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.
Sarah is Lecturer in modern Middle Eastern history at Staffordshire University. Interview with Dr Amara Thornton, IoA History of Archaeology Network Coordinator.
AT: How would you define history of archaeology?
SI: I’m not sure I’m properly a historian of archaeology – I’m more of an interloper who uses historical records of archaeology to look at social and gender history – so I’m not sure it’s entirely my place to define it. But from my perspective it’s the history of how archaeological and the search for material remains of human activity is carried out, not just by professionals in the field but also in terms of its relationships with the people surrounding it – labourers, farmers on archaeological land, guards and museum attendants, people who read about and watch films of archaeology, interact with it in exhibitions and in discussions… and so on.
AT What is your area of research in the history of archaeology?
SI: I primarily look at the role of ordinary Palestinians and other people from the Levant region in the conduct of archaeology in Late Ottoman and Mandate Palestine. This ranges from educated Christian Lebanese who worked at supervisors on excavations for the Palestine Excavation Fund for many years and who became quite significant figures in how the archaeology of their period was enacted and interpreted, to women and men from nearby villages who were manual labourers on excavations, perhaps only for a total of a few months, or to some of the (usually but not always) nameless guards and other workers who were employed by the Department of Antiquities of the British Mandate administration in Palestine, or the lower-level dealers and go-between from the Palestinian Syriac Orthodox community who were the conduit by which various museums acquired the Dead Sea Scrolls.
AT: How did you become interested in the history of archaeology?
SI: In a parallel universe I went to university nearly 30 years ago and stuck with the archaeology I started then. In actual fact the course at Cambridge bored me so badly that I switched to anthropology – I should have stood up to my school better and gone to Sheffield, but who makes good decisions at 18? I went back to university to do a PhD in my late 30s and became a social historian of Palestine, but by various roundabout routes (involving looking for something completely different in the archives of the PEF) I’ve ended up combining the two in a lot of my work.
AT: Are you working on anything in particular related to the history of archaeology right now?
SI: Although my main research project at the moment isn’t history of archaeology – it’s on the 1927 earthquake in Palestine, so it does still have overlaps with the material environment and how that affects history – I am working on a couple of papers in HoA. One is for a conference next spring run by Michael Press at Agder University, for which I’ll be looking at the sale of antiquities, including Dead Sea Scrolls jars, by the Department of Antiquities/Palestine Archaeological Museum in the Mandate and Jordanian periods. I also have an article coming out in Jerusalem Quarterly taking a long-view look at the lives and working conditions of guards on archaeological sites in the Mandate period, especially at Athlit and Jericho, and how those intersect with the broader political situation in the country, and I’ll be speaking on the same broad subject at a Bade Museum/PEF online talk later this month.
AT: What, from your experience, is the most meaningful thing you've come across in history of archaeology research and why?
SI: The archives from the pre-WWI Harvard University excavations at Sebastia, which are at the Harvard Semitic Museum, include the fortnightly pay lists, which means they have long lists of the names of every worker on the site, men and women, how many days they worked during that period, and how much they were paid. Given how little we know about the lives of ordinary Palestinians over a century ago, how much information has been lost in the wars since, and how many Palestinians have been displaced as refugees, to able to get that snapshot of what such a large group of people were doing is amazing. Archaeological records aren’t often on the radar of social historians but sometimes they can be amazingly rich sources.
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.
SI: Given my subject area, the main ones would be other explorations of workers on archaeological sites, so Stephen Quirke’s Hidden Hands: Egyptian Workforces in Petrie Excavation Archives, 1880–1924, parts of Elliott Colla’s Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity and Donald Malcolm Reid’s books Contested Antiquities in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums and the Struggle for Identities from WWI to Nasser and Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to WWI, and of course Amara Thornton’s investigations of archaeology in Palestine during the Mandate period. Going beyond books, I’d also like to flag up Unsilencing the Archives[https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/9eb391c6f57f4399a58ecf9b818e6762], an online exhibition curated by Melissa Cradic and Samuel Pfister, which is an amazing look at the workers at Tel en-Nasbeh during the Mandate period and which includes video footage from the late 1920s of archaeological labourers at work.
AT: Is there a key object/ image/ text from an archive that inspires you or that you keep revisiting?
SI: There is a photograph in the PEF archives of two Palestinian women at the Tel Jezar site, I think during R.A.S. Macalister’s excavations there, sieving for small finds. One of them is looking straight into the camera. She’s mid-work, sitting on the earth, staring at us with a really no-bullshit look on her face. She’s just as much part of the history of archaeology as a guy in a pith helmet and puttees whose name is on all the publications about Gezer, and I want to know as much as I can about her life.
