Ancient narratives in the modern museum : interpreting classical archaeology in British museums

Baker, Abigail (2015) Ancient narratives in the modern museum : interpreting classical archaeology in British museums. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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This thesis considers how the stories preserved in Greek and Roman texts have been used in British museums from the early nineteenth century to the present. It explores the tendency to prioritise textual over visual information which is easy to overlook when dealing with object-based institutions. It demonstrates the pervasive effect that ancient texts and the narratives they convey have had on the way museums think about individual objects, wider history and their own role as public institutions. A series of case studies offer snapshots of the relationship between object and text at different times and places: how ancient texts were used to articulate a political and public role for the Elgin marbles; how public and academic interest in myth inspired innovative museum interpretation in the work of Charles Newton, Jane Harrison, Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans; how collecting at the Fitzwilliam museum demonstrates the difficulties of escaping ancient narratives, even for those committed to object-based approaches; and how an exhibition of Greek Art in World War Two used ancient images and texts alongside each other in ways that idealised Greek art and freedom, while also revealing unease about the relationship between image and text in ancient sources. By looking at these through broader intellectual and social themes it develops a history with continuity as well as contrasts. Several of the case studies visit completely new ground for the history of museums, but even the most familiar moments in collecting history can be understood in new ways through an awareness of how deeply our understanding of ancient objects has been shaped by ancient narratives. I build on contemporary interest in the active role of museums in constituting our understanding of the past by treating the museum as a site of textual reception and an active participant in a tradition.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > History, Classics & Archaeology
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2015 13:30
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2015 11:36

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