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About Antiquities

About Antiquities
Politics of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire

Masterfully examining the competing claims and aspirations of museums, government officials, archaeologists, and excavation laborers, this book sheds new light on the role of archaeology in empire-building around the turn of the twentieth century.

November 2016
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282 pages | 6 x 9 | 12 color and 89 b&w photos, 6 b&w maps |

Antiquities have been pawns in empire-building and global rivalries; power struggles; assertions of national and cultural identities; and cross-cultural exchanges, cooperation, abuses, and misunderstandings—all with the underlying element of financial gain. Indeed, “who owns antiquity?” is a contentious question in many of today’s international conflicts.

About Antiquities offers an interdisciplinary study of the relationship between archaeology and empire-building around the turn of the twentieth century. Starting at Istanbul and focusing on antiquities from the Ottoman territories, Zeynep Çelik examines the popular discourse surrounding claims to the past in London, Paris, Berlin, and New York. She compares and contrasts the experiences of two museums—Istanbul’s Imperial Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—that aspired to emulate European collections and gain the prestige and power of owning the material fragments of ancient history. Going beyond institutions, Çelik also unravels the complicated interactions among individuals—Westerners, Ottoman decision makers and officials, and local laborers—and their competing stakes in antiquities from such legendary sites as Ephesus, Pergamon, and Babylon.

Recovering perspectives that have been lost in histories of archaeology, particularly those of the excavation laborers whose voices have never been heard, About Antiquities provides important historical context for current controversies surrounding nation-building and the ownership of the past.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Author's Note on Names, Dates, and Measurements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Beginnings: The Nineteenth-Century Museum
  • Chapter 2. Scholarship and the Imperial Museum
  • Chapter 3. The Imperial Museum and Its Visitors
  • Chapter 4. The Ottoman Reading Public and Antiquities
  • Chapter 5. The Landscape of Labor
  • Chapter 6. Dual Settlements
  • Epilogue. Enduring Dilemmas
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

ZEYNEP ÇELIKNew York, New YorkÇelik is a distinguished professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the Federated Department of History at the NJIT and Rutgers-Newark. Her award-winning publications include Empire, Architecture, and the City: French-Ottoman Encounters, 1830–1914 and The Remaking of Istanbul: Portrait of an Ottoman City in the Nineteenth Century.


About Antiquities is a valiant book that plumbs important new material in the history of Ottoman antiquities. It is not the last word so much as the start of a new discussion. That is a considerable accomplishment.”
The Art Bulletin

“[A] complex and wide-ranging book…[Çelik] provides a rewarding exploration of complexity in the rich history of archaeology and nation building, often from creative and unexpected angles, with acknowledgment of the echoes of these relationships in the fraught present.”

About Antiquities deepens our focus on the Ottoman engagement with archaeology in the field and strategies of display…Çelik, in deceptively neat categories, opens up new avenues of research for the next generation of scholars writing against the grain of canonical archaeological works and approaches.”
Review of Middle East Studies

“A valuable contribution to the history of archaeology in that it both presents a wealth of different kinds of material—from postcards to private journals—and models innovative methods to mine these resources for new information…essential reading for any scholar who is interested in the history of archaeology or museum and heritage politics as they formed in the late nineteenth century.”
Journal of Modern Greek Studies

“A highly instructive book that opens fresh perspectives through an examination of an original and eclectic range of primary sources…there can be little doubt that Çelik has made a significant contribution to our understanding of a crucial early chapter in the histories of archaeology and the museum.”
Journal of Islamic Studies

“[About Antiqiuities] forcefully [reveals] the power of archives and their capacity to fill spaces, produce knowledge, highlight personal recollections, and divulge holistic stories of archaeology, museums, objects, colonialism, and nation-building.”
Journal of Near East Studies

About Antiquities addresses the roots of fundamental issues in the Ottoman past of the Turkish Republic that still dominate archaeology and heritage studies. Complemented by remarkable images, Çelik elegantly frames her inquiries with cross-cultural literary analyses to illustrate the impact of the growing field of archaeology on different aspects of Ottoman culture and society. Çelik's cross-cultural methodology stands as a contribution not only to the Ottoman and Republican history of Turkey but also to the historiography of archaeology and heritage studies in general, while providing insight into the subtle but powerful role antiquities have played in the construction of national identities.”
Journal of the American Oriental Society

“This is an extraordinary, multidisciplinary, boundary-crossing book in every way. I know of no other work that successfully combines the interests of archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, historians of architecture, and literary scholars—to say nothing of the author’s innovative, comparative bridging of American museum studies and the history of Islamic art. This work is a tour de force.”
Susan Slyomovics, UCLA, editor of The Anthropology of the Middle East and North Africa: Into the New Millennium and The Living Medina in the Maghrib: The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture, and History

“This book will appeal not only to specialists on Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East but also to scholars and general readers interested in the history of antiquities, museums, heritage, imperialism, nationalism, and globalism. No existing work offers serious competition in its scope and approach.”
Donald Malcolm Reid, Georgia State University and University of Washington, author of Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums, and the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser and Whose Pharaohs? Museums, Archaeology, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I


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