of a promotional platform than collections with a wealth of untapped research possibilities, such as that which is potentially contained on the Anand tapes. It is important for us to reflect on and learn from such comments in order to continually improve our practice and ensure that we are respectful of the needs and opinions of all our users. It is only by listening and acting that we can further develop our understanding of archival access and how we can make archives and catalogues inclusive spaces.

Exhibit 5: Draft Script of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Figure 8: Shooting Draft script from D/061 Papers of Andrew Davies held at Special Collections De Montfort University, UK.

For our final item we return to Davies, and a draft script for the film Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason released in 2004. This script has no less than 5 contributors, including the author of the novel from which it was adapted, creating an authorship and copyright minefield! The discussion focused on if it could be determined who made which revisions and how that impacted on access and use. Can only the parts of the script written by Davies be made available to researchers? Stamped with Davies across the front this is undoubtedly his copy of the script, but again, do the other contributors know their revisions are held in a public archive? Should we be allowing access at all? Certainly, if you wanted to quote sections of this script for a publication, as archivists, we would be advising that you would need to contact all contributors for permission to ensure compliance with copyright regulations. With layers of copyright and ownership, it can be difficult to get permission to use scripts, but happily, much of the Davies collection is solo written and with nearly a third of the archive comprising unproduced drafts, there is a wealth of accessible material for researchers.

Supporting Access for All

As we hope this blog has highlighted, we do not pretend to have all the answers but we are committed to creating a prejudice-free archive and believe that pride in our work is not the same as being too proud to learn new methods and share our expertise. Rather, we encourage a cyclical knowledge exchange with our users where decision-making processes are transparent. While we stated at the beginning of this blog that preservation is our primary duty, all of our work from re-packaging, arrangement, digitisation and migration and cataloguing is, in fact, all geared towards ensuring long-term accessibility for future generations. Even if we can’t make it available immediately, we’ll be working on it.[v]

Natalie and Katharine

To discuss any of our collections or to make an appointment please contact: archives@dmu.ac.uk

To find out more about our collections and work, visit #DMUHeritage Blog

Twitter: @DMUSpecial Colls Facebook: DMU Heritage

Instagram: dmuheritage


[i] The Stephen Lawrence Research Centre features a seminar room and communal study space as well as a permanent exhibition telling the story of Stephen’s life and murder and the legacy of Doreen Lawrence’s tireless work to achieve justice for her son. The exhibition includes several displays of items from the archival collection, Papers of Doreen Lawrence relating to the Stephen Lawrence Case. The collection is currently closed but it is hoped access arrangements will be finalised over the summer and made available to the public at Special Collections and via our online catalogue.

[ii] For further reading and examples of our work on archives and representation please visit our

#DMUHeritage Blog and Twitter @DMUSpecialColls.

[iii] Jass Thethi. Intersectional Glam. https://intersectionalglam.home.blog/ Accessed: 20/06/2019. Website

[iv] While work has started on creating an online catalogue for this collection and access is imminent, arrangements are still being finalised.

[v] The session created for the open day and this blog were both inspired in no small way by a module I have recently completed for the postgraduate qualification in Archives and Records Management at CAIS, Dundee which I am currently undertaking by distance learning.


 

A Day at the Archives …. The Times (News UK Archives)

Hélène Maloigne, University College London (UCL)

4 June 2019


Tucked away in the corner of an industrial estate in northeast London is one of the country’s most important newspaper archives. The News UK Archives, which incorporate The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The TLS among others, are housed by a records management firm in one of its large storage facilities in Enfield. The small reading room provides access for only two to three researchers at a time and boasts an impressive library of books in addition to the correspondence files and newspaper issues.

