Why I Teach in #HigherEd

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.

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Time hangs so heavy in the summer…

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?

Posted in Time Management, Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Part 5: The Paper and my #CVofFailures

This is the FINAL post about what I’ve detailed in this, this, this, and especially THIS post.

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).

Posted in Archives, articles, James Breasted | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Part 4: The Paper and my #CVofFailures

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll buy you some cookies!  Thank you for coming along on this ride.  This is the longest section.  It is the meat of the paper and where I prove my points by presenting the story and archival and other evidence.  One reviewer suggested that I find more primary sources within the government archives of both the US and the UK.  As I said in my first post, I don’t have the time or the funds to do that, which is unfortunate.  Here are the 2nd and 3rd posts, in case you missed them.  Without further adieu, and without pictures, here is the most possibly “overly dramatic” part:

James Henry Breasted, the Accidental Spy?

It is not likely that Breasted knew of Boas’ letter at the time, since it was written and published while Breasted was in Cairo; therefore, it is impossible to know if Boas’ points would have affected Breasted’s decision to gather information.  We only know that, possibly before but definitely very soon after his arrival in Egypt, he volunteered his services to the British Army to provide advice to His Majesty’s Government on how best to work with, control, and govern the native Arab peoples to whom they had promised so much in return for their support during the War (Gelvin, 25).   While British archaeologists did the groundwork and provided crucial information during the war, the British Army turned to a famous American archaeologist to be their eyes and ears in Mesopotamia in 1920.

Breasted had a very different experience in Mesopotamia than any of the other archaeologist-operatives, because of his career trajectory and stated goals.  He earned his PhD in Berlin in 1894 and had figured out early on in his career that his main goal was to trace and record the script and art on all the surviving monuments in Egypt before time took them (C. Breasted, 77; Abt, 82).   After his first trip to Egypt from 1894-95 and until 1914, Breasted worked diligently in Chicago, setting up new programs, teaching, and writing.  He traveled to Europe regularly for research, and sometimes to Egypt, spending hours in museums such as the British Museum, the Louvre, the Berlin Museum, and the Cairo Museum, copying the texts on the objects there.  By the time war broke out, Breasted was famous in intellectual circles for his scholarship and well-known among the general public for his main popular work, Ancient Times (Abt, 198-204).   The most important project to Breasted was getting financial support for his major goal at the University of Chicago: setting up an Institute for studying the history and archaeology of the Near East, and starting his survey and copying of all the surviving monuments in Egypt and the Levant (Abt, 207-228).   After the war was over, and after over a decade of applications, in May of 1919 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. agreed to fund Breasted’s epigraphic survey (C. Breasted, 240).   He was given a total of $50,000 for a period of 5 years, at a rate of $10,000 per year.  His son recollected (C. Breasted, 241) that upon receiving this money,

“My father at once set about organizing a reconnaissance expedition with a staff (which was to meet him in Cairo) comprising a colleague and four younger men, with himself as leader.  Its purpose was to determine what archaeological sites in the Near East could profitably be investigated or excavated; and to ‘secure by purchase at least a share of the ancient documents of all sorts which during the War had been accumulating in the hands of antiquity dealers both in Europe and the Near East.’   As soon as they learned of his imminent departure, a number of leading American museums desiring to expand their collections of Near Eastern art, sent him substantial letters of credit to cover such purchases in their behalf.”

Breasted’s main goals for this crucial expedition were to expand the collections at the Haskell Oriental Museum at Chicago and to figure out which archaeological sites were safe and available for work to be done.  He predicted that the collapse of the Ottoman Empire would threaten the numerous sites in the Near East and wished to survey them as quickly as possible (Abt, 228-248).   Archaeologically, the expedition was a success.  The secondary goal was to help the British and Americans to peacefully solve some major political and cultural issues in the area by gathering information; in this he was partially successful.  He gathered and reported crucial information, but neither Britain nor the United States acted on his advice.

By the time that Breasted reached London, a usual stopover for Americans on their way to Egypt, he found it nigh impossible to secure transportation to anywhere in the Middle East.  He found the American Embassy less than helpful and in fact they impeded his travel.  This was understandable as the war in the Near East was hardly over, and in some places continued to break out periodically.  The US Government was hardly going to help send a scientist to the field, no matter who was paying the bill.  Thus, Breasted depended on the British Government to secure him transportation and letters of introduction that would guide him safely on his journey.  He received letters from Hogarth, who outside of his Intelligence work was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, introducing him on paper to General Edmund Allenby who was newly appointed High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan, who in turn gave him more letters for passage (C. Breasted 242-244).   He also got letters from the Earl of Carnarvon, who had been funding excavations by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings since 1913, and was three years away from world-wide fame in the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

