6. Roach Smith and British Archaeology

Smith and his associates were working to establish the importance of archaeology at a time when antiquarian pursuits, and the activities of local archaeological and historical societies, were often an object of ridicule (see for example, Punch, a'Beckett 1846, 78, issue 267; a'Beckett 1851, 84, issue 503). The importance of establishing his social and academic credentials as a result of his background in 'trade', and in the aftermath of the rift in the BAA, were undoubtedly also key factors underpinning his desire to produce academically rigorous and well-illustrated volumes in a timely fashion. However, it is notable that Albert Way continued to support Smith's publications (Table 1) despite the rivalries and disagreements, suggesting that the divisions were less clear-cut than has previously been suggested. Indeed, they were often working towards the same goals. While they had little contact for more than a decade, they re-established their relationship in 1863 at the Congress of the Archaeological Institute in Rochester. In the final volume of his Retrospections, Smith is full of praise for Way's achievements: 'I must give him a place amongst the most learned and accomplished with whom it has been my good fortune to be associated' (Smith 1891).

Smith's publications reveal an appreciation and understanding of material culture as a source of information about everyday life in the past, and the potential for interdisciplinary study; for example, in relation to the study of animal bones and botanical remains (Smith 1850, 105; Rhodes 1992). His understanding of the links between archaeology and geology was exceptional in this period (Smith 1852b, 108), as was his appreciation of the value of all forms of art, not simply those which most closely approximated the classical ideal (Henig 1995, 186).

Many of Smith's supporters and close associates, including women, were philanthropic (on philanthropism in this period, see Adams 2004; 2009; Alberti 2005: in archaeology, Thornton 2013, 2), polymathic and often nonconformist, and made a significant contribution within their professional field. They socialised regularly at society events, conversaziones [sic], and archaeological society meetings and congresses (see Moshenska 2017; Thornton 2015, 2; Price 2006; Hoselitz 2007, 56; on learned societies in the period see Lubenow 2015). They pursued their archaeological interests with passion and evangelising zeal. The contributions of many, including Smith, place them on a semi-professional footing in this formative period in the history of archaeology, if professionalism is taken to include 'notions of standards and specialist knowledge' (Hoselitz 2007, 70). Many had links with the pioneering group of archaeologists and antiquarians in the circle of Joseph Banks (Scott 2013a; 2014), and their work informed that of the Lubbock circle, which included Evans, Franks, Pitt-Rivers and many scientists and public figures (Evans 2007, 270).

A review of Retrospections I notes that:

Mr Roach Smith has lived to see archaeology, which was looked upon as a foolish mania, treated almost as one of the exact sciences' (Athenaeum, 30 June 1883, issue 2905, 823).

That he was increasingly accepted by the 'establishment' is clear from the change in tone from earlier articles and reviews in the Athenaeum, which had been far from supportive of him in the aftermath of the split; aristocratic support, most notably that of Lord Londesborough, was also key to his success. The subscription lists show that Smith increasingly attracted supporters from a wide range of backgrounds. The ways in which archaeological networks were established and maintained in this period, through social and cultural events, correspondence and paratextual devices, are key to a more prosopographical and inclusive history of archaeology that identifies and acknowledges the contributions of those normally overlooked in histories of 'British' archaeology, and indeed highlights the importance and impact of archaeological pursuits upon society more generally.

Smith opened archaeology up to a wider public (Briggs 2009, 211); he believed support in kind to be just as important as financial contributions. There are many examples of mutual support in the form of information and access to objects and collections, exchanges of publications, advertising and favourable reviews of volumes. That he was acutely aware of the inequity of access to societies and their activities is evident in his address to the Canterbury Congress. He states a desire to 'render the association as extended and comprehensive as possible', and questions the assumption that all members have an equal ability to give 'pecuniary aid', arguing instead that they may 'be able to afford literary aid or other useful co-operation' (Dunkin 1845, 26). As identified above, women were afforded increasing access to archaeological knowledge and activities, and greater recognition for their contributions, which were often in kind. Foreign participants were similarly encouraged and acknowledged: while their enlistment was often symbolic rather than practical in this period (Literary Gazette, 1153, 3 Jan. 1846, 10; Briggs 2009, 217), it is clear from Smith's voluminous correspondence that he pursued, cultivated and promoted these connections assiduously throughout his life, and in return provided critical information, support and publicity for them, most notably those in France.

