Subha is is a final year PhD candidate at King's College London. In a slight departure from the usual questions in this series, this interview highlights the role of biography in the history of archaeology, through the case study of late 19th/early 20th century British archaeologist Nina Frances Layard. Interview with Dr Amara Thornton, IoA History of Archaeology Network Coordinator.
AT: Tell us a bit about Nina Layard.
SRW: Nina Frances Layard was born in 1853 in Essex. Her interests in archaeology was publicised when she moved to Ipswich in 1889. Here, Layard was responsible for unearthing instrumental archaeological discoveries that would gain her reputation as one of the leading archaeologists during her time.
Layard’s discoveries at Foxhall Road between 1902-1905 where she unearthed a Palaeolithic brickearth is one of her most cited legacies in discourses about her archaeological career. Though, Layard’s excavations expanded beyond provincial spaces and gained her recognition in prestigious scientific institutions. Her excavations of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Hadleigh Road in 1906 led to her Fellowship at the Anthropological Institute and later the Linnean Society (1906).
In 1921, Layard was one of the first elected woman Fellows at the Society of Antiquaries. She was also Editor of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology& Natural History journal. As a devout Evangelical Anglican, Layard’s theological beliefs were never separated from her scientific thinking. Her interest in Evolutionary Theory in 1890 led to a wave of debates and a newfound audience due to her challenging of Darwin’s theory of ‘Reversions.’ Here, we see the intellectual rigour of Layard’s ideas in reckoning with the authority of religion in the scientific debates during her time. Layard presented these ideas by speaking at a range of institutions across the country including the British Association and the Victoria Institute.
She was also a regular scientific writer for the Science-Gossip Magazine and was an acquaintance with the editor at the time Dr John Ellor Taylor. Apart from her scientific and archaeological interests, Layard had a unique poetic identity. Citing influences like Robert Browning, Layard adopted complex poetic verses to draw links between her scientific and religious ideologies. As a woman navigating her role as an archaeologist and scientist within institutions which were dominated by men, Layard confronted the discriminations she faced by affirming her authority and presence within masculinised, heteronormative scientific spaces.
Although Layard’s relationship with Mary Frances Outram was not publicised during her time, the portrayal of their relationship and the expressions of their desire is important to integrate in writing about Nina Layard.
For full biographical details see Steven Plunkett: Miss Layard Excavated: a Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich, 1903-1905 (2004)
AT: What drew you to researching Nina Layard?
SRW: I first encountered Nina Layard’s work during my MA when I was researching the receptions of Austen Henry Layard in the popular press for my MA dissertation. A large part of Austen Henry Layard’s archival records are held at the National Library in Scotland and it was through looking at letters and correspondences there that I learnt about Nina Layard’s archaeological contributions in Ipswich. I came across an interview with Dr Sarah Irving and she describes how she encounters the most exciting finds by accident and I really resonate with this in reflecting about how I came to research Nina Layard.
In the early stages of my research of Nina Layard I looked first at how she was represented in the press. There still isn’t much secondary criticism or engagement with Layard’s work so a lot about her work and life is contained within her archival material and press reports of her. I noticed how common it was to find newspapers describing Nina Layard as the niece of Austen Henry Layard as a way of establishing her relevance.
By the late-nineteenth century, Austen Henry Layard was known nationally for his excavations at Nineveh but Nina Layard’s work wasn’t popularised on the same scale so newspaper editors introduced her by her association to Austen Henry Layard. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the national press and indeed provincial papers were captured by archaeological excavations and expeditions at sites in the Near East and Egypt. In response, this profile of the archaeologist as the heroic, authoritative figure, problematically linked to the imperial legacies of these excavations were featured more prominently in the press and in turn, archaeological work that didn’t engage with these excavations were not represented on the same scale and therefore remained less accessible.
What interests me about Layard is that the press is how Layard self-fashions her identity as an archaeologist - through her relationship with the printing press. From 1898 onwards, she begin writing a regular column for the East Anglian Daily Times and in these columns, Layard wrote about the excavations she led and sometimes published historical insights of Ipswich. In taking up this space in the press, Layard’s writing is in itself a kind of resistance to the colonial, imperial narratives that were publicised in this period. My research begins by looking at the relationship between Layard and the provincial press and how she shapes her legacy through this space.
AT: What in your opinion makes Nina Layard a significant figure?
SRW: Nina Layard’s contributions to areas of prehistoric archaeology, Evolutionary Theory, botany and literature suggests the breadth of Layard’s intellectual pursuits. While she was by no means the first woman to hold multiple interests, Layard pursued her academic interests independently and was persistent in her commitments to articulating and publicising her ideas alongside well-known scientists during her time. Her multifaceted and often intertwining interests makes her work complicated to synthesize independently; instead it’s important to recognise how her literary, activist and religious ideologies are interwoven in her archaeological thinking.