AT: Any advice for those interested in starting research on the history of archaeology?
SI: The best information is never where you expect to find it. To amend a well-known saying, the best way to make the Gods laugh is to tell them your (research) plans – my most exciting finds have always been accidents, usually when I’m looking for something completely different.
AT: From your perspective, what are the key issues in the history of archaeology right now?
SI: I would say that getting away from the Indiana Jones/dead white men view of archaeology is one of the biggest things – especially decolonisation, but also finding the female, black, Muslim, gay, Arab, Asian, indigenous, non-literate, working-class etc etc people who contributed to archaeology but whose names aren’t in the published records. And moving on from that, communicating this so that the public view of archaeology (and perhaps even more the view of TV producers) evolves away from treasure and ‘exploration’ to some more nuanced understandings of who does/did archaeology, why, and what its impacts were for their lives and communities.
AT: How can people learn more about your research (personal blog, twitter, etc)?
SI: I rant a lot on twitter at @DrTermagant, and am less ranty on my project twitter handle at @JerichoQuake27. Otherwise, my profile page on the Staffordshire University website (when that goes up) should list publications and have access to those which are open access, and have information on my current research.
Debbie is Education and Outreach Officer at the London School of Economics Library. She and I discussed many things including racism in the history of archaeology, emotions in the history of archaeology, making connections to wider histories and contexts, and the importance of good metadata in archives. Listen to our conversation here.
You can find Debbie's two posts on Hilda Petrie and suffrage, written for this website here.
Debbie's work published open access:
Challis, D., 2016. Skull Triangles: Flinders Petrie, Race Theory and Biometrics. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 26(1), p.Art. 5. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/bha-556 Open Access
Challis, Debbie and Romain, Gemma (2015), A Fusion of Worlds. A / AS Level Learning Resource on the Equiano Centre Website, (Department of Geography UCL): https://www.ucl.ac.uk/equiano-centre/educational-resources/fusion-worlds/context/ancient-egypt-culture-and-barbarism [accessed 13 July 2020].
2021: ‘Back to Back: Babies, Bodies, Boxes’ in Carruthers, W. 2021. Special Issue: Inequality and Race in the Histories of Archaeology. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, X(X): X, pp. 1–19. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bha-660
With Daniel Payne, ‘Giving Peace a Chance: Archives engagement at LSE Library’, Andrew H. W. Smith (ed.), Paper Trails. The social life of archives and collections, UCL Press: https://ucldigitalpress.co.uk/BOOC/3
2019, ‘Seeing Race in Biblical Egypt: Edwin Longsden Long’s Anno Domini (1883) and A. H. Sayce’s The Races of the Old Testament (1891)’, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 28(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.444.2041-9015.1128
Debbie has put work she is now allowed to share and the introduction to her two books up here: https://lse.academia.edu/DebbieChallis
Debbie's recent talk has been recorded and is available: https://events.bizzabo.com/aep/agenda/session/651358 (Registration needed)
Other work referenced in the interview:
Davies, Vanessa, 2019-20. W. E. B Du Bois, a new voice in Egyptology’s disciplinary history, ANKH. Can download from Academia: https://www.academia.edu/42746258/W._E._B._Du_Bois_a_new_voice_in_Egyptologys_disciplinary_history
Gunning, Lucia Patrizio, 2021. Cultural Diplomacy in the acquisition of the head of the Satala Aphrodite for the British Museum. Journal of the History of Collections, fhab025, https://doi.org/10.1093/jhc/fhab025.
Books with the most influence on Debbie when doing her PhD include Dominic Montserrat (2000) Akhenaten and Digging for Dreams, Ian Hodder and Scot Hudson (2003) Reading the Past. Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology and Sven Lindqvist (1997) ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’.
A book that influenced Debbie's writing The Archaeology of Race is Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins (ed.) The Object Reader (2009).
The most recent and compelling books that I’ve read using archives, history, politics and objects are Phillippe Sande The Ratline (2020), Dan Hicks The Brutish Museum (2020) and Richard Overy Burning the books. Knowledge Under Attack (2020)
Heba Abd El Gawad is an Egyptian Egyptologist and project researcher on the Egypt's Dispersed Heritage project (more information on the project below). She was co-curator of the Beyond Beauty exhibition at Two Temple Place in 2016 and the Listen to Her! exhibition at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology in 2018. We discussed the emotional impact of history of archaeology research, the role of social justice in the history of archaeology, and the ongoing legacies of colonialism.
You can listen to our discussion here.
The inspirational text Heba mentions in the discussion is by Egyptian geographer Gamal Habdan (1928-1993), a graduate of both Cairo University and the University of Reading. The work Heba refers to is entitled مجموعة شخصية مصر دراسة فى عبقرية المكان 4 أجزاء (The Character of Egypt).