After many delays, Breasted finally arrived in Egypt in November of 1919 and was based in Cairo, where tourists had not yet been able to gain access due to the fact that Wilson’s “so-called peace had hardly penetrated the Near East” (C. Breasted, 242)   He had his letters of introduction to speed him through his entry into the country as well as the cooperation of the American diplomat in Egypt.  With official backing from the British Government and High Commissioner, he was set for his journey through the Mesopotamian desert (C. Breasted, 247).   Breasted was immediately invited to meet General Allenby and his wife in person at the British Residency in Cairo and they quickly formed a close friendship.  That autumn, Breasted took the Allenbys on tours of the Giza plateau, Saqqara, and the Cairo Museum, and from the start, Allenby openly shared with Breasted his diplomatic concerns for Britain in the Middle East.  According to Breasted, upon their first meeting and after Breasted had volunteered his services, Allenby told Breasted a story about a conversation with President Wilson before the Paris peace talks in which Wilson asked Allenby what would happen if the French were allowed to take over Syria.  Allenby reportedly replied that the French in Syria would “immediately result in a terrible war…and set the world on fire again” (30 November 1919).   Wilson later asked him, in front of the Peace Commissioners gathered for the talks, how to understand the wishes of the people over whom they would govern.  Allenby replied that the only way this could be done would be to ask the people, openly and directly (30 November 1919).   Wilson responded by sending to Mesopotamia what came to be known as the King-Crane Commission from June to August, 1919.  The purpose of the Commission was to closely interview as many native peoples as they could to see what they wanted for their future political situations.*   After the mission, which followed a similar path to the one Breasted and his crew would take six months later, the final report was ignored by the US government, then eventually suppressed.  The main result of this was that it gave hope to the native groups in Mesopotamia that America, not Britain or France, would come in to help them; in the end, they were disappointed.  Because the Commission had essentially failed, yet the British and French colonial ambitions were still strong, the respective governments wished to encourage native support; Breasted saw his expedition as one way for the Americans and the British to work together to do this.  Allenby thus gave orders to a Residency staff officer to make the travel arrangements for Breasted’s expedition through the Army Administration (14 December 1919).   The British were the central authority in the area at the time and their making arrangements seemed to be the most efficient means of getting the travel organized, and Breasted wrote: “I must say these Englishmen have treated me mighty well.  I have found universal cordiality and kindness and readiness to help” (14 December 1919).   While they could not guarantee a specific date of travel, the Army was in charge of his plans.

From November through February, when the expedition finally left Cairo, Breasted continued working in the Cairo museum making copies and transcribing the script on coffins and monuments.  He also visited Upper Egypt to continue buying antiquities in the markets.  He ended up spending, according to his own accounting, over $70,000 worth of antiquities for various museums and collections, including the Art Museum and the new Oriental Institute (30 December 1919).   In January, Allenby gave him permission to fly over Cairo and take photographs of the pyramids, the city, and the desert.  It was quite an adventure for him, being his first time in an open airplane.  He said that he had trouble breathing and the noise was so terrible that he wondered if he would complete the whole two-hour trip.  He did, but not before he “leaned over the cockpit rail and surrendered to the Sahara a very good thirty piaster lunch!” (15 January 1920)   When he was not getting sick, he reveled in the beauty of the views.  He wrote: “…the full splendor of it all broke upon me, and it was thrilling beyond all words to express” (15 January 1920).   He saw the Delta and the desert, 100 miles in every direction. As they came upon the Giza pyramid group, they hovered over the Great Pyramid.  Breasted wrote: “I suppose I am the first archaeologist who has ever opened a camera on the pyramid from a point where all four sides could be seen at once” (15 January 1920).   When they landed, he was happy to be back on the ground and as he and Ludlow Bull went back to Cairo, had 20 pictures of the pyramids to show for it.

By February, Allenby had gotten him passage on a P&O steamship from Port Said, sailing on 18 February, bound for Bombay, India.  There was near-constant fighting in the Transjordan and the usual route overland from Cairo to Baghdad was not passable.  For safety’s sake, then, the route Breasted and his crew took had to “follow the two long sides of a triangle with its apex at Bombay, a distance of over 5000 miles” (C. Breasted, 243).   Before the expedition left, Breasted went to the Residency to bid the Allenbys goodbye.  The General gave Breasted a French report on the state of Syria to read while he wrote an introduction letter to Prince Feisal, then of Syria, to ensure Breasted’s protection.  The report, marked “SECRET,” detailed the state of affairs in the area the French were attempting to occupy.  Breasted wrote to his family, as well as to President Judson of Chicago of the situation: “It is evident that the whole middle section of the Fertile Crescent from Baghdad to Aleppo and Damascus is on fire, and a concerted effort is being made by the Turks and the Arabs to throw the French into the sea.  We shall not get far from Baghdad, I fear.  Be quite free from all anxiety” (18 February 1920).**   Though their destinations were in a daily state of flux, in the end, the expedition went from Cairo by boat to Bombay, then again by boat to Basra and essentially followed the Euphrates River as it wound its way through the desert.  Going northwest, they saw a number of cities and villages, including Basra, Baghdad, Tikrit, Fallujah, Anah, Deir ez-Zor, and Aleppo; from there they turned back southwest and travelled to cities including Beirut, Damascus, Haifa, and Jerusalem.  All along the way, they did archaeological reconnaissance and purchased antiquities at the ancient sites of Ur, Babylon, Nimrud, Ninevah, and Damascus, as well as doing covert political intelligence gathering.

Breasted knew he would gather intelligence on the state of the area, because he volunteered for it, but the covert work actually began early on, and seemed to be a surprise.  On the ship to Bombay, Breasted and his crew met “a big, ponderous, florid-faced Briton named Major Pratt-Barlow.  …though [he is] very taciturn and modest, but we have at last induced him to talk” (27 February 2910).   Pratt-Barlow allowed Breasted to read T. E. Lawrence’s report to Allenby about his own experiences and thoughts on the situation in Syria.  Breasted recounted that “The French are so insanely jealous of Lawrence’s power and influence among the Arabs, that the British have not published Lawrence’s report for fear of offending the French.  It is a pity, for it is an extraordinary document” (27 February 1920).   That Pratt-Barlow would let Breasted read this document would be a little unexpected, unless Breasted had particular clearances from Allenby that we do not know about.  From Bombay, they sailed to Basra, which was then a “vast military camp extending four miles along the Shatt el-Arab, with shipping, native and English” (9 March 1920).   Here they planned to follow the new railway from Basra to Baghdad, which was quite safe, Breasted said, and which passed through the ancient site of Ur of the Chaldees where they would survey and then begin a camel caravan to Baghdad, zigzagging so to stay near the railway (10 March 1920).   Along the way, from site to site and city to city, they stayed in various military housing units; many times these were the only housing options available.  They met not only with Army officials, but also with leaders of local importance, many of whom seemed to know of their arrivals in advance.  They were given every hospitality possible by both groups, the native groups often having better food than the Army units.