One of the areas where this is particularly prominent is in her poetry where Layard’s Evangelical Anglican background informs the ways in which she reads and reconciles with the past. While Layard cites poets like Robert Browning whose poetic style is echoed in the construction of her poetic verses, situating Layard’s thinking and writing amongst her contemporaries highlights her unique way of drawing together a multiple ideas and concepts to reassess the past calls to an interdisciplinary approach to deconstructing her work.
AT: How have you integrated Layard's literary and archaeological work in writing up your research?
SRW: Although Layard’s poetry has not gained sustained engagement in recent scholarship, her poems received critical acclaim and public recognition during her time. Encouraged by the critic and poet Andrew Lang, Layard’s poems were published in prestigious platforms such as Longman’s and Harper’s magazine. Like the rest of her oeuvre, Layard’s poetry is not defined by a single theme, instead her poetic verses are reflective of the rich depth of her curiosities: ranging from archaeological reckonings to other scientific dwellings including her interest in botany and natural selection as well as her preoccupations with issues concerning religion and romantic desire.
Taking into consideration the broad themes that are imbued in her poetry, my second chapter places Layard’s scientific thinking within the context of the relationship between literature and science. Here, I’m thinking more specifically of Michael Shanks’s theory of the archaeological imagination and how Layard’s poems which explore archaeological and antiquarian themes rely on the literary verse to access narratives of the past.
AT: What, from your experience, is the most meaningful thing you've come across in researching Nina Layard?
SRW: Spending a large part of this PhD in Nina Layard’s archives which is located at the Hold in Ipswich has been tremendously rewarding. Her archival material - from her unpublished writings, photographs, letters of correspondence with leading scientists and curators of the time shows us Layard’s scientific and creative authority she held in all stages of her career from her excavation work to the curatorial representations of her work.
Alongside my research on Nina Layard, I have particularly enjoyed researching and writing about Layard’s partner, Mary Frances Outram who was hugely integral to Layard’s professional success. In regards to Layard’s archaeological pursuits alone, Outram frequently accompanied Layard to excavation sites and utilised her painting and watercolour skills to provide illustrations for Layard’s archaeological sketches. In incorporating a queer reading here, I am interested in how the expression of their queerness in the archaeological site instigates expansive and non-normative ways of thinking about archaeological practices and how this was presented to the public.
AT: In your opinion, what is Layard's legacy and in what ways would you present Layard's life and legacy to the public?
SRW: Layard’s legacy is quite multifaceted. Her contributions to archaeology, poetry and evolutionary theory were challenged traditional beliefs during her time. I think it would be useful to interrogate her rich archival resources and exhibit them in some way. These materials not only give an insight into Layard’s work but also demonstrates the communities she helped and worked with, the political debates she was engaged in and the social issues she cared about. Additionally, I think a biopic on Layard’s life will also be quite extraordinary!
AT: Do you have any favourite books (academic or popular) that you've found particularly useful for your research on Layard?
SRW: Amara Thornton’s Archaeologies in Print (2018) is a crucial book in thinking about how influential publishing was for publicising and accessing women’s archaeological writing.
Clare Stainthorp’s Constance Naden; Scientist, Philosopher, Poet (2019) offers a critical and comprehensive approach to researching an individual who was overlooked in the Victorian period. Stainthorp’s theoretical underpinnings offer critical insights into how to structure research on a single individual and their multiple legacies.
Andrew Hobbs’s article on ‘How local newspapers came to dominate Victorian poetry publishing’ (2014) has been really useful in thinking about how the provincial press was instrumental to shaping local readerships and literary communities in local towns.
Alice Procter’s The Whole Picture: The colonial story of the art in our museums (2020) is also a really important and crucial book to read.
AT: Do you have any advice for researchers embarking on research about an individual related to archaeology?
SRW: Researching Layard’s work demonstrates really clearly that an individual’s contributions to archaeology can be wholly understood if we take into consideration the communities they were part of, who they were in conversation with and how these influences impacted their thinking. To access this information, engaging with archival work and historical records of the individual’s relationship with these networks and institutions allows us to contextualise their contributions to archaeology more truthfully.
Looking into the reception of an individual’s archaeological work also highlights how their discourse travelled and how forms of this archaeological knowledge were reconstructed based on the spaces they occupied. One way of looking into this is whether the individual engaged with spaces beyond the metropolitan, where perhaps access to scientific and archaeological institutions were less prominent. Also important to explore how non-scientific networks were equally as important to formalising an individual's archaeological works
AT: From your perspective, what are the key issues to reflect on in how we research and write about individual women who were notable in the past?
