4.2.2 National antiquities: British v. World archaeology and the role of the publisher

Charles Roach Smith produced exemplary work as a result of serious private endeavour, and with the support of a network of friends and associates, he did achieve considerable recognition in his lifetime. However, his achievements were overshadowed by those of Layard, and other archaeologists working overseas, and it is Layard who was, and still is, celebrated as a 'pioneer of modern archaeology'.

This bias is due in part to institutional priorities at the time, which increasingly asserted Britain's national identity through archaeological exploration and the acquisition and display of antiquities from overseas. While it was seen as important to assert Britain's place at the heart of a pan-European classical culture, the 'symbolic conquest' of the Near East was of particular importance from the middle of the century, serving to extend Britain's economic and political significance in the region (Malley 2012; see also Díaz-Andreu 2007, 131-166). It is also the case that major publishers were increasingly commercially driven. Overseas discoveries, which resulted in the acquisition of 'exotic' and monumental antiquities for the British Museum, were seen as particularly appealing. Layard was encouraged to produce a 'whopper with lots of plates', and to 'fish up old legends and anecdotes, and if you can by any means humbug people into the belief that you have established any points in the Bible, you are a made man' (BL 38982, fol. 232, cited in Malley 2012, 47-8; see also Bohrer 1992 on Layard's pubications and Díaz-Andreu 2007, chapter 6 on biblical archaeology). Murray was also acutely aware of the potential market, and persuaded him to focus on exoticism, travel and biblical allusion, for which the publisher was 'prepared to unlock a considerable sum in illustrations' (Malley 2012, 49). Biblical archaeology assumed a particular importance at this time not simply because it was exotic, but also because it helped to restore the status of the Bible in the face of challenges from fluvialist geology (Levine 1986, 97). The impact of religious interests on archaeological publishing merits further attention. Layard's volumes did achieve considerable success, both at home and abroad, and ran to many editions (see Malley 2012, 49, footnote 24 for Layard's accounts of sales).

In contrast, while Roach Smith achieved a considerable degree of success in the production and distribution of his volumes, and significant recognition by his contemporaries, he did not have the support of a commercially oriented publisher, in part due to his own desire for editorial control, but undoubtedly also due to the increasing preference of leading publishers, most notably Murray, for subjects that would appeal to the widest possible audience. The fact that the tastes and interests of the majority of the population were influenced primarily by newspapers and popular journals, and by the cheapest volumes, served to firmly establish and reinforce this taste for adventure and exoticism at the expense of those working on British antiquities. Romano-British archaeology in particular is still marginalized, occupying a 'liminal' position between 'classical' and 'European' archaeology (Henig 2004, 134).


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