I contributed another post to the HARN blog. It was about 10 days ago, but I’d love your thoughts on how you use correspondence in your research.
I contributed another post to the HARN blog. It was about 10 days ago, but I’d love your thoughts on how you use correspondence in your research.
I have too been working! To prove it, look at this. Two weeks ago, I did a book review for HARN Towers. It was a review of Andrew Humphreys book On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel.
This week, I’ll be blogging over there about correspondence and all the fun things reading old letters allows us in scholarship. See you there!
It has been almost 6 weeks since I’ve posted anything, but that doesn’t mean no work is getting done. I’m busy writing a paper for the HARN/Swedish Institute Conference in October; working on a volume of edited correspondence (more on which later); and other summer activities like grants, reworking syllabi, and hanging out with my son and husband more. In two weeks I leave for Wyoming for a vacation–yes, VACATION.
In the process of the above mentioned research, I’ve found a lot of really great stories that will be posted here in the coming weeks. One of the most fascinating is the story of the collection and installation of the mastaba tomb of Perneb at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thankfully, they tell their own story on their website. If you have any questions about anything at the MMA, their website is really good. They have videos, images, links for digitized documents, and great stories to tell. I’ve talked about the MMA before, so if you want to know some history and a museum review, I invited you to see that post. On to the Tomb of Perneb.
In 1913, an excavation led by Albert Lythgoe and the MMA dissembled the mastaba of an early Egyptian royal official (5th dynasty) in the Saqqara necropolis. It was the mastaba of Perneb (c. 2381-2323 BC), an official who functioned in the presence of the Pharaoh as his dresser, not unlike a valet. He was clearly a wealthy, high-status official and he was buried north of the Step Pyramid in Saqqara. Thanks to the generosity of Edward Harkness and the Egyptian Government, the tomb was then brought to New York and reassembled in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian Art department. It took 3 years to reconstruct, and it opened with great acclaim in the winter of 1916. It has remained in the same place at the MMA since its installation, with some conservation and new construction in the 1990s-early 2000s. Curators argued that the presentation of the tomb people had seen for more than 80 years was not correct.
Curators wished to present the tomb as it should have been seen if it were in Egypt, so they did extensive research and had this wall built:
The MMA made a short film in 2004 (around 20 min) about the tomb itself, and it is very well done. I can’t embed it, but you can view it here. It gives a history of the tomb, and a concise explanation of the purpose of tombs in Egypt. At around the 3:50 mark, there is a digital reconstruction of what Saqqara would have looked like around the time of Perneb’s tomb, and they show a reconstruction of the tomb itself. It is a fascinating video.
Also available on the site is a digital document, the 80-page booklet that the MMA published about the tomb at the time of its opening in New York. Thank goodness for the internet! I’ve been looking for this book, but no one will send it out. It was written by Lythgoe, and the assistant curator of Egyptian Art in 1916, Caroline Ransom, later Mrs. Grant Williams. She spent hours on the administration of receiving the tomb, arranging for its installation, and planning for the opening of the tomb, on top of her other work. She did much of this while Lythgoe and others of his work crew (most, if not all, men), were in the field during the winters.
I know about Ransom Williams’ role in this story because I am editing a collection of her letters, which I found in the archives at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, where she got her PhD in 1905. If I didn’t have those letters (soon to be published in print form, hooray!!), I wouldn’t know about her work at the MMA because almost no one talks about it–save for the Breaking Ground project I linked to above. She was crucial to the Egyptian Art department almost from its inception as the main administrator. Her title was Assistant Curator, but that was because Lythgoe was the Curator. The Curator’s main job at many museums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was to lead excavations and bring home the pieces to build departments. That was what Lythgoe did. Ransom Williams’ job was to do almost everything else.
Ransom Williams’ work here was central to the building of the museum, much like countless other women in other museums, labs, universities, observatories, and more, whose work is hidden by a male scientist. We cannot know the entire story behind Perneb’s arrival in New York without knowing about Ransom Williams’ work on the project. I will not go into detail here, but more posts about this will be coming as I work through the editing of her letters. I think I’ve said before that finding these women and having to talk about them is part blessing, part obsession. They are so hard to find in the archives, but they need to be found to understand their central importance in the building of archaeological collections, theory, and excavation.
