Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and the History of Archaeology

by YPU Admin on June 1, 2017. Tags: archaeology, Egypt, history, Humanities, India, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Charlotte Coull, and I'm a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester, based in the History department. I did both my undergraduate and masters degrees at Manchester, both in History, and was extremely excited to be offered both a PhD place and funding (the History department's own Elsie Farrar award) to continue my studies here. As part of my PhD I also lead seminars with undergraduate students, and have chosen to work as a Widening Participation Fellow because I firmly believe everyone should feel able to go to university if they wish.

In the future I'm hoping to get into public History, and connect with people about my research and encourage them to explore history in general, as knowledge is for everyone! 


In Depth

Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my subject area to them- what I actually do is look at the history of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with no digging involved! I study the work of British archaeologists in India and Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I want to know how they decided what to dig up and study, how they wrote about the artefacts they found, and what they did with those artefacts afterwards (are they in Britain, are they in a museum basement, or did they stay in countries they were discovered in?). I also want to know how discovering the history of Egypt and India changed the way Britain thought about her own history, and why Ancient Egypt is so present in our minds today (think Pyramids, mummies etc) whereas Ancient India is not so well known.

Studying two countries may seem intimidating at first, but I find you can use comparative history to fully open up an area to explore: for example, I want to know what is was about Egypt in the nineteenth century that influenced British archaeologists to behave so differently to archaeologists in India, and what this can tell us about how archaeology as a discipline evolved. My work is also very interdisciplinary- I use aspects of the history of science, intellectual history and museology alongside colonial history and other ideas. One of my supervisors is from the History department, the other is from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine. I find interdisciplinary history incredibly exciting- why stick with one way of doing things, when you can craft your own style using your favourite aspects from multiple areas! 

I work with a variety of historical sources- I have to be creative with finding the material I study! I can go from looking at the personal letters of a famous scholar from the nineteenth century in the British library, to looking at museum records of object acquisitions and displays, to spending time on the internet looking for nineteenth century academic books that have been digitised. I have also recently decided to look at images as part of my research- so last time I was at the British library I spent a morning marvelling at early twentieth century photographs of archaeological digs in India.

I find people often see history as a static and unmoving subject- you pick a topic and are trapped in the library with dusty books looking at that topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth! History is such a varied and broad subject, with so many different ways of approaching it; you can really get creative with your thinking and push the boundaries. What you find will never cease to surprise, and in some cases amaze you!

Going Further

http://trowelblazers.com/ - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie, and Adela Catherine Breton.

http://www.asi.nic.in/ - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!

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