SRW: In regards to Layard, I found it useful to start by looking for current discourse about her work and how/if scholars were writing about Layard and in what context. It's useful to look into the gaps of knowledge that exist and to interrogate why specific histories are omitted from current discourses. This of course then brings us to thinking about the shifts in the political and cultural context over time and how scholars have reconsidered the representation of women in the past. In this regard, a historiographical and biographical approach offers a more nuanced approach into how women navigated archaeological institutions and spaces that were not always accessible to women. I think it's also helpful to look at how women were represented beyond scholarly contexts and how other forms of media are more transparent about women’s lives and contributions to the discipline.
AT: How can people learn more about your research (personal blog, twitter, etc)?
SRW: I am currently writing about Nina Layard’s articles in the East Anglian Daily Times for the Journal of Victorian Culture which I am hoping will be out later this year.
Martyn is Senior Researcher in the Aerial Investigation and Mapping team, Historic England. Interview with Dr Amara Thornton, IoA History of Archaeology Network Coordinator.
AT: How would you define history of archaeology?
MB: I’m not sure that I’d want to… I think it’s more important to recognise that every aspect of modern archaeological practice has a history, and that history is more likely than not to be messy, complex, and not confined to the archaeological literature. And, of course, that history isn’t disconnected from the present.
AT: What is your area of research in the history of archaeology?
MB: The main things currently are (i) the various archives (and other sources) relating to OGS Crawford; (ii) the history and development of aerial archaeology; and (iii) the history of Stonehenge and its landscape. The Venn Diagram would show considerable overlap between these three, and of course, there’s a potentially vast range of topics covered by them.
AT: How did you become interested in the history of archaeology?
MB: I think this goes back to my undergraduate days at Birmingham, and reading things like Chris Chippindale’s Stonehenge Complete, then still in its first edition (does he regret the title?), alongside Shanks & Tilley’s Re-Constructing Archaeology and Social Theory and Archaeology. More important, though, was one of the bits of coursework we were required to do - detailed survey of the history and archaeology of your home parish, and I realised I quite enjoyed digging in to the lives and times of the various obscure antiquarians and their curious ways. Some weird stuff happened in Westgate-on-Sea. Probably still does.
AT: Are you working on anything in particular related to the history of archaeology right now?
MB: Always… There are several things ongoing (does mentioning them here commit me to finishing them?). With Crawford, there are many topics vying for attention – at present, I’m primarily interested in the earliest (pre-1920) stages of his archaeological career, especially the influence of Oxford-taught geography and anthropology on his ideas about prehistory. I’m also interested in his unofficial advisory role with Phoenix Press in the 1950s, in which he essentially had power of veto over publication proposals for books on archaeology, anthropology and history. He was paid mainly in cigars.
As far as Stonehenge is concerned, I’m mainly interested in various goings-on during the later 19th century, a period that has been misrepresented somewhat in many of the main texts covering the period. I’m also working through the various myths that have emerged over the last 100 years or so (no, the RAF didn’t ask for the stones to be knocked down; no, you couldn’t hire a hammer to chip bits off the stones; etc), which might sound a tad frivolous, but the reasons for their emergence and persistence are closely tied to particular narratives about Stonehenge, especially in relation to questions of ownership and access.
With aerial photography, the later 19th century again remains a period of particular interest. Thanks to a stroke of good fortune, some of the earliest surviving aerial photographs taken over England (by Cecil Shadbolt between 1882 and 1890) are now in the Historic England Archive at Swindon, so I hope to be taking a closer look at what he was up to. That’s going to have to wait until I can get to the British Library, among other places, again.
AT: What, from your experience, is the most exciting thing you've come across in history of archaeology research and why?
MB: Viewing the Shadbolt collection of photographs (actually his own set of glass lantern slides for use in public lectures) for the first time was particularly memorable. He was a key figure in the early days of photography from balloons, but when I wrote A History of Aerial Photography and Archaeology (publ. 2011) I couldn’t track down any of his photographs, and had only seen two reproduced in print. This collection contained 27, all but one taken over London. They appeared a few years ago at an auction house just down the road from the HE Swindon office, still in Shadbolt’s own wooden slide-box. As an aside, can I encourage everyone to try to stop automatically putting the words ‘hot air’ in front of the word ‘balloon’. Think gas instead.