The quote from Amelia Edwards' 1877 book A Thousand Miles Up the Nile that Heba references in our discussion is:
"I may say, indeed, that our life here was one long pursuit of the pleasures of the chase. The game, it is true, was prohibited; but we enjoyed it none the less because it was illegal. Perhaps we enjoyed it the more" (p.449-450)
Heba has provided links to a number of additional project outputs:
a) Who owns Egyptian heritage? podcast with Manchester Museum
b) Our public panel on the legacies of Western colonialism on ancient Egypt and the link between ancient and modern Egypt chaired by BBC's Samira Ahmed at the National Museum in Scotland listen to this podcast
c) You can listen to Heba discussing the Egypt's Dispersed Heritage project and her experience in curation in the latest episode of The Wonder House podcast, published Jan 2021.
d) Heba has also been interviewed for the Manchester Museum podcast, published Feb 2021.
Social Media Accounts
The Egypt Dispersed Heritage project on Twitter and Facebook
Project partnership with Egyptian comic artists producing Egyptian comic strips and graphic novels to confront colonial legacies of ancient Egyptian displays in Western museums, you can check out our interview with Digital Hammurabi and our comic artists' discussion panel for Everyday Orientalism.
Human Remains webinar
Your mummies, their ancestors webinar on the ethics of displaying and researching human remains in partnership with Egypt Exploration Society and Everyday Orientalism.
a) For the Egypt Dispersed Heritage partnership with the Egypt Exploration Society to unpack its colonial legacy check this blog entry
b) Project partnership with National Museum in Scotland check this English webpage and Arabic here.
Our project as Arab leading for Digital Comics during COVID 19
a) Project in Egyptian Online News Network
b) Project Comics in Egyptian Online News Network
c) Project on Egyptian National TV
Dr Lenia Kouneni is Associate Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews. She has been researching and publishing on the history of archaeology and the history of collections in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, and the early 20th century, particularly in the latter case excavations at the Great Palace in Istanbul. This excavation was sponsored by David Russell, a Scottish philanthropist and industrialist, via the Walker Trust (for more information, see Lenia's 2018 blog post on artefacts from Jericho now held at the National Museum of Scotland). In addition to this work we discussed the allure of historic photographs and the importance of secretaries to our knowledge of archives and collections.
You can listen to our discussion here.
Miss Ilse Bell is the Secretary that Lenia introduces during our conversation. She has provided more details below:
David Russell's personal secretary was Miss Ilse Bell. She became indispensable to him. She started working for him in 1917 until Russell's death in 1956. She translated articles for him, kept photographs organised and the correspondence too. She was an avid intrepid mountaineer and she spent all her holidays climbing mountains. Apart from the archaeological work of the Great Palace, she was also greatly involved in the Recording Scotland Project of the Pilgrim Trust during WWII.
Lenia has a forthcoming chapter relevant to her discussion:
Kouneni, Lenia (forthcoming 2021) ‘ “By Scottish Munificence”: The Walker Trust Excavations of the Great Palace in Istanbul, 1935–1955.’ In Discovering Byzantium in Istanbul: Scholars, Institutions, and Challenges (1800–1955). Istanbul Research Institute.
Barkan, Leonard, 1999. Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture. Yale University Press.
Riggs, Christina, 2019. Photographing Tutankhamun: Archaeology, Ancient Egypt, and the Archive. London: Bloomsbury.
Stevenson, Alice, 2019. Scattered Finds: Archaeology, Egyptology and Museums. London: UCL Press.
Meskell, Lynn (ed.), 1998. Archaeology Under Fire Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Routledge.
Hicks, Dan, 2020. The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. Pluto Press.
Maddy Pelling is an art historian specialising in the history of archaeology and collecting in the 18th and early 19th centuries. She is currently working on a postdoctoral project on the history of women antiquarians in the UK during this period. We discuss the evidence for women excavating, researching and publicising the material culture of the past, and the importance of local contexts, identity and colonialism in the history of archaeology.
Listen to our conversation here.
Follow Maddy on twitter @maddypelling.
Read Maddy's comments on the excavations at Warminster in the online edition of Vestuta Monumenta.
Listen to Maddy's paper, "Digging Up the Past: Contested Territories and Women Archaeologists in 1780s Britain and Ireland" at the Open Digital Seminar in 18th Century Studies.
Lake, Crystal. 2020. Artifacts: How We Think and Write About Found Objects. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Raiders of the Lost Past with Janina Ramirez: The Sutton Hoo Hoard (BBC4)