As they worked, Breasted’s team witnessed some questionable actions on the part of the British Army.  One Major Daly, whom they met near the ancient site of Babylon, told Breasted about tearing down hundreds of ancient fortresses that had been, according to Daly, hampering relations among the local tribes for centuries.  If tearing down forts did not work to subdue the native groups, then Daly told Breasted that he would simply bomb the tribes into submission.  Breasted’s response to these methods, which on the one hand he thought should be “condemned on humanitarian grounds,” was, on the other hand, to “consider the alternative” (30 March 1920)    The alternative was what Breasted termed “Arab liberty,” which he described as “the opportunity to oppress all his neighbors and raise unlimited hell” (30 March 1920).   He continued, arguing that Wilson’s fourteen points would work well indeed in these situations, but that the British were refusing to use them.  Even still, he continually found local people who were willing to praise the English arrival and all the good it had done for them.  One local man near this site told Breasted that the Ottoman rulers had indeed been cruel, but that with the English “things are much better now” (2 April 1920).

Breasted and his crew met archaeologist and intelligence official Gertrude Bell in Baghdad when she was a dinner guest at the home of Major-General Percy Hambro, Quartermaster-General of the British Army in Mesopotamia (C. Breasted, 274; 10 April 1920).   Breasted described her as “an Englishwoman who has been out here among the Arabs, like Lady Hester Stanhope, for some 25 years—of course no longer young, and a terrible blue stocking, but I have no doubt an interesting woman” (10 April 1920).   According to his son, Breasted and Bell struck up a friendship that lasted until her death in 1926.  She led them on a few adventures and had so much energy that she “ran her male companions ragged” (C. Breasted, 276).   Breasted watched her force a diplomatic meeting between General Haldane, then the commander-in-chief of British forces in Mesopotamia, and a “recalcitrant Arab tribe whose sheikh she had befriended” (Ibid.).   The sheikh took the meeting to be a “flattering and deliberately planned gesture of friendship from Great Britain…and from that day forward he and his tribe became devoted allies of the Empire” (Ibid.).   Bell’s work was clearly as an active diplomat, while Breasted, the whole time painting himself as a passive witness to these international relations, clearly had some active role in the numerous meetings he attended.

This active role is apparent in the fact that he and his crew got permission to go to Aleppo, through the Syrian Desert, because their arrival would “coincide with the very important negotiations between the British and the Arabs regarding Anglo-Arab boundary on [the Euphrates River]” (25 April 1920).   The outcome of these talks would either allow or prohibit the area to be handed back to the local tribes; the Breasted party depended on the friendliness of the local leader for permission to travel through safely.  The Civil Commissioner told Breasted that if they show “good will by furnishing safe conduct to an American party as far as Aleppo,” then the British were more likely to give the area back to them (25 April 1920).   Breasted was more than happy to play this part in negotiations, as he was focused on getting his crew to Aleppo safely and getting access to a number of ancient sites.  He wrote to his wife:

“As regards the Syrian desert [sic] I would not write at all about it until the journey should be over…and you need not be troubled by the apprehensions which beset me as I write and which, in view of the circumstances, I need not conceal. I have thought the matter over well. It is a grave responsibility to take four men beside myself across four hundred miles of war zone, three fourths of which or nearly so are beset by treacherous Arabs” (25 April 1920).

He was clearly worried about the trip, as evidenced by the short, personal letters he wrote to each member of his family, professing his love and his safety but saying that if anything happened to him, he would always think of those he loved.  He wrote that he truly believed this work was all for the furthering of the Oriental Institute and for the furthering of archaeology; and it was.  But that was not all the trip was about.

As they approached Deir ez-Zor, on their way to Aleppo, their arrival was announced to the local leader, Maulud Pasha, and the crew were invited to dine with him.  He first visited the Pasha’s office and told him about the British planning to withdraw troops to nearly a hundred miles from the upper Euphrates, and by the time he had returned to his lodgings, he had five Arab officers waiting for him.  They were ready to discuss “the political future of the Arabs, because they had so much confidence in America and such admiration for the great republic, whose aid they so much needed” (7 May 1920).   They also asked about the intentions of the British, but Breasted did not report much on that to them, possibly for his own safety.  Later, at dinner, the Pasha and his officers expressed the same hopes to Breasted from his home country: “They all expressed not only admiration but affection for America and complete confidence in our ability to help them….I confess that this wide-spread respect for our country this general expectation of help which it was sure to send, threw a new light on our responsibilities.  The world was everywhere expecting great and new things from us” (7 May 1920).   The Pasha was clear in his expectations, however:

“What they wanted was for the English to go and leave the Arabs to run their own affairs, hoping for the guidance and advice of America, until the new Arab nation, after centuries of strife and disunion, could gather strength, gain experience and deserve a place with the other nations of the world.  They all expressed deep seated resentment toward the British, and unconquerable determination not to permit English domination.  It was, I assure you, a great surprise to me, and I believe it would be equally so to the British statesmen now guiding the British Empire” (7 May 1920).

This meeting, and the outcome of it, represents a shift in Breasted’s duties to the British.  With this meeting, he likely realized that not only had he volunteered in gauging native attitudes at this critical time, but would also be needed to give policy advice to His Majesty’s Government in the event.

