My name is Charlotte Coull, and I’m a third year PhD student
at the University of Manchester in the History Department. I did both my
undergraduate degree and my Master’s degree at Manchester before being lucky
enough after applying to be offered funding by the History department to
complete my PhD here.
I look comparatively at the history of archaeology in India
and Egypt in the nineteenth century. Many people walk away with the idea that I
am an archaeologist when I first explain my topic to them - however I am most
definitely a historian and there is
no digging involved in my work!
One of the most interesting things about research is that
your topic and focus can change over time; as you read more, you become more
aware of what has already been said about your subject, and most importantly
you start to see different ways of looking at things and different ideas to
pull out of your original material. This sounds intimidating, and you do need
to be careful that you eventually find a path and stick with it (otherwise you
will never get any work done!), but it can also be exciting. You have the
opportunity to create something completely unique that will stand out from the
When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to look at
archaeology over a broad time and I knew I wanted my project to be comparative.
My idea was to look for changes over time whilst looking at how and
archaeologists reacted differently to what they found in India and Egypt - did
they prefer Egyptian artefacts to Indian ones for example? All that hasn’t
really changed. But what I have done is focused on stone.
Nineteenth century archaeologists in both countries
discovered lots of things, including bones and pottery, but it was stone that
really caught their attention in the form of temples, tombs, monuments and
megaliths. Stone can be hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old; it can be in
ruins or almost perfect; it can be huge, intimidating and strange because the
people that used it, the people who built things from it in ancient times, are
gone and cannot explain it. Take a look at the images here: this is the stone
nineteenth century archaeologists would have found in India and Egypt, but unlike
today they did not have technology like radiocarbon dating to tell them how old
it was. They often did not know who built things or how.
Three years ago, I didn’t know this. I had not done the
reading that told me that archaeologists in the 1800s were so perplexed by
stone - it was only as my project progressed that I started to notice this and
plan my work around it. Now my whole PhD thesis is looking at how
archaeologists knew what they knew about Indian and Egyptian stone - or what
they didn’t know.
To do this I work mainly with published material from the
nineteenth century. I look at the language archaeologists used to talk about
the sites they studied and the information they presented in these books and
journal articles to their fellow archaeologists. If an archaeologist has
written about how he found Indian temples confusing because they look so
different to what he is used to in Britain, then it’s in my work; if an
archaeologist has written about how amazingly old the Egyptian pyramids are and
how spectacular it is to look at something so ancient, then it’s in my work.
History is a subject with so much potential to let you get
creative and push the boundaries - your work can evolve with your thinking and
reflect your changing interests!
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!
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!
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
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!
- 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.
- 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!