I visited the archive conducting research for my PhD thesis, which explores how archaeologists in the interwar period communicated with the public. My main sources for this are the texts, and the visual and aural materials written and created by archaeologists for a general public. They offer a unique and underexplored source for the historian of the discipline of archaeology as much as for the historian of the interwar period. The sheer volume of books, articles and radio talks attest to the popularity of archaeology – whether it was practiced in Britain or abroad – across society and throughout the period. Focussing on British archaeologists working in Iraq, I explore the collaborative, socially and historically rooted character of archaeology. The history of archaeology is often told as a procession of great discoveries, leading scholars like Ariadne’s thread along a linear path of progress towards knowledge and the refinement of method. The men making these discoveries are often portrayed as lone explorers in an uncivilized foreign country ‘discovering’ lost cities, similar to the image of the scientist making ground-breaking discoveries shut away alone in his laboratory. Yet, it has been conclusively shown that science – and the generation of knowledge more generally – never happens in a social or historical vacuum. Similarly, archaeology is a collaborative activity, especially excavation or fieldwork.

My own background is in archaeology of the Ancient Near East and I still work in the field during the summer excavation seasons. But over the years I have become interested in how we as archaeologists talk to non-specialists. Many people I meet have a particular period in the past they are fascinated by and have visited museums or read books or seen films about it. While most archaeologists roll their eyes when someone mentions Indiana Jones I fully embrace the impact this character – and the real-life inspirations for it I study – has had on the popular imagination.

The interwar period (the setting for the Indiana Jones films) is often called the golden age of archaeology. It was a time of spectacular discoveries such as the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, the amphitheatre at Caerleon in Wales, the Indus Valley civilization in modern-day Pakistan, or at Lubaantun in modern-day Belize. In the Middle East, archaeologists were working at Ur in southern Iraq, discovering the spectacular ‘Royal Graves’ of the 3rd millennium BC, digging down to the 5th millennium at Nineveh and finding a whole host of prehistoric sites which revolutionised the understanding of the development of urban spaces, the invention of writing, the domestication of animals and many other aspects of human society. The aesthetics of these ancient civilizations, so uncannily familiar and at the same time strikingly new, were taken up in modern art, fashion and applied arts, and clearly spoke to a wide range of readers (and listeners). This popularity allowed archaeologists with a talent for accessible writing to speak directly to their public.

Archaeology was, and still is, strongly intertwined with politics, the creation of national communities and, through its reliance on exploration and conquest, with the colonial and imperialist aspects of Western society. The demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War One had led to the creation of the British and French Mandate areas in the Middle East. The increase in archaeological activity in the 1920s and 1930s in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon was dependent and facilitated by the ease of access to governing bodies, transport routes and local labour well-connected archaeologists enjoyed. In turn, this propelled fieldwork and analytical methods ahead in great strides, leading to a professionalization of the discipline, which expressed itself in the founding of university institutes, professional societies and academic journals.

My research looks at this intersection of archaeology; the making of the professional archaeologist and the public fascination for her/his work.

This somewhat long-winded introduction thus leads us back to my visit to the News UK Archive. The interwar years were an age of mass media, especially newspapers. The archaeologists I study were shrewd publicisers of their work, and newspapers and magazines of the Twenties and Thirties abound with articles written by archaeologists reporting on their work. But writing a newspaper article that captures the attention of the lay reader on her morning commute or at home after a long day at the office or the factory requires very different skills than publishing in a scholarly journal or presenting at a conference, and not all archaeologists were equally good at it. Charles Leonard Woolley (1880–1960), my main case study, was one of them. Between 1922 and 1937 he published 58 articles about his excavations at Ur in The Times (in addition to a number of other newspapers), and it was these I was interested in exploring further.

Woolley never held a university or curatorial position after his return from World War One intelligence work (he spent part of the war as a PoW in a Turkish camp), focussing instead on a career in fieldwork. Before his appointment as the director of the Ur excavations in 1922, he had worked in modern-day Turkey, Britain, Italy, Sudan and Egypt. The Ur excavations were co-funded by the British Museum and the University Museum – now called the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – but the project suffered from chronic underfunding, exacerbated by the Great Depression from 1929 onwards. Writing newspaper articles was therefore not only a great way of announcing discoveries, it also contributed significantly to Woolley’s uncertain income.