*Sorry for the lack of images. I included a lot of links this time, that link to images instead.
Very serious things happening over at HARN Towers:
My last post talks about what to do in these long summer days. Usually I take the second half of May kind of easy. I have a few deadlines coming up, but they’re easily managed. This post comes from one of my most favorite activities in May–checking my Instructor Evaluation scores and reading the student comments. No, really!! I love reading the comments, even the ones that tell me I gave them too much reading and that my class isn’t as important as the ones for their majors.
Most of the comments that come from my students are good. This isn’t to brag, by any means, but just to say that comments don’t bring any dread to my day. Some sample good ones from this semester:
“Thoroughly enjoyed being in this class because of the instructor!”
[In mentioning strengths and weaknesses of the course]: “Dr. Sheppard is a huge strength!”
“Dr. Sheppard not only has a passion for the material she presents to the class, but also a passion for teaching students.”
These comments outweigh–by a large margin–the negative comments. I have no doubt that this is true for most of us who are instructors. If it isn’t, we should seriously reconsider our chosen vocation. However, we do get the negative comments, don’t we? And even though they are few and far between, they tend to speak over the majority of the positive comments.
There are some who critique my teaching–I need to fact check X about a subject or I need to be more clear when lecturing. There are some who critique my administration of the course–I need to put grades on blackboard or I should let them know just how much reading there will be. These are legitimate criticisms and I try to take them into consideration to make my teaching and the courses I teach better. But then, and we all go through this, there are those who thought the class just didn’t live up to what they wanted it to be. They’re the ones who signed up for a History of Science class, expecting to learn about science but instead learned about–gasp!!–history. Even worse, they had to learn about WOMEN.
I got this comment, verbatim, this semester:
“Well the course is called “History of Science” but somehow Dr. Sheppard always found a way to make it about women in science. In one particular week, we had just as many assignments about women’s issues in science as we did about Charles Darwin. Class discussions always seemed to be geared towards talking about how women were treated in science throughout history and today. Several weeks out of the semester featured assignments purely about women’s contributions no matter what the topic of the week was. It’s my understanding that “Women in Science” is actually its own class so I did not like that so much of time in this class was spent on the same subject matter. During one lecture Dr. Sheppard brought in pictures of a body lubrication used for marathon runners and showed us how the “for her” version of the product cost more than the regular version. I don’t know what this has to do with “history of science” but it felt like a huge waste of my time.* At another instance the topic of discussion somehow shifted to women in the gaming industry. Dr. Sheppard claimed that women have to deal with constant abuse in online gaming. A student commented that a lot of people have to put up with abuse in online gaming. Dr. Sheppard proceeded to tell him that because he was an 18-24, middle class, white male he really has no idea what women have to put up with. This seemed wildly inappropriate to me and I was actually surprised she even said that.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a negative comment in this vein of complaint. The quote above is one example of many I could pull from past semesters. One student once told me that he’d never before seen such “hyperfeminism” in a course and he hoped he’d never have to again. Another once said “She should just teach about Marie Curie and then move on to the rest of the history of science.” And this is all not to mention the suggestions that I wear “lower cut shirts” to improve the course, or that a student would “have no problem bending Dr. Sheppard over her desk anytime.”
But I digress.
As I am at a small engineering university, most of my students are men. In this course, there were 5 women and 24 men. Odds are, a man wrote this complaint. But, even though I tend to get lower overall evaluation scores in this course (my area of expertise) than any other, I don’t get frustrated by these scores or comments anymore, and I’ll tell you why. The above comment is the number 1 reason I teach what I do to the students I teach. They have learned their entire lives that women are marginal, and they don’t like to be told any different. In any history, in any industry, in any field, they learn that women are the Other, the one who doesn’t matter. When I tell them explicitly that this is what they think, then explicitly try to change that viewpoint, they explicitly don’t like me. My goal is to get them to understand that women should be discussed as much, if not more than, Charles Darwin. Marie Curie isn’t the only woman worth talking about and that for every Marie Curie, Mary Somerville, or Caroline Herschel, there are 100 women who haven’t been given a voice. That they should have a voice and that that voice matters is the point I try to get across.
