Research Group Mission Statement

In the words of Andrew Christenson, "museums were really the first professional homes for archaeology." Indeed, museums in the mid-nineteenth century played an important role in the institutionalization of archaeology, giving tangible expression to archaeological excavations efforts. The collections on display were the scientific equivalent to those of geologists and botanists and helped to improve archaeology's standing as a separate science. Additionally, many perceived the establishment of museums and a national archaeological collection as an essential stepping stone to further recognition of the discipline, a realization that was given initial expression only in the 1860's. While the history of archaeology and its associations to with museums has been considered studied in a number of ways, mainly through its imperial settings, the relationship between archaeology and museums has been much altered by changing forms and practices. From contemporary art exhibitions that re-imagine the significance of classical sculptures to a range of tours exploring queer histories of artists, sculptors and archaeologists through museum collections, the function archaeological objects in the museum is multifarious and instigates new ways in thinking about the discipline in the nineteenth-century.

Using archives and archaeological collections in and outside of London, we intend to bring to light the hidden histories of marginalised groups whose contributions to the discipline have been largely excluded in the current narrative that shapes the history of archaeology.

By engaging with researchers, curators, archivists and art historians, our discussions will examine the various histories of archaeological collections in different forms such as sculptures, photographs, objects, plaster casts and discuss the various ways in which they challenge theories of archaeology that were developed in the nineteenth century. Discussions will be diverse and cover a wide range of topics.

The series will run from September 2018 - May 2019 and will consists of talks from curators, lecturers and PhD students. A full speaker programme can be found below.

Speaker Programme

17th September 2018

8th October 2018

Alexandra Jones, Curator, V&A Museum
Maqdala 1868: Ethiopian Treasures at the V&A

5th November 2018

Dr Eleanor Dobson, Lecturer in Nineteenth Century Literature, University of Birmingham
Gothic Histories: Howard Carter and The Tomb of Tut-ankh-Amun

3rd December 2018

Nicole Cochrane, PhD Student, University of Hull
Ancient Sculpture and the Narrative of Collecting: Legacy and Identity in Museum Display

28th January 2019

Dr Rebecca Wade, Assistant Curator for Sculpture, Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds
Domenico Brucciani and the Formation of Museums of Classical Archaeology

18th February 2019

Dr Emma Payne, King's College London
Plaster Casts, Restoration, and the Interpretation of Classical Sculpture

25th March 2019

Alice Procter, Art Historian and Museum Activist
Museums Were Never Neutral

*PLEASE NOTE* This event will take place at S-2.18 Lucas Lecture Theatre, Strand Building, Strand Campus, London, WC2R 2LS. Book your FREE ticket via Eventbrite.

15th April 2019

Dr Amara Thornton, Honorary Research Associate, UCL
Scripting Spadework: Publishing Archaeology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Speaker events will take place at 6pm in the Virginia Woolf Building, Room 6.01, King's College London, 22 Kingsway, London, WC2B 6LE


Meet the Team

The Exploring the Institutionalisation of Archaeology research group is the brainchild of two PhD researchers, Subhashini Robert William and Abbey Ellis, based at King's College London and the University of Leicester respectively.

Subhashini Robert William

Subha is a first year PhD student at KCL. Her doctoral project explores the relationship between the Victorian press and the institutions of archaeology in the nineteenth- century. It starts from the premise that the press has been largely underrepresented in recent studies of the history of archaeology. Focusing on the period from the 1840’s onwards, when the British Archaeological Association was formed and when archaeology was becoming more established as a discipline, this thesis explores how archaeology became the more popular science in the mid-nineteenth century and how the press reflected the various discourses of archaeological knowledge that was emerging during this period. This thesis has two strands. Firstly, it will evaluate the cultural implications that led to the increase in publications of newspapers and periodicals in the mid-nineteenth century and explore the receptions of archaeology in both the national and provincial press. There is a lack of substantial discussions on the production of archaeological knowledge in the nineteenth-century provincial press, the representation of archaeological writing from women in both fiction and non-fictional forms and the self-fashioning of archaeologists in the press. Her thesis will address these gaps in three different chapters. Secondly, this research will also examine the development of provincial archaeological societies and museums and draw on a range of archival material to show the connections between museums, archaeology and the Victorian press in the nineteenth-century.

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Abbey Ellis

Abbey graduated from Merton College, Oxford in 2016 with a first class BA in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. In 2017, Abbey achieved a distinction in her Masters degree in Classical Archaeology, also at Merton. Abbey’s current AHRC-funded collaborative PhD project is split between the University of Leicester, where she is supervised by Sandra Dudley, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where she is supervised by Bert Smith and Milena Melfi. Her work is set in the museum's Cast Gallery and focuses on archaeological plaster casts, namely the exact replicas of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures made from Plaster of Paris. Her project seeks to redefine how the authenticity and value of these objects can be understood. She aims to achieve this through an investigation into the use and status of plaster and the technique of casting in the ancient world. In addition, as part of a visitor studies focused phase of her project, Abbey seeks to examine the perceptions that museum visitors currently have of casts. She will be exploring to what extent the average visitor views casts as authentic and worthy of display in the museum. She is investigating whether current museum displays are doing enough to present these casts as important objects in their own right, as opposed to merely being stand-ins for ancient original sculptures.

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Our Sponsors

The Exploring the Institutionalisation of Archaeology team would like to thank the following organisations for their generous support of the seminar series. Without the financial backing of these sponsors, we would be unable to run the series. We are extremely grateful for their benefactions.

Founded in 2000, The BAVS is a multidisciplinary organisation dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge about the Victorian period. It has over 600 members based in the UK and beyond, drawn both from the academic community and the general public. The BAVS and its members support a wide range of interests in the nineteenth century, including art history, cultural studies, history, literary studies, performance studies and the history of science. The BAVS is a strong supporter of postgraduate-organised/led events such as the Exploring the Institutionalisation of Archaeology seminar, awarding funding to two such events each academic year.

Faculty of Arts and Humanities, King's College London
The Faculty of Arts and Humanities at King's is a world leading centre for the study of the arts and humanities, welcoming nearly 5,000 students per annum. The Faculty was founded in 1989 following the amalgamation of the former faculties of Arts, Music, and Theology. The Faculty has many cultural partners in London, including but not limited to the Royal Academy of Music, the British Library, British Museum, National Gallery, and National Theatre. The Faculty financially supports its postgraduate research students to run new and innovative initiatives, such as group events and seminar series, through its PGR events grants.