Not long after the meeting with the Pasha, Breasted and his crew moved further east toward Aleppo and Breasted found himself in a meeting with one of then-King Feisal of Syria’s strongest and most powerful supporters, Sheikh Ramadhan Beg Shilash.  The Sheikh could not say enough good things about America or enough bad things about the English.  To corroborate this distaste, one of Ramadhan’s men raised a “massive tent-mallet” over Breasted’s head and “smote the ground several times with all his strength, saying that was how he would treat the English if he got the chance!” (7 May 1920).  After this frightening display, Ramadhan asked Breasted to carry a letter to a newspaper in Aleppo for him.  Breasted probably felt he had no choice but to agree to the task, and the crew reached Aleppo on 12 May, rejoicing in all that civilization had to offer.  The relief in Aleppo was not for long.  They had encountered a war zone and, with the threat of Arab tribes cutting off railway lines, Breasted immediately secured local protection and a rail car to the ancient site of Kadesh, where Ramses II had beaten the Hittites in c. 1270 BC.***   They continued on to the site of Baalbek, then to Beirut.  Upon reaching Baalbek, however, Breasted was accosted by two Bedouin and asked “bluntly whether he had delivered the letter which Sheikh Ramadhan Beg Ibn Shallash had given him to take to Aleppo….and he speculated to himself what might have befallen him and his party had he for any reason failed to deliver the letter” (C. Breasted, 301).   By this point, the importance of what Breasted was doing began to sink in.  His own life had been threatened regarding something as simple as a letter, and he did not miss the significance of that.  He also could not have been ignorant of the fact that the letter must have been important, as he delivered the letter in Aleppo despite having a high fever upon their arrival.

The team arrived in Beirut on 20 May and stayed for about a week, visiting colleagues, seeing ancient sites nearby, and acquiring artifacts.  Breasted also met with General Gouraud, High Commissioner of France in Syria during that time.  Although Breasted had seen the state of unrest “on the very ground” the French were attempting to control, he felt “obliged to keep quiet about it” (28 May 1920).   He did not keep quiet about tough issues when he met with King Feisal, soon to be King of the new Iraq, over a week later.  The two spoke in French, and Breasted said the conversation was “commonplace” until he brought up the journey he and his team had accomplished across the desert from Baghdad to the Mediterranean (29 May 1920).   Feisal was extremely interested in this feat, as well as the conditions Breasted witnessed throughout the new Arab state.  Breasted said he “did not hesitate to tell King Feisal the facts regarding the feeling there concerning his own brother Abdullah,” who had claimed the kingship over Iraq.  The people did not support him, and instead supported a “superb Arab,” a leader of a “sect of Puritan Muslims” (29 May 1920).   Feisal appreciated Breasted’s honesty and invited him to dinner a few days hence.  The dinner was official, with the American Consul and many of the King’s closest advisers in attendance.  Breasted was asked to sit at the King’s right, which was the official seat of honor.  Breasted wrote: “I was reluctant to take [the seat], as Uncle Sam was officially present, but of course I could not demur at any arrangement he [Feisal] chose to make” (3 June 1920).   They did not talk much of politics, as the King had already told Breasted that he thought the conflict between the French and English, in Syria and Palestine respectively, was America’s fault (3 June 1920).

Breasted and his crew then traveled to Damascus, and arrived in Jerusalem on 3 June, their final stop before returning to Cairo.  In Jerusalem Breasted was immediately swept into numerous meetings with the highest British Intelligence officials in the area, including the Major-General Sir Louis Bols.  Writing to his wife, he told her:

“I had to tell much of my experiences on the overland trip.  They were all talking of King Feisal’s absence in Paris, and were quite incredulous when I told them I had dined with him in Damascus only three days before.  I can’t begin to recount the conversation, but it was a very diverting game for me. …After lunch I went into a corner with [General Bols], and told him what I knew of Arab hostility to the British” (5 June 1920).

He seemed to delight in the fact that he knew intelligence that the British did not, in terms of the situation with native tribes and Feisal’s whereabouts, and that they were scrambling because of it.  The British Army and Government were anxious about Feisal’s allegiance to them, and Breasted told Bols “…that the sheikhs [he] had talked with showed little enthusiasm for Feisal” (5 June 1920).   Bols pressed him for details about the letter he had delivered to Aleppo for Ramadhan, but Breasted had no further information about it.  The two continued talking about the French presence in Syria, which was very unwelcome, and the British presence in Palestine, which was welcome but becoming troublesome (5 June 1920).

Breasted explained to Frances in his 5 June letter that he thought “It was a very curious thing that Sheikh Ramadhan handed me, an American stranger, a confidential letter to be delivered in Aleppo, while only an hour or two before me…an official of Feisal’s government had passed by the Sheikh’s tents on his way to Aleppo” (5 June 1920).   After talking in depth with two more British Army officials—General Waters-Taylor and Lord Stadbrooke, Commandant at Kantara (in the Eastern Delta)—on the train journey from Jerusalem to Cairo, he learned that he had indeed been a covert messenger for Ramadhan.  On 10 June he wrote Frances: “The plot thickens!…Sheikh Ramadhan’s letter, which he cunningly set the stage for me to carry, was evidently for the French! …He is working against Feisal’s interests again, and made me his messenger to the French without my knowing it!” (10 June 1920).   In addition, one of his expedition journals and some telegrams were likely intercepted by the French, so it was clear that Breasted was on the French radar as working for British Army intelligence.  He did not appreciate the fact that he may have helped them in their aspirations for Syria.

Upon his return to Cairo, he updated Allenby on his whole journey.  He focused his report to Allenby on his “apprehensions regarding Palestine if the present policy were continued” (10 June 1920).   The “present policy” was the Balfour Declaration, which Breasted likened to forcing “upon the protesting people of the land an utterly abhorrent Jewish supremacy, producing in Palestine a situation equally full of trouble and disorder [as in Syria]!” (5 June 1920).  Upon hearing this news, Allenby immediately sent Breasted home, via London, extending his trip by two weeks.  He commissioned Breasted to meet with Lord Curzon, the Foreign Minister, and Prime Minister David Lloyd George in order to update them on the latest situation in Mesopotamia.  He wrote letters to each of them, saying that Breasted “has just travelled through Mesopotamia, and by land to Aleppo.  He has therefore the latest and best information on these regions” (10 June 1920).   Breasted expressed his concern over this course of action to Allenby, saying “‘I devoutly hope something [can] be done, for the present policy [is] steering straight for trouble.’ ‘Yes,’ Allenby replied, ‘I think so too, and I have clearly told them so, but they won’t listen to me.  Perhaps they’ll take it from you’” (10 June 1920).   Breasted did not wish to refuse this call to duty, feeling, as he was, “very much in a dream…charged with an international mission which may have something to do with saving Palestine from civil war, and the whole Near East from conflagration” (10 June 1920).   But, that may have been the expected course of action all along.