My point missed the mark with this particular student, which is too bad. But my hope is that 6 months or 6 years down the road, this student might encounter a woman in their workplace, or their life, whose experience they might see a little differently because of what they learned from me in my class.
So I’ll continue to take these comments for what they are–criticisms that I wasn’t clear enough in my point that women are part of history, that women are part of the present day world and workforce, and that women have a voice that is equally as valid as a man’s. These comments are why I teach, and why I will continue to teach all about women in a history of science class.**
*To give a little context to the student’s complaints about the Body Glide and the online gaming–we were talking about gendered technology and how certain products may be geared toward women and men in different ways. We were also talking about simply being a woman in technology (such as Gamergate) and how that can be a dangerous road, hence the discussion of online abuse.
**On a side note, but it is quite important, for the Fall semester I was slated to teach a Women in Science seminar. After advertising and pushing the course, it didn’t make with only had 4 students in it. We cancelled that class and opened a second section of history of science, which, as of right now, has 10 students in it. Don’t worry–they’ll learn ALL about women in science.
Henry James wrote in his Portrait of a Lady: “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
As for this lady, well, so many summer mornings will be filled with lovely runs and rides through town, summer days filled with research and writing long delayed, summer afternoons full of trips to the park with my toddler, and summer nights with relaxing on the deck with a glass of wine. (This is all not to say anything about afternoon tea [see opening lines of Portrait for my thoughts on that].) But with all the hours free from teaching, grading, prep and campus duties, how will I organize my work? How do you organize it?
Usually, at the start of every new chunk of time–summer and winter break, as well as each semester–I do a breakdown of tasks for that period of time. I have until mid-August to complete the tasks I have set out before me for this summer. I’ve done this type of breakdown ever since I read this post from sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza’s blog getalifephd.blogspot.com. Her blog has been indispensable in helping me to organize and achieve my academic writing goals. As we’ve seen, not all of these goals have been successful, but my writing is happening even with a toddler, and even during busy teaching and service semesters. One of her overarching points throughout the last 6 years on that blog, is that our tasks seem too large when we look at them as a whole–a book, an article, a conference paper–but if we break them down into achievable chunks they seem more approachable.
For example, this week I’ll be sending some articles out for review for a special collection I’m co-editing, revising an introduction to another edited volume, and working on a grant application. These are 3 projects I have going this summer, and that’s not saying anything about the 6 other writing projects I have on the docket. We have to keep track of them somehow, or we end up dropping them by accident or on purpose because we think we don’t have time. But if we break them down into sections like: find 5 sources on X topic; write 30 minutes on the lit review; find 3 possible publishers/journals; and more, we can see notable progress on big projects. I’m also a list-crosser-offer and I love to see tasks get completed, and this process allows for that on a regular basis.
I also recently read this article from the New York Times Opinion section about being busy and how much people believe they work, versus how much we actually work. I’ve made a daily breakdown of my schedule each semester, using 30-minute segments of time, within an excel spreadsheet. This helps me to focus my productivity in the appropriate times. Small chunks of time, even 30 minutes, can get you writing, reading, analyzing, grading, and more. I use pomodoros, a writing theory I learned about at Get a life, but you can get more information here. The point is, you’re WORKING, even if it is only in 30 minute chunks.
I’m interested in what everyone else does–how do you manage your projects?
After I posted the 4th part, and as I read through it as I posted it, I realized that my argument is valid, based on the evidence I had available to me. I may not have done an exhaustive search of declassified documents, but the support is there. One complaint from one reviewer was that Breasted was “such a famous raconteur” that the content of his letters can be misleading. I absolutely agree and agree that finding other evidence would be useful here. However, his letters home were also meant as his field journals, so one might also argue that they could be taken literally. Although, if you use a field journal or field diary, you do always want to check contextual sources.
