Angie Blumberg
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‘Our real life in tombs’
in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
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The introduction begins with a passage from Howard Carter’s narrative of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Analysing Carter’s famous description of ‘wonderful things’, this section introduces many of the prominent qualities of the archaeological encounter explored throughout the book—including temporality, experimental form, aesthetic wonder, and transgression. The introduction then examines a passage from Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr. W.H. (1889, rev. 1921), in which the narrator asks whether we are ‘to look in tombs for our real life’, introducing the concept of archaeological discourse as a tool for examining modern subjectivity and ways of knowing the self and the world. The next section, ‘Other archaeologies’, explains how the book’s key figures and texts turn to archaeology to challenge normative historiographies and suggest more radical sensibilities, as well as to expose and undermine archaeology’s colonialist legacy. The next section turns to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘The Burden of Nineveh’ (rev. 1870) to introduce the civilisations and collections that infused the fin-de-siècle archaeological imagination. After a section devoted to chapter summaries, the introduction concludes by claiming that the literary and artistic engagements with archaeological discourse the book explores offer valuable archaeological epistemologies, forms of archaeological knowledge in themselves.

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