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.
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:
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
[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.
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