I lamented this particular source issue distinctly throughout the researching and writing this particular paper, but thought that the evidence was strong enough that I wanted to get this scholarship out there. To be clear, the editor of the Top Journal I submitted to was extremely interested in this paper and approached me directly to ask me to submit it a second time. The editor was kind, supportive, and encouraging throughout the entire process.
After the short conclusion, below, I will post all of my works cited.
Thank you for continuing to read this. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have. Here is the conclusion:
Breasted, like other archaeologists before him, was used as a spy by the British Army to gather important local intelligence after the Great War. By his own telling, this work was secondary to his journey across the desert, but it is clear that intelligence gathering was instead a central task. In his letters, Breasted downplayed this work for fear of being discovered, but he knew that the main purpose of his expedition was intelligence. In the tumultuous post-war environment, archaeologists had unprecedented access and influence in the areas in question, and Breasted and Allenby used the situation to their advantage. Breasted collected antiquities and they now populate museums around the world (see Emberling and Teeter). On the other hand, the British government failed to implement their policies based on the important intelligence Breasted reported. Despite his protests, the Balfour Declaration, aimed at giving a national home to Jewish people in Palestine, was included in the peace documents for the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate in Palestine. Almost instantly, there were serious troubles within the Mandate which caused issues not just for archaeological research in the area, but for political, economic, social, and cultural conflict for the last 95 years (see Petrie 1931-34). It seems clear that when Breasted returned and gave Allenby and Curzon information that did not fit their view point, they essentially ignored him and did as they had already planned to do.
Clearly for Breasted the mission began as a scientific one. He had written to his family on 29 February that “…the conclusion of the war was the moment to jump in, and reluctant as I was to leave home, I could not evade the duty of one more effort to put at least one American department of Oriental Languages in a position for scientific production like that of a department of Chemistry or Astronomy. I can see it is coming. …I think Ancient Times had a lot to do with it” (29 February 1920). That in the end it became more about politics than science was doubtless disappointing to Breasted, but he was a shrewd diplomat and he used every advantage he had to access the sites he needed to assess. The work put him in situations of unavoidable danger where the risks vastly outweighed the rewards.
Some authors have argued that it is dangerous to current field workers to highlight the work that archaeologists have done as spies. But it is these angles that are crucial not only to understanding scientific lives, but also to making the murky intelligence world a little clearer. The post-war intelligence world was elite, open, nebulous, and fraught with problems of budgets and support from the very governments they were supporting. Woodrow Wilson would not send operatives to gather intelligence; the British needed help but had no money. Not only did the situation allow opportunistic imperial governments a foothold in unbalanced political situations, but it also allowed resourceful scientists a chance at seeing and analyzing hard-to-access sites, and gathering artifacts that would soon be denied them under controlled regulations. That he had no intelligence training whatsoever did not seem to bother Breasted.
In the history of archaeology in the ancient Near East, Breasted is well-known for his work at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the now-well-established Epigraphic Survey. The story of the first Expedition of the Oriental Institute is unique in a number of ways. It was the first expedition of its kind for this brand-new institution. Many scholars study this first journey as exemplary and important, not just because of the new Oriental Institute, but also because of the political ramifications it had on archaeology. But the trip must be seen as more than an archaeological success—indeed, it must be seen as a political failure on the part of Britain and the US. Both countries could have used Breasted’s advice and warnings to change some of their anticipated policies, but they did not. The questions of why they ignored him, or what may have happened if they had not, are irrelevant right now. Breasted’s work as a scientist is crucial; his time as a spy was central to this expedition and to the attempt at policy-making in the Middle East. He was undoubtedly disappointed in the outcome of his work, and as far as we know, never attempted to help advise policy again.
Works Cited (I’ve pulled these straight from the endnotes.)
*A note on the letters, they’re cited by date, but are all available online in a fabulous edited volume, provided by the Oriental Institute. Letters from James Henry Breasted to His Family, August 1919-July 1920. Ed. John A. Larson (2010).
Anthropology Today “From the Archives,” 21:3 (June 2005).
