This article explores the multiple visual presences of antiquity in the first half of the twentieth century and connects visual histories to the history of empires. It shows how archaeology mediated between the newly discovered material civilizations of the ancient Mesopotamian empires and experiences of modernity in the British Empire, the world’s largest modern empire. The article demonstrates how the materiality of antiquity enabled its visualization in a variety of forms, from illustrations through black-and-white and color photography to aerial photography, and in three-dimensional reconstructions in museums. The article focuses on the spectacular archaeological discoveries at Ur, Tell Al-Muqayyar, in Southern Iraq, which exposed to mass audiences the unknown Sumerian culture. Ur was represented and constructed as the place of origin of monotheism, a site of a rich material culture, and, at the same time, as barbarous.
Ur: Empire, Modernity, and the Visualization of Antiquity Between the Two World Wars
Billie Melman is Professor of Modern History at Tel Aviv University. She has written extensively on colonialism and culture, orientalism, and cross-cultural relations in the age of modern empires. She is completing a book on modernity, the rediscovery of antiquity, and imperial crisis during the first half of the twentieth century.
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Billie Melman; Ur: Empire, Modernity, and the Visualization of Antiquity Between the Two World Wars. Representations 1 February 2019; 145 (1): 129–151. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2019.145.1.129
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