The Times had made one of its most successful arrangements with Howard Carter (1874–1939) and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866–1923), the excavators of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which Carter discovered in 1922. The newspaper paid £5000 upfront for the exclusive rights to the story as well as for worldwide syndication. This demonstrated to readers, editors, newspaper proprietors and archaeologists alike that archaeology paid well. The Times thus approached Woolley proposing a similar arrangement, which he turned down, as he preferred not to be bound to one publication. Nevertheless, his articles appeared regularly in The Times and I wanted to know what price its editors put on archaeology. Unfortunately no correspondence between Woolley and staff at the newspaper’s offices survive, but Anne Jensen, Assistant Archivist at the News UK Archive, suggested I view microfilm copies of issues marked up with what a contributor had been paid for his or her article.

Figures 1 and 2: Marked-up copies of The Times, 7 July 1927

While I am mainly interested in articles published under the archaeologist’s name, these mark-ups are also particularly useful for understanding anonymous contributions, as the author’s name is recorded along with his fee. Woolley received between £3.2.0 in 1922 and £21.0.0 in 1928 for an article, the year of his major discoveries in the ‘Royal Graves’.[i] This wide scale is difficult to understand without further supporting archival material. The Times introduced its first picture page in 1922 or 1923 and photographs of the excavation were priced individually, usually at £1.0.0 or £1.1.0. Pictures, most often showing views of the site or objects, accompanied about half of the articles.

While article length and the number of images supplied certainly played a role, my research indicates that more significant, or rather more ‘spectacular’, discoveries commanded higher fees. But Woolley wrote not only about gods, graves and gold vessels; he also capitalized on the foreign and ‘exotic’ setting of his work. He often wrote about the people he worked with, and the support he received from his wife Katharine Elizabeth Woolley (1888–1945), an archaeologist, illustrator and author in her own right, and his foreman and life-long friend Sheik Hamoudi ibn Ibrahim el Awassi (c. 1875–1953). In these ‘life on a dig’ articles he talked about months spent in a barren landscape, working long hours, often from sunrise well into the night, overseeing a workforce of up to 400 men, and excavating anything from monumental temple towers to tiny fragments of gold leaf. These reports proved popular with The Times readers (as well as The Daily Mail, The Observer, and The Illustrated London News, where he also published) and Woolley wrote three to five of these per year, in addition to articles describing excavation results. The fees for these two types of articles did not differ substantially; the mark-ups show a range between £5 and £17 across the years I looked at.

The development of archaeology as a discipline is intricately bound up with its place in society. The better an archaeologist was at popularising his work and connecting with the public, the more successful he was in securing funding, commanding a place amongst his peers and subsequently contributing to the maturing of the discipline. We therefore must look beyond internalist accounts of methodological or theoretical ‘progress’ and the string of ‘great discoveries’ to understand how knowledge is created and shared both among professionals and with the public. Newspaper articles and archival material contribute substantially to this task and researchers will find a wealth of unexplored sources at News UK Archives.

Further information on the News UK Archives can be found at:

@NewsUKArchives

https://newslicensing.co.uk/en/page/show_home_page.html

The archive is open to accredited researchers on 2 days per week by appointment only. It is located near Southbury station in Enfield, north London.

Contact News UK Archives on: archive-sm@news.co.uk


[i]      The conversion of worth into current terms is notoriously difficult. https://www.measuringworth.com/index.php [Accessed 1 April 2019]


Hélène Maloigne is completing her PhD at the Department of History at UCL. Her study looks at the way in which British archaeologists working in the Middle East in the interwar period communicated with the public via books, newspapers and radio broadcasts. She has studied archaeology, ancient languages and art history in Switzerland and museum studies at UCL. She has worked in museums in Switzerland and the UK, as a teaching assistant at UCL and, since 2012, as the small finds registrar at the Tell Atchana/ancient Alalakh excavations in Turkey.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

  • Archives