Allenby had charged him emphatically multiple times to tell Curzon and Lloyd George all he knew from his overland trip.  In addition, the American consulate had asked him to dictate a full statement to send to the War Department in Washington, D. C., so that Wilson and the military could also know the state of affairs in the Middle East.  On the way to England, he wrote to his wife about the outcomes of his trip.  “Scientifically I have not accomplished a great deal.  But in the matter of museum pieces, and the practical foundation necessary to establish our work in the newly organized Near East emerging from the Great War, I am quite satisfied” (28 June 1920).   Breasted was well aware that the Rockefeller money given to his scientific endeavors, for the first year at least, had largely aided in the British Government spying on their newly colonized areas.  Breasted did not mention any of the discussion or results from those meetings in these letters from his expedition, although he wrote about it in a report from the first Expedition (JH Breasted 1920, cited in Abt, 232).   He wrote in a letter to Charles that he had met with Curzon for over an hour, but that the Prime Minister was absent at the Spa Conference and therefore could not meet with him (C. Breasted, 314).   Charles Breasted recounted his father’s summary of the meeting:

“I summarized our journey through Iraq and across the Syrian Desert; referred to the incident of the letter from Sheikh Ramadhan which probably reached [the French];…prophesied imminent disaster if the French continued their present policy of intimidation in Syria, and murderous inter-racial strife if the British adhered to the Balfour Declaration in Palestine.  …he startled me by throwing back his hands and exclaiming, ‘My God—to think that at such a time His Majesty’s Minister of Foreign Affairs should have been ignorant of the facts you have brought me!’” (C. Breasted, 314).

Curzon had to end their meeting quickly to deal with a labor dispute.  Before they parted, he told Breasted that the intelligence he gave was crucial, “‘even if—as I fear—they have reached my Government too late to forestall imminent catastrophe, they will nevertheless fortify us in any eventual modification of our Palestinian policy which circumstances may force upon us.’ He thanked me in behalf of his Government for what I had done and for what it implied of Anglo-American amity, and we parted” (C. Breasted, 314).   After this meeting, he returned home with a “greatly clarified vision of the project to which he now hoped to devote what with uncanny prescience he correctly anticipated as the fifteen remaining years of his life” (C. Breasted, 316).

*The King-Crane Commission archive is located at the Oberlin College Archives, in Oberlin, Ohio. It is the main collection of resources on the Commission. http://www.oberlin.edu/library/digital/king-crane/ It presents maps, letters, and analysis for scholars and the general public.

**Charles Breasted later recollected that he met with the Allenbys a couple of years after this trip and they told him that it was “only with the greatest reluctance and anxiety complied with my father’s request for transport and other facilities; for the High Command in Mesopotamia had reported conditions there as so dangerous that they had not expected to see him alive again” (261-62).

***Breasted wrote about this battle and Ramses II’s military strategy in “The Battle of Kadesh,” so this site was especially important to him (“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)). See also Abt, American Egyptologist, 92-93; 245.

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Part 3: The Paper and the #CVofFailures

Welcome to the 3rd (and shortest) installment of the serial release of my twice-rejected article.  When we last left our heroine, she had been told she was “overly dramatic” in her scholarship about James Henry Breasted’s 1919-1920 trip to Mesopotamia.  Here, we see that there have been other archaeologist operatives, and that Breasted wasn’t the first or the last.


By the end of World War I, as the European sphere was concerned, the United States had a noticeably “tardy espionage system,” and Wilson was in no hurry to rectify the situation (Dorwart 1979, 123).   The British Intelligence Bureau, on the other hand, had a well-developed network of trained operatives who were professional archaeologists.  T. E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, had begun his career as an archaeologist in 1910 at the ancient Hittite site of Carchemish under Leonard Woolley.  They worked together to gather intelligence for a particularly significant site report, published by the Palestine Exploration Fund.  The Wilderness of Zin (1914) was not only an important publication for archaeologists, but its detailed geography and cultural discussion made it a crucial source for British military intelligence throughout the war.   Archaeologist, traveler, and linguist Gertrude Bell was also well-known and highly sought after by intelligence officers from the start of the Great War, due to her extensive travelling and expertise in the ethnology of Arab tribes, languages, and customs.  Intelligence officer and Oxford archaeologist David Hogarth wrote to her in early 1915, requesting her to “help prepare detailed information on the location, numbers and lineage of the Arab tribes of northern Arabia” and to map the information (Goodman, 68).   She produced what came to be known as the “Bell Report,” in which she informed the War Office that “Syria was pro-British, with a dislike of the growing French influence in the region.  In the circumstances, Syria would be perfectly content to come under British jurisdiction” (Howell, 219).   She also named and detailed the activities of the Arab chiefs in and around Baghdad.  Her information was corroborated by British agents working on the ground, and the report quickly became central to guiding the British foreign presence in the Middle East.  She was then assigned to Basra to work for the Chief Political Officer in Mesopotamia, Sir Percy Cox, where she wrote numerous intelligence reports that were produced in a “handy pocket-sized format” and used by new British officers being funneled through Basra as the fighting in the crumbling Ottoman Empire brought more troops to the Middle East (Bell 1918; Bell 1920; Winstone 1978, 247; Rich 2001, iv-v).   After the war, Bell continued to influence policy in the newly formed Iraq, by being the new King Feisal’s trusted adviser as well as the director of the new Iraq Museum; she is still celebrated for her work there.

