Agnes Tulstrup Henriksen

Domesticating the Sumerians in Mandate Iraq (1922-1934)

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

This project investigates the question: How were the excavations at Ur used to create cultural memory and identity in Great Britain?

Start Date: September 2015
End Date: September 2018
Theme: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding
Research discipline: Archaeology
Locations: Middle East
Staff member: Jonathan Taylor
Department: Department of the Middle East
University and department: Department of History, University College London
University supervisor: Eleanor Robson

Why investigate the history of an archaeological excavation?

Archaeological fieldwork does not exist in a vacuum. The practical side of funding, permit application, and the political situation in a country influences the work.

What makes the excavations at Ur particularly interesting?

The excavations took place at a time when Iraq went from being a British mandate to an independent state. It was also at this time that the National Museum of Iraq was established.

What kinds of archival material will be included in this project?

The British Museum Archive houses the excavation documentation including the excavation diaries, official letters referring to division of finds, as well as private correspondence between the excavator, C. L. Woolley and other individuals involved in the excavation.

About my research

I am studying the archival documents in the British Museum related to the excavations at Ur in southern Iraq from 1922-1934, along with the media coverage that the excavation received from its beginning in 1922 to the outbreak of World War II.

I will also look at specific objects from Ur and their relations to the creation of the Baghdad Museum and their role in the debate concerning Iraqi heritage and identity within the British Mandate in the 1920’s to 1940’s.

Aims of my research

By building on the theories of Cultural Memory and looking at the documents, newspaper articles, and museum displays, I hope to provide evidence for the ways in which knowledge was spread from the archaeological excavations to the general public. Especially with a focus on which interpretations and stories were reproduced and why.

The project provides an opportunity to study in depth the historical role that the Ur excavations played in modern British history. It will be able to show how Britain interacted with Mandate Iraq and what role Ur played in creating (and absorbing) a Western cultural memory of Iraq’s past.