What role has archaeology played in the post-Second World War world? How was archaeological practice involved in the Cold War, and what was its role in the anti-colonial struggle and the construction of post-colonial nation states? How has archaeology been practised in the nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, and how has it been involved in the construction (pejorative or otherwise) of the Third World? How, also, have archaeological practices been related to the construction of economics as a (or the?) major structuring discipline of our times? I want to address these and other questions, and this blog is a place for me to start to think about them.
Naming the blog “Worldly Practices” nods to two points. The first is that archaeology, often viewed as an irrelevant and somewhat esoteric discipline, has played a significant role in the making of conceptions of the world and how to order it. The second is that these conceptions are tied to the very place of the discipline within that world: the embedded and localised form of archaeological field work means that the discipline’s practitioners and their modes of enquiry have materially shaped (and been shaped by) cultures and practices the world over – not least those cultures and practices related to governance. This blog provides one way of thinking about how.
My name is William Carruthers, and in September 2014 I will take up a Max Weber postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence; I have recently submitted a doctoral dissertation to the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where I also co-organised the Mellon/Newton-funded “Field Notes: Histories of Archaeology and Anthropology” seminar at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. My dissertation, which was funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, deals with the histories of Egyptological and archaeological practice in Egypt during the years immediately following the 1952 Free Officers’ coup (and also the connection of these histories to Egypt in the interwar period). As a postdoc, I plan to extend this work to encompass the UNESCO-backed archaeological salvage campaign that took place in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia during the 1960s: a campaign that sheds much greater light on the relationship of archaeology to the themes (and global contexts) covered by this blog.
My interest in this research relates to my academic and professional background. In 2006, I gained a BA in Egyptian Archaeology from University College London, and in 2009 I received an MA in Research Methods for Archaeology from the same institution. I have spent significant amounts of time in Egypt, living there for part of 2005, from 2006 to 2008, and again from 2011 to 2012. During that time, I learned Arabic, conducted archival research, and also worked in the connected sectors of archaeology/heritage/development.
During my earlier years in Egypt, I found the complex relationship between archaeological work and politics more interesting than the archaeological work itself. I therefore turned towards history as a means of untangling this (often problematic) interaction, whose potency is illustrated by events since January 2011, amongst them contention surrounding Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. A more nuanced understanding of the history of archaeological practice in the country is one means of explaining why this contention exists, and also how it relates to much wider contexts, too. I address this point in my introduction to a forthcoming volume on the histories of Egyptology that I have edited for Routledge. In this blog, however, I hope to go further towards providing this understanding as I write about the post-War context more generally.