“Lawrence of Arabia as Archaeologist,” Biblical Archaeology Review (December 2013): online verson.
Jeffrey Abt, American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute (Chicago, 2011).
Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New York, 2013).
Christopher Andrew, Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (New York, 1986).
Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (New York, 2009).
Franz Boas, “Scientists as Spies,” The Nation 109: 2842 (20 Dec 1919): 797.
Gertrude Bell (published anonymously), The Arab of Mesopotamia (Basra, 1918).
Gertrude Bell, Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia, Cmd. 1061, (London, 1920).
Charles Breasted, Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Told by his Son, Charles Breasted (New York, 1943).
James Henry Breasted, “The Battle of Kadesh: A Study in the Earliest Known Military Strategy,” in Investigations Representing the Departments: Semitic Languages and Literatures, Biblical and Patristic Greek, Decennial Publications, 1st series, vol. 5 (Chicago, 1904).
James Henry Breasted, “Report of the First Expedition of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago,” 1920.
David L. Browman, “Spying by American Archaeologists in World War I (with a minor linkage to the development of the Society for American Archaeology),” Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 21:2 (2011): 10-17.
Jeffery M. Dorwart, The Office of Naval Intelligence: The Birth of American’s First Intelligence Agency, 1865-1918 (Annapolis, Md., 1979).
Jeffery M. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty: The U. S. Navy’s Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945 (Annapolis, Md., 1983).
Geoff Emberling, ed. Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920 (Chicago, 2010).
Geoff Emberling and Emily Teeter, “The First Expedition of the Oriental Institute, 1919-1920,” in Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920, ed. Geoff Emberling (Chicago, 2010), 31-84
James Gelvin, “The Middle East Breasted Encountered, 1919-1920,” in Pioneers to the Past: American Archaeologists in the Middle East, 1919-1920, ed. Geoff Emberling (Chicago, 2010), 21-29.
James F. Goode, Negotiating for the Past: Archaeology, Nationalsim, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941 (Austin, 2007).
Susan Goodman, Gertrude Bell (Dover, N. H., 1985).
Charles Harris and Louis Sadler, The Archaeologist was a Spy: Sylvanus G. Morley and the Office of Naval Intelligence (Albuquerque, N. M., 2003).
Georgina Howell, Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations (New York, 2007).
Susan Hueck Allen, Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece (Ann Arbor, 2011).
Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, In Spies We Trust: The Story of Western Intelligence (Oxford, 2013).
Henricka Kuklick, The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885-1945 (Cambridge, 1993).
John A. Larson, ed. Letters from James Henry Breasted to his Family, August 1919-July 1920: Letters Home During the Oriental Institute’s First Expedition to the Middle East. Oriental Institute Digital Archives, No. 1 (Chicago, 2010)
G. J. A. O’Toole, Honorable Treachery: A History of US Intelligence, Espionage, and Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA (New York, 1991).
Flinders Petrie, Ancient Gaza I. Tell el Ajjul. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 53 (London, 1931).
Flinders Petrie, Ancient Gaza II. Tell el Ajjul. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 54 (London, 1932).
Flinders Petrie, Ancient Gaza III. Tell el Ajjul. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 55 (London, 1932).
Flinders Petrie, Ancient Gaza IV. Tell el Ajjul. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 56 (London, 1934)
David Price, “Anthropologists as Spies,” The Nation 271:16 (Nov 20, 2000): 24-27.
David Price, “Cloak & Trowel,” Archaeology 56:5 (Sept/Oct 2003): 30.
David Price, Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War (Durham, N. C., 2008).
Paul Rich, “Introduction,” in Arab War Lords and Iraqi Stargazers, Gertrude Bell’s The Arab of Mesopotamia, Second edition, ed., Paul Rich (New York, 2001).
John M. Tidd, “From Revolution to Reform: A Brief History of U.S. Intelligence,” The SAIS Review of International Affairs 28:1 (2008): 5-24.
Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T. E. Lawrence (New York, 1990).
H. V. F. Winstone, Gertrude Bell, (London, 1978).
C. Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (London, 1914).