MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Negotiating for the Past: Archeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941

Article excerpt

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS: Negotiating for the Past: Archeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919-1941, by James F. Goode. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007. xii + 233 pages. Notes to p. 265. Bibl. to p. 208. Index to p. 293. $55 cloth; $22.95 paper.

Reviewed by James Jankowski

Neither the story of Western archeological activity in the Middle East in the interwar period, nor the history of increasingly assertive local nationalist sentiment over the same period, is unexplored territory. This valuable study reexamines both topics on a comparative basis by considering archeology and nationalism, as well as diplomacy as an adjunct to the former, in four Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq). The detailed analysis of the often fraught relationship between archeologists and nationalists makes for an original and stimulating read, one with implications beyond the historical era under consideration.

The work is extraordinarily well researched and documented. The documentation is richest on the archeological side. The author has mined, with great effect, the papers of many of the leading Western archeologists of the period as well as the archives of numerous museums, institutes, and universities involved in sponsoring archeological expeditions. While American archeological endeavors receive the greatest attention, the activities of other Western countries and archeologists are also considered. He has also conducted less extensive but nonetheless substantial research in the nationalist press of the four countries involved and in the memoirs of nationalist spokesmen of the period. The result is a comparative study of unusual depth.

The work's central thesis is that, in the contest for the control of both archeological sites and the artifacts discovered therein, the 1920s and 1930s witnessed a process of the assertion of indigenous control of archeological activity and artifacts. Through the establishment and/or strengthening of departments of antiquity, the closing of export loopholes, and the closer supervision of archeological projects, the indigenous domination of the handling of their national heritages being demanded by nationalist spokesmen and movements in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq was gradually achieved. The process was neither an uncontested nor a totally successful one; often aided by their diplomatic representatives, Western archeologists and institutions operating in the Middle East offered persistent and sometimes effective resistance to the restriction of their freedom of operation and export. …