Archaeologists and Missionaries

  • Archaeological Diplomacy and the Archaeological Institute of America’s Acquisition of Symbolic Capital

    Susan Hueck Allen; Brown University

    Following the American Civil War, as veterans returned home and tried to pick up the pieces, Washington sought to bind the states into a reunited nation. On the global stage, Reconstruction America struggled to regain its identity. Republican liberal nationalists advocated a “purified United States” with the mantra “civilization,” a word with a global currency at the time. Leading men of letters in America believed that the United States’ morale, identity, and standing in the world could be raised by the contemplation and acquisition of artistic works of classical Greece. To get them, they advised archaeological excavations, but problems negotiating foreign excavation permits, raising money, and finding seasoned field men with interpretive experience challenged early efforts.

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  • "The Most perfect idea of a Greek city that any where exists": Assos, Archaeologists, and American Ideologies

    Bonna D. Wescoat; Emory University

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    In the spring of 1800, the young and intrepid William Martin Leake journeyed the coast of Asia Minor, stopping at the ancient citadel of Assos. His brief but evocative description captures the essence of the place:

    The ruins of Assus, at Behrem Kalesi, opposite Molivo, the ancient Methymna in Mytilene.  The ruins are extremely curious. There is a theater in very perfect preservation; there are also the remains of several temples, at one of which are figures in low relief, in a very ancient style of art, sculptured upon the hard granite of Mount Ida, which forms the materials of many of the buildings. On the western side of the city the remains of the walls and towers, with a gate, are in complete preservation; without the walls is seen the cemetery, with numerous sarcophagi, some of which are of gigantic dimensions, still standing in their places, and an ancient causeway leading to the gate. The whole gives, perhaps, the most perfect idea of a Greek city that anywhere exists.

    Indeed, the ideal city Aristotle outlined in Book 7 of the Politics bears striking similarity to the physical setting and urban plan of Assos, where, perhaps not coincidentally, he lived between 348 and 345 BC.

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  • American Missionaries in Ottoman Lands: Foundational Encounters

    Heather J. Sharkey; University of Pennsylvania


    On November 3, 1819, two American missionaries named Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons sailed from Boston harbor on a ship bound towards the Holy Land and arrived in Smyrna two months later. Parsons died of sickness within two years; Fisk died within six. Yet news of their deeds spread through a popular press of American mission and church publications, which recounted and celebrated their story for decades afterwards. Typical in its praise was a Methodist journal, which in 1873 hailed Fisk and Parsons as “two pioneers of blessed memory” who had set out to save the Ottoman world from “paganism, Mohammedanism, and dead Christianity.” Nearly two centuries have passed since the journey of Fisk and Parsons, and American historians now remember these two men quite differently: they note their ignorance and social blundering and their distinctly American brand of naïve idealism. 

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  • A Traveler's View of the "Gilt-edged Mission": Reflections on a Century of American Missionary Involvement in Anatolia

    Brian Johnson; Independent Scholar, Istanbul

    Historians generally regard travelers’ accounts more skeptically than other sources. Reports about a place and its inhabitants by passers-through are often superficial and convey misunderstanding rather than insight. But the narrative of an observant voyager can provide a succinct, discerning view of a multifaceted topic. The travel book Across Asia Minor on Foot, which records a journey through central Turkey in 1911-12 by Englishman W.J. Childs, achieves this purpose. During his five-month, 1,300-mile trek from the Black Sea port of Samsun to the Mediterranean city of Alexandretta (today’s Iskenderun), Childs visited several American Protestant mission centers, including a station at the town of Marsovan (Merzifon), sixty-five miles inland from the Black Sea. His account of its foremost institution, Anatolia College, as well as its medical hospital, illustrates one of the most important American missionary establishments in Anatolia on the eve of the First World War. Moreover, his narrative distinguishes key elements that characterized roughly one hundred years of missionary involvement in Turkey leading up to that point.

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  • The University of Pennsylvania 19th Century Excavations at Nippur

    Richard L. Zettler; University of Pennsylvania

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    While travelers had been bringing first-hand knowledge of the geography and antiquity of what is today Iraq to Western audiences since the sixteenth century, Claudius James Rich, British East India Company Resident at Baghdad, initiated the first serious and sustained Western investigations of the region’s ancient past in the early nineteenth century. Large-scale excavations followed in the 1840s, when the French Consul at Mosul, Paul Emile Botta, worked at Nineveh and Khorsabad (ancient Dur-Sharrukin) and the British adventurer, Austen Henry Layard, dug Nimrud (Kalhu). American archaeological activity in the Near East only began in the late nineteenth century and coincided with the rise of research universities in the country. By the early 1880s a number of people who were nominally a committee of the American Oriental Society and the Archaeological Institute of America, but in fact acting as individuals, were endeavoring to arouse enthusiasm in the United States for explorations in Turkish Arabia. The committee included David G. Lyon (Harvard University), Francis Brown (Union Theological Seminary), and John Punnett Peters, Assistant at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, New York, who had recently returned to the United States after having studied Semitic languages at the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig. The proposition to send out an expedition was formally put on the table at the New Haven meeting of the American Oriental Society in October, 1883. It was formulated in explicitly nationalistic terms: “England and France have done a noble work of exploration in Assyria and Babylonia. It is time for America to do her part. Let us send out an American expedition.” It was decided that if $5,000 could be raised, a reconnaissance expedition could be sent out. Peters approached Catherine Lorillard Wolfe of New York City, and she agreed to give the entire sum necessary, though Henry C. Bowen, editor of the New York Independent, had earlier pledged $500.

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  • Exiles, Diplomats and Darlings: Afghans Abroad in the Early Twentieth Century

    Holly Edwards; Williams College

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    In the nineteenth century, many people went to France to broaden their horizons. Both Osman Hamdi Bey and Frederic Bridgman, for example, studied painting there and then returned to their respective homelands (one traveling east to the Ottoman sphere, and the other west to the United States) to depict the “Orient”/Middle East for rather different audiences. By the 1920s, Europe was still a center of cultural gravity for many travelers, including some from Afghanistan, although the balance of political powers had shifted and documentarians generally wielded cameras rather than paintbrushes. Analysis of the images resulting from such cross-cultural encounters is a mushrooming discourse, premised on (and replete with) proliferating -isms—Orientalism and Occidentalism particularly relevant to the present project. That discourse encompasses myriad self/other processes that transpire across permeable boundaries and along diverse vectors of power and inequality, among them gender, ethnicity, nationality, and class. Such contact zones—whether between disparate groups within a nation-state or across transnational boundaries, whether in tourist, colonial or diaspora settings—are increasingly recognized as sites of sly resistance, sustained dialogue, and even respectful collaboration. Particularly complex are those situations in which Orientalism and the processes of modernization overlap, wherein localized desires for change catalyze greater receptivity to outside influence and result in new modes of expression or behavior. When photography is used to record and advance modernizing efforts, Orientalism must be tracked carefully, even forensically. Photographs, after all, are unruly and mobile activists. By virtue of their truth value and reproducibility, they can document as well as foment change, foster as well as derail understanding, and otherwise complicate hermeneutic processes within societies and between cultures. In exerting such powers, images do not operate solo; rather, they work within and across the larger web of visuality, a zone wherein captions, audiences and socio-political circumstances figure deterministically as well.


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