Many of the more memorable things I’ve seen came to my attention because someone else had spotted them first and told me about them. With the Shadbolt slides, it was my (now retired) colleague Ian Leith. Collections like that seldom escaped his attention. It was a similar case with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings’ (SPAB) files on Stonehenge. My colleague Rebecca Lane mentioned these to me when we were working on the Stonehenge Landscape project at English Heritage (now Historic England), which was published as The Stonehenge Landscape (Bowden et al 2015). Rebecca was looking at some of the more interesting buildings in the World Heritage Site, but the SPAB files related specifically to Stonehenge itself, and mainly to the period from c1890-1902. They included correspondence from the likes of Pitt Riversand Philip Webb, and underlined the extent of the Arts & Crafts influence on the third Sir Edmund Antrobus’ custodianship of Stonehenge and on the 1901 ‘restoration’ work, including William Gowland’s excavations. Some of this is discussed in Restoring Stonehenge… As far as I can tell, they hadn’t been cited before – the involvement of architects at Stonehenge has been a bit of a blind spot as far as the archaeological history of the site is concerned. Detmar Blow, the architect who was actually in charge on site in 1901, is seldom if ever mentioned in accounts of Gowland’s work, and while the latter’s report (published in Archaeologia in 1902) is frequently referred to, Blow’s report, also published in 1902, wasn’t cited in an archaeological publication until Bowden et al 2015.
AT: Do you have any favourite books (academic or popular) related to the history of archaeology? Titles and authors would be great, and a few thoughts as to why.
MB: Adam Stout’s Creating Prehistory and Kitty Hauser’s Shadow Sites (as well as her Crawford biography Bloody Old Britain) are books I’d happily recommend to anyone interested in the history of British archaeology, and particularly prehistory and aerial archaeology, prior to WW2. In fact, everyone should read them, whatever your interests, Another book I’m always surprised that many people don’t know about is Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity. As the blurb says, ‘Objectivity has a history, and it’s full of surprises’. No home should be without it.
AT: Is there a key object/ image/ text from an archive that inspires you or that you keep revisiting?
MB: There are plenty, but the one that springs immediately to mind is a letter in the Crawford archive at the Bodleian which he wrote while a PoW at Holzminden in 1918. Scrawled in tiny handwriting on thin paper, it was smuggled out by one of the men who took part in the famous tunnel escape. In it, Crawford refers to another letter sent to his friend, the archaeologist Harold Peake, which apparently contained a code to use in future ‘official’ correspondence between the two. Unfortunately, that letter does not survive. Peake’s subsequent letters to Crawford do… I haven’t spotted anything yet. I think it was Kitty Hauser who suggested that the use of code might explain why Peake’s letters are so dull.
AT: Any advice for those interested in starting research on the history of archaeology?
MB: Plenty of good advice has been offered so far by others in this series. I think the main thing I’d add is the need to be prepared to look well beyond the archaeological archives and literature – I’ve seen too many articles where the focus is incredibly narrow. For instance, understanding Crawford’s work and its influence requires delving into Victorian and Edwardian geography and anthropology, disciplines with their own traditions and histories of practice. With Stonehenge in the 19th century, contemporary art, literature, newspapers and magazines are essential sources but again, they’re not things that can be quickly dipped in to for the extraction of key ‘facts’.
AT: From your perspective, what are the key issues in the history of archaeology right now?
MB: I think I’d just reiterate the point about everything having a history – I read too many books and articles that refer to ideas, interpretations, practices etc without any apparent acknowledgement of this.
AT: How can people learn more about your research (personal blog, twitter, etc)?
MB: I try to make sure everything I publish or contribute to is accessible in some form or other at, or via, Academia.edu. Personal twittering occurs @MartynBarber2, and I am also responsible for some of the posts emanating from the @HE_Archaeology account, mainly the ones with aerial photos in.
Barber. M (2011) A History of Aerial Photography and Archaeology. Mata Hari’s Glass Eye and Other Stories(English Heritage: Swindon)
Barber, M (2014) ‘Restoring’ Stonehenge 1881-1939 (English Heritage Research Report 6/2014) https://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15238
Blow, D (1902) The Architectural Discoveries of 1901 at Stonehenge. Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 3rd Series vol 9, 121-142
Bowden, M et al (2015) The Stonehenge Landscape. Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site(Historic England: Swindon)
Chippindale, C (1983) Stonehenge Complete (1st ed, Thames & Hudson: London)
Daston, L & P Galison (2010) Objectivity (Zone Books: Brooklyn)
Gowland, W (1902) Recent Excavations at Stonehenge. Archaeologia vol 58 (1), 37-118
Hauser, K (2007) Shadow Sites: Photography, Archaeology, & the British Landscape 1927-1955 (Oxford University Press: Oxford)
Hauser, K (2008) Bloody Old Britain. OGS Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life (Granta: London)
Lane, R (2011) Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape Project: Architectural Assessment (English Heritage Research Report 42/2011) https://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=14994
Shanks, M & C Tilley (1987) Social Theory and Archaeology (Polity Press: Cambridge)
Shanks, M & C Tilley (1987) Re-Constructing Archaeology: Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge)
Stout, A (2008) Creating Prehistory: Druids, Ley Hunters and Archaeologists in Pre-war Britain (Blackwells: Oxford)