Gertrude Bell with TE Lawrence and Winston Churchill at the Sphinx c. 1921.          Courtesy BBC

In the United States, however, archaeologists were not lauded publicly for their intelligence work, nor were they recognized by or even paid by the government for it.  In one specific case, they were heavily criticized by Franz Boas, arguably the father of American anthropology.  In a now-famous letter to The Nation in 1919, he wrote:

“A soldier whose business is murder as a fine art, a diplomat whose calling is based on a deception and secretiveness, a politician whose very life consists in compromises with his conscience, a business man whose aim is personal profit within the limits allowed by a lenient law—such may be excused if they set patriotic devotion above common everyday decency and perform services as spies.  They merely accept the code of morality to which modern society still conforms.  Not so the scientist.  The very essence of his life is the service of truth. …A person…who uses science as a cover for political spying, who demeans himself to pose before a foreign government as an investigator and asks for assistance in his alleged researches in order to carry on, under this cloak, his political machinations, prostitutes science in an unpardonable way and forfeits the right to be classed as a scientist.”

He went on to claim that he knew of at least four archaeologists who acted as government agents in this way and in doing so “have not only shaken the belief in the truthfulness of science, but they have also done the greatest possible disservice to scientific inquiry” (Boas 1919).*   He argued that because of these actions, from then on, people would distrust foreign scientists who wished to do honest work.**

*These men have been identified as Samuel Lathrop, Sylvanus Morley, Herbert Spinden and J. Mason.

**In response to this, the American Anthropological Association passed a motion of censure on Boas, removing him from the governing council. He was also pressured into resigning from the National Research Council. It may not have been just this seemingly unpatriotic statement from Boas that got him removed from these groups, but also anti-semitic and anti-German sentiments. See Anthropology Today “From the Archives,” 21:3 (June 2005)

Posted in Archives, articles, James Breasted, War, Women in Archaeology | 3 Comments

Part 2: The Paper and The #CVofFailures

On Tuesday, I posted the beginning of the most recent piece of my CV of Failures. Everyone has been amazingly supportive–not surprisingly.  It is hard when you put yourself out there publicly.  When you submit an article to a journal, you feel like only a select few will read your raw words, then get back to you.  Here, I’m making those raw words (and some of the reviewers’ words) very public.


Copyright PhD comics

Here are a few more of my words on the page.  Part 2.

The History of Intelligence in Britain and the United States

The history of espionage and covert acts is not often included in other fields for a few reasons.  First, finding proof of covert operations in the archives is difficult, due to many of the documents and activities being classified.  Second, even if it is possible to find written evidence, it is even more difficult to definitively prove that spy activity affected political, economic, or military proceedings.  And third, related to the second reason, while the intelligence world has had a clear impact on history, the episodes associated with them are not as visible as other events such as revolution, war, or groundbreaking legislation (although they are arguably more exciting).  In spite of these difficulties, there are a number of histories of the intelligence world that attempt to bring these bureaus and their operatives into the larger narrative and demonstrate their historical agency.  For the United States and Britain, these histories run parallel and even intersect at some major points.  Each country tended to focus their intelligence gathering operations on lands that were within or near their respective spheres of influence.  Early in the twentieth century, this tended to be Mexico and Central and South America for the United States, and Europe and the growing Empire for Great Britain.  Literature in the history of espionage tends to focus on military and governmental groups as opposed to any operatives specifically; in doing so, authors omit some major characters from the story.*

The main works in early intelligence in the United States focus on military attachés and other military personnel, as they were the people heavily involved in setting protocol and had the training and skill to perform delicate tasks involving covert operations.  Jeffrey Dorwart’s definitive two-volume work on intelligence focuses on the development of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which he calls “America’s first intelligence agency.”   The first volume covers the period from just after the end of the Civil War in 1865 up to the end of the First World War.  He clearly shows the fledgling ONI as having budget issues, personnel problems, and general issues of support from Navy officers as well as the Secretary of State and the President. During Woodrow Wilson’s time as President (1913-1921), the intelligence world in the United States, which had been growing in scope and size, began to shrink.  Furthermore, the focus of this intelligence was not primarily in Europe, but instead on domestic issues and on the fledgling new states in Central and South America.  The US wanted to make sure that European powers stayed out of the Western Hemisphere, as well as get access to trade agreements, natural resources, and government control.

During the same time in British Intelligence, because Great Britain itself was so small, yet their Empire so vast, they needed to make sure they had the means to gather information on their colonies as well as other European powers.  Christopher Andrew wrote the two definitive histories of British Intelligence, and demonstrates that they had early frustrations similar to the ONI in the United States (Andrew 1986; Andrew 2009; Jeffreys-Jones 2013).   Intelligence was a small division within the government and were comprised of underfunded military departments.  As did the ONI, British intelligence grew up to and through the Great War.  There was government support for intelligence during the War because of their proximity to conflict as well as the opportunity for imperial gains after the fighting had ended.  During the War the budget for intelligence in Britain was about £100,000; by 1919 it was cut by two-thirds; by 1921 the budget was just ten percent of its wartime height (Andrew 2009, 117-8).   Even though British forces were fighting in the Middle East during this time, and they were heavily interested in the resources and land available there, Andrew and others pass over discussion of that important covert battleground.