While heavily criticised in the 1840s for his promotion of inclusivity (Briggs 2009, 211), it was undoubtedly due to the wider publicity of, and access to, his projects that they were so successful. Smith's ability to overcome class divisions was increasingly acknowledged and celebrated:

The Lothbury druggist lived to enjoy not only the esteem and respect, but the friendship of the highest and most distinguished people in the land, and that at a time when class distinction was more marked than it is (Athenaeum, 30 June 1883, 2905, 823).

While he is best known for his work on Roman London, Smith also played an instrumental role in shifting the focus away from the metropolis through his support for the formation of local archaeological societies, and not simply as the preserve of an educated, London-based elite. In return they championed his work and causes through their own publications and meetings, and through local papers. Subscription lists were of critical importance for the spread of knowledge, providing a directory of like-minded supporters, as well as opportunities for the display of achievements and accolades. They therefore provide an excellent starting point for better understanding the relationship between social and intellectual background and the development of archaeology, as well as the nature and extent of participation by region.

The scale and success of cooperative ventures, spearheaded by Smith, underpinned the development of local and national collections of antiquities (MacGregor 1998, 127–37; Polm 2016). As noted earlier, he relentlessly pursued the campaign to establish a collection of British antiquities in the British Museum, using the prefaces and appendices to his volumes; most notably in the volumes of Collectanea. His commitment to this cause is also clear through his sale of his collection to the British Museum for £2,000. While Lord Londesborough had sent him a cheque for £3,000, he chose to accept the British Museum's offer to ensure that the collection was not dispersed and that 'a safe resting place in the national institution' was secured (Smith 1883, 167). As reported in The Athenaeum:

though he has shared the fate of all pioneers and seen the great leaders of research avail themselves of his labours … They who pay a visit to the recently arranged collections in the British Museum must needs be struck by the recurrence of Mr. Smith's name, attached to so many objects exhibited (30 June 1883, issue 2905, 823).

This collection was the basis of a new department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography, and his Catalogue and Illustrations remained key reference works into the twentieth century (e.g. Haverfield 1915, 50). The divisions between museum professionals, academics and 'amateurs' during this period are not as clear-cut as has been suggested (Levine 1986). As shown in Table 1, the reception and impact of his work can now be more fully explored; for example, through reports and reviews in journals and newspapers, which are now easily accessible online.

Smith's work serves as a timely model for what can be achieved in the face of limited institutional support for archaeological publishing. Through challenging existing priorities and power structures, and through his enterprising, evangelising and inclusive approach, he played a pivotal role in transforming the discipline in the second half of the nineteenth century. While the lack of investment in British archaeology continued to attract attention (Pitt-Rivers 1890), and topographical and military traditions remained dominant, his achievements nevertheless underpinned the formation of British archaeology in its widest sense, and were key to the development of national and international archaeological collections and networks; for this he received national and international recognition in his lifetime. As argued by Sinclair (2016), in order to demonstrate the importance of archaeology to a wide audience, including 'students, industry, charities, decision makers, such that they will value their activities', it is essential that we examine and celebrate its full scope, diversity and multi-disciplinary links (see also British Academy, Reflections on Archaeology 2016, 6–7 and Sinclair 2016, section 1). A more inclusive approach to the history of the discipline, which examines the full range of contributions, provides a better understanding of the ways in which institutional and commercial priorities develop, but also of means by which they can be effectively challenged.


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