During and after the First World War, Britain gained political control over much of the Middle East and the Levant, but indeed they had relatively little knowledge of the areas or the peoples who lived there.  They needed to work as closely as possible with the native groups in those areas in order to control them easily and to maintain a peace.  For both the US and Britain, the financial and moral issues were insurmountable and many of these agencies could not spare the money or the personnel to cover every area.  To solve the problem, they counted on civilians who were already in place to uncover and report information.  The ONI hired trusted, known entities such as bankers, lawyers, merchants, and other men who “came from old Yankee stock, carrying ties to some of New York’s oldest and wealthiest families” (Dorwart 109).    These men, such as Ralph Pulitzer and banker Reginald C. Vanderbilt, could be trusted, and, as a bonus, would have had access to international trade and therefore international information.  Throughout the First World War, these operatives kept German spies from fully infiltrating or destroying American ports.  They also hired archaeologists, such as Sylvanus Morely, who had cultural connections and perspectives on local activities that wealthy businessmen did not (Harris and Sadler 2003; see also Kuklick 1993).   Likewise, the British Intelligence Bureau and the British War Office relied on the people who knew the most about these areas, culturally as well as historically, so they called on archaeologists.  These offices recruited and trained historians, linguists, and archaeologists in gathering and reporting intelligence from the field.  This practice was so well known among intelligence operatives that by 1917, ONI Director Roger Welles was discussing with William Sims, then-commander of US Naval forces operating from Britain, that the British had a “‘corps of grey-haired Oxford Professors, Egyptologists, Cuneiform Inscription Readers, etc., who break ciphers with great facility…’” (Dorwart, 123).   In fact, from the earliest days of archaeology in the Middle East, the British understood that archaeologists made exceptionally good intelligence agents and were expected to report “anything of military interest that they saw” (BAR 2013).   They had well-established relationships with indigenous peoples because of on-site work; they had insight into the history and cultures of the peoples they encountered; and, most importantly, archaeologists were able to travel discreetly as scientists while gathering sensitive information for the government.  The intelligence work archaeologists did from 1914 to the mid-1920s was crucial for the development and stability of British power in the Middle East after the Great War.

In the history of archaeology and anthropology, scholars have written numerous histories and biographies of scientists that include at least some mention of covert activity (Anderson 2013; Goodman 1985; Wilson 1990; Abt, 233-248).   Because of this, archaeologists such as T. E. Lawrence, Leonard Woolley, David Hogarth, and Gertrude Bell are fully associated with the intelligence world as well as the scientific one.  There are a few works that center on covert activities, but they tend to focus on the Second World War, and not the First, and very few that discuss the Middle East (Harris and Sadler; Hueck Allen 2011; Price 2008).   One major exception is James F. Goode’s Negotiating for the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941, which is an important work that bridges the gap of the Interwar period (2007).   Most frequently, however, it has been the journal article and not the monograph that covers this kind of activity, and rightly so: archaeologists were not full-time spies (Browman 2011; Price 2000; Price 2003).   Some were full-time spies but only during wartime; others were part-time spies while they performed their archaeological tasks.  Most continued to be paid by the institution for which they should have been researching, and few were trained in espionage in any way.**   This meant that their work in the intelligence world was secondary at best to their scientific work, therefore documentation is relatively minimal.

*The major sources I focus on here are classic works in the genre, such as Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (New York, 2009); 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); 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); 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. As O’Toole notes (4), there is scarcely a word to be found about espionage in most traditional narratives of American history, and it is missing from most historical analysis of wartime, peacetime, and policymaking. Tidd’s article outlines more intelligence history and focuses on the cryptographic side of intelligence; I will not talk about cryptographic work. There are so many aspects to intelligence work, I have chosen two of the main agencies working in this period for Britain and the US—MI5 and the ONI, respectively

**Breasted received no training. Harris and Sadler remark that Mayan archaeologist Sylvanus Morley, who was “arguably the finest American spy of World War I” only received 16 days of training (xi; 46)

Posted in Archives, articles, Biography, James Breasted, Writing | 4 Comments

Once Written, Twice Rejected: One piece of my #CVofFailures

Have you seen the trending #cvoffailures?  It stems from an idea from a 2010 article in Nature by a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Melanie Stefan (@MelanieIStefan), that we should keep our failures close, so we can have some perspective on our successes as well as help encourage others.  Johannes Haushofer, a professor at Princeton University, took this idea and ran with it.  He is becoming famous for publicizing a CV of all of the jobs that he didn’t get, grants that didn’t get funded, papers and projects that got rejected, and more.  He argues that this CV has gotten more acclaim than the totality of his published work.  Some have argued that maybe he wouldn’t be so brave if his CV of success wasn’t so illustrious.  Well, I’m here to post a piece of specific evidence from my CV of failures.  You can see my CV of success on this page, so you can see that I’m an Assistant Professor, on the tenure track, and I have no big grants.  I have my book, a few articles and book reviews, and a handful of conference presentations.  I’m still, technically, a junior scholar and I hope my biggest successes are ahead of me.

I don’t feel particularly brave doing this.  My hope is that other scholars, and people outside of academia, may be somewhat encouraged by the situation I’ll entail below, and in the next few posts over the next week or so.  Because it is a full-length journal article (around 10,000 words), I chose not to put it all in one post.

I had a sabbatical last semester, and I got quite a bit of research done for a couple of new projects.  I didn’t get a whole lot written, but I did write up an article based on a conference paper I gave a few years ago.  The article is titled: “On His Majesty’s Secret Service: James Henry Breasted, Accidental Spy.”  I submitted it to a few journals, but it’s a hard one to place.  It isn’t a history of espionage; it isn’t really a history of archaeology or Egyptology (you’ll see–I’ll be posting the full text of it here, later this week).  Finally, I found an editor at a Top Journal who liked it, but rejected it because the subject just didn’t fit their focus.  Later, this same editor came back and asked me to re-submit the paper because they had found a place for it in the journal.  So I did.

The paper got rejected again for asserting claims that were “exaggerated and illogical” according to one reviewer, and according to the other, “overblown and unsubstantiated.” Even though I had archival evidence which, I thought, clearly supported my argument, neither reviewer liked what I said.  One reviewer chose to pull out all the statements s/he thought were “overly dramatic” and made sure I understood that biplanes cannot hover, but did not give much advice on how to make the paper better.  The other reviewer essentially rewrote my argument in less “exaggerated” tones, using much the same evidence I did.  This second reviewer did suggest I seek out other sources, such as government documents in the National Archives in the US and the UK, in order to check my story and possibly back it up more substantially.  Unfortunately, I have neither the time nor the resources to do this.  Therefore, I am choosing to drop this project and instead, post the full text here for your perusal, your review, your suggestions, and your thoughts.

I am not saying that the paper you’ll (hopefully) read over the next few posts is the best paper ever written, or that it deserved to be accepted to this particular journal.  I honestly could not tell you why, exactly, these reviewers did not agree with anything I said, except that they thought I was being dramatic.  They obviously read the evidence differently.  I do wonder if my argument was too far off the accepted Breasted narrative that it just made these scholars uncomfortable.  What I am saying is that scholarship is hard; adding to the narrative is a difficult path to take when gatekeepers won’t listen; and sometimes you simply have to shake it off.

I wrote one paper which got rejected twice by the same journal.  I’m sure I’m not the first to experience this and I won’t be the last, but it is a hard pill to swallow.  Here is an unedited piece of my CV of failures.  I’m nervous to post because I could be completely wrong about the reviewers and my claims could be exaggerated, overly dramatic, and illogical.  But, here it is.

James Henry Breasted (Public Domain, Smithsonian Institution Archives)

On His Majesty’s Secret Service: James Henry Breasted, Accidental Spy, Part I:*

Upon his arrival in Cairo in 1919, James Henry Breasted met with the General Sir Edmund Allenby at the British Residence for dinner.  After dinner, the two spoke at length about the post-war political situation in the Near East.  Breasted wrote to his wife about it that evening:

…I had taken the first opportunity to say that I hoped to further the establishment of cordial cooperation between his country and mine in the future control of the Near East, and for that reason I would be glad of an opportunity to learn all the facts regarding the situation which it might be proper for me to know.  He made no response whatever, but he at once began to talk (30 Nov. 1919).

This was the beginning of a long and difficult journey in which Breasted and his crew—Daniel Luckenbill, Ludlow Bull, William Edgerton, and William Shelton—became the first non-Arab people to cross the Mesopotamian desert since the founding of the new state (Larson ed. 2010, 11).   The expedition had begun as a scientific expedition in 1919, but had immediately been swept up into the British Intelligence mission.  Breasted’s situation as an archaeologist-turned-spy was not unique: the British had been using archaeologists as spies since the 1870s.  However, the fact that he was an American gathering intelligence for the British was indeed extraordinary.  First, and most obviously, it shows that Breasted was not only a well-respected scholar, but also someone with careful diplomatic skills.  It also demonstrated that the British were willing to use whatever resources they had to advance their station in the Middle East in this crucial rebuilding period.  That the United States did not take advantage of Breasted’s position that year also meant that they were not prepared to move into the Atlantic world in the tumultuous period after the First World War.  Although it is not clear whether or not Breasted knew of the British Army’s expectation of covert duties and meetings before he traipsed across a still-war-torn desert, it is obvious that he had a clear agenda of gathering intelligence for the British in exchange for their protection and freedom of travel throughout his expedition.

Many who are familiar with the career of James Henry Breasted—the first American Egyptologist, the founder of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and former president of the American Historical Society and the History of Science Society—do not know about his time as a spy for the British just after World War I.  Even though there have been two full-length biographies of Breasted, one by his son Charles Breasted and the other quite recently published by Jeffrey Abt, both neglect to analyze this fascinating story (C. Breasted 1943; Abt 2011; PttP p. 240-322).   Other recent work, published in conjunction with the 2010 “Pioneers to the Past” exhibition at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, also discusses Breasted’s expedition and the archaeological ramifications of it (Emberling ed. 2010).   James Gelvin’s chapter “The Middle East Breasted Encountered, 1919-1920,” reveals many of the delicate political situations he encountered along his journey; and an extensive chapter outlining the expedition’s itinerary in detail also reveals his intelligence mission, but remains focused on the archaeology (Gelvin 2010; Emberling and Teeter 2010).   It is to be expected in scientific narratives and biographies of scientists, especially those who have been particularly influential in their field, that the practice of science will outweigh the non-scientific parts of their careers, so specific attention should be paid to this part of Breasted’s career.  It is significant for historians because, even though others have recognized this part of his expedition, no one has yet examined his intelligence and covert activities exclusively.

Usually spending several months away from his family, Breasted is famous for writing letters to his wife and children in the form of field journals, and the 1919-1920 expedition was no different (Larson ed. 2010).   In this paper, I will use these letters in order to analyze Breasted’s brief intelligence career and reconnaissance mission for the British government.  By examining his letters back home to his family from the 1919-1920 expedition, it becomes obvious that he did concentrated work to gather intelligence on the state of the peoples and political environments as he traveled, all the time being supported and protected by the British Army, and sometimes by loyalist local groups.  Along the way, he met major figures in post-war Middle Eastern politics and in British Intelligence.  He escorted a number of them to important Egyptian archaeological sites, dined with them on a regular basis, and continued friendly relationships with them long after this mission.  American officials, however, were seriously lacking in their roles in this story as well as in their helpfulness.  With his unique perspective as a cultural heritage expert and as an American with (seemingly) no vested interest in the area, Breasted’s intelligence work in Mesopotamia was a situation of opportunity and defiance.  The local groups were used to dealing with European and American archaeologists, so Breasted’s group was in no real danger as a scientific expedition.  Local leaders knew that Breasted and his crew likely had the support and therefore the ear of European and American powers and took the chance and let their situations be known.  In the end, however, both Britain and the United States ignored the information he reported about the troubled area.  Breasted’s cultural and political insights would be critical to British decisions about their actions in the Middle East, if not in their application, then in their conclusions.  Breasted’s position as a well-paid, trusted scientist allowed him special access into an unstable post-war environment in which he could gather profitable objects for museums who had money as well as profitable information for almost anyone who wished to move into the area.  The British Army knew this and took special advantage of his situation.

*I will post my works cited at the end of the postings.

Posted in Archives, Biography, James Breasted, War | Tagged , | 6 Comments