An overlapping analysis of archaeology and nationalism in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey between World Wars I and II.
The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 was a landmark event in Egyptology that was celebrated around the world. Had Howard Carter found his prize a few years earlier, however, the treasures of Tut might now be in the British Museum in London rather than the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. That's because the years between World War I and World War II were a transitional period in Middle Eastern archaeology, as nationalists in Egypt and elsewhere asserted their claims to antiquities discovered within their borders. These claims were motivated by politics as much as by scholarship, with nationalists seeking to unite citizens through pride in their ancient past as they challenged Western powers that still exercised considerable influence over local governments and economies. James Goode's analysis of archaeological affairs in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq during this period offers fascinating new insight into the rise of nationalism in the Middle East, as well as archaeological and diplomatic history.
The first such work to compare archaeological-nationalistic developments in more than one country, Negotiating for the Past draws on published and archival sources in Arabic, English, French, German, Persian, and Turkish. Those sources reveal how nationalists in Iraq and Iran observed the success of their counterparts in Egypt and Turkey, and were able to hold onto discoveries at legendary sites such as Khorsabad and Persepolis. Retaining artifacts allowed nationalists to build museums and control cultural heritage. As Goode writes, "Going to the national museum became a ritual of citizenship." Western archaeologists became identified (in the eyes of many) as agents of imperialism, thus making their work more difficult, and often necessitating diplomatic intervention. The resulting "negotiations for the past" pulled patrons (such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Lord Carnarvon), archaeologists (James Breasted and Howard Carter), nationalist leaders (Ataturk and Sa'd Zaghlul), and Western officials (Charles Evan Hughes and Lord Curzon) into intractable historical debates with international implications that still resonate today.
Robert H. Ferrell Book PrizeSociety for Historians of American Foreign Relations
- 1. End of the Old Order
- 2. The Sardis Affair
- 3. Heirs of the Hittites
- 4. Egypt Awakening
- 5. Housing Egypt's Treasures
- 6. France's Closed Door
- 7. Winning Persepolis
- 8. Troubles over Iran
- 9. Archaeology as Usual
- 10. The Reign of Sati` Al-Husri
- 11. A New Era
- 12. Reflections
This study of the Middle East during the two decades after World War I examines events in the region from the perspective of archaeology. This twenty-year period witnessed a major transformation in Middle Eastern archaeology, and such an approach provides a key to understanding many of the important political, cultural, and diplomatic developments during those critical years. The detailed discussion and analysis of archaeological affairs in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq, which shared remarkably similar experiences, reveals how intertwined the field had become with the broad agendas of the nationalist elites of the day.
For Western archaeologists the interwar years would prove remarkably different from what had gone before. Prior to World War I archaeologists in the Middle East operated with a minimum of regulation. Even where a strongly worded antiquities law existed, as in the Ottoman Empire after 1906, local officials rarely enforced it, especially at the distant perimeters of the realm. This prewar period, then, became the great age of collection building, when the museums of the West were built and filled with wonderful antiquities from every corner of the world. The Middle East, given its relative ease of access and profusion of ancient sites, contributed more than its share to public exhibition halls and private collections in Europe and the United States.
This monograph examines the middle period, what some have called the years of negotiation, to show how archaeologists, their institutions, and their governments negotiated with local nationalists and how they steadily lost ground in their struggle to avoid stricter controls. Who would excavate, and where and under what conditions? Who would keep the antiquities that were found? Who would write the histories of what was discovered? These questions arose repeatedly over the two decades because newly empowered nationalists in Ankara, Baghdad, Cairo, and Tehran refused to accept the status quo.
This negotiation produced much tension, for it was a time of challenge to established practices and, quite naturally, it contributed to crises that threatened to disrupt peaceable and friendly relations, not only among those directly concerned, but among their governments as well. There is arguably no better way to understand the struggle between rising nationalist movements in the developing world and Western interests than to examine the course of relations in regard to questions of cultural heritage.
In addition to the four case studies—Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and Iraq—this book makes brief references to other parts of the region, especially Palestine and Syria. I have chosen these four countries because they provided the best examples of well-established and successful nationalist movements during these years. In each case the nationalists came to power and steadily spread their ideology to a critical part of the population. In each of these the struggle with foreign archaeologists, who were typically viewed as representatives of Western imperialism, took clearly defined paths. These struggles peaked at slightly different times, beginning with Turkey in the early 1920s, but in each case the nationalists had taken control over archaeological affairs before the outbreak of World War II. Even where foreign archaeologists still served as directors of antiquities, as in Egypt and Iran, they had little freedom of action and operated under the watchful eyes of nationalist officials.
Why focus on these four to the exclusion of others such as Palestine and Syria? In the latter two mandates there were vibrant and complex national movements, it is true, yet in neither did local nationalist elites succeed in imposing control over the Europeans in regard to archaeological affairs as they did in the selected countries. The British high commissioner in Palestine, for example, was able to negotiate with James Breasted for the building of a new museum in Jerusalem using Rockefeller money, without interference from either Palestinians or Zionists. French authorities encouraged European and American expeditions to work in Greater Syria, allowing them to repatriate many of their finds, at a time when such liberality had become a thing of the past in Egypt and Iraq and, of course, in Turkey as well.
In each of the four countries constituting the core of this study, nationalist elites succeeded in establishing control over foreign archaeologists. Such changes did not come immediately, or without periods of tension and crisis, but the process seemed almost irresistible. The transformation happened first in Turkey under Atatürk, where virtually no antiquities left the country legally after the early years of the republic. Next came Egypt, where the Wafd Party under Sa`d Zaghlul challenged Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter's right to a share of the treasure of Tutankhamun. Egypt won that important struggle. The nationalists then pressured the French directors of antiquities in Cairo, Pierre Lacau (1914-1936) and his successor, Étienne Drioton (1936-1952), to tighten restrictions generally over the division of antiquities. By the end of the 1930s, most foreign expeditions had withdrawn from the country. In Iran, too, nationalist authorities exploited divisions among the Westerners to get the French monopoly over Iranian antiquities canceled. Later they went on to set the regulations for excavations and to assume control over the nation's premier archaeological site, Persepolis. In Iraq, the nationalist Sati` Al-Husri, director of antiquities (1934-1941), extended his control over Western archaeologists, severely restricting the terms under which they could excavate in the kingdom. Many of them fled across the border into the French mandate of Syria. In each of these the trend toward greater local control had become clear well before the outbreak of World War II.
Thus the post-World War II era found local national governments exercising almost complete control over their ancient sites and antiquities. They determined who would excavate, where and under what conditions. Often their own archaeologists worked in cooperation with Western colleagues, a practice almost unheard of prior to 1945; in some countries foreign archaeologists were unwelcome, and "native" archaeologists carried out excavations on their own. Antiquities laws, too, had changed. Now export of artifacts was carefully controlled, in many cases forbidden altogether. Most Western archaeologists had come to accept these new conditions almost without complaint.
These countries did not act in isolation but learned from each other's experiences, from their failures as well as their successes. The Turks looked to Greece and other European countries for their models. The Egyptians followed closely developments in the Republic of Turkey, especially in matters of cultural heritage. Officials in both Iran and Iraq knew the details of the struggle that had taken place in Egypt over the tomb of Tutankhamun, King Tut, and modeled their antiquities laws on those of Cairo.
Serving to energize the nationalists and to complicate matters for foreign archaeologists was the fact that some of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries came during this period: Tutankhamun in Egypt (1922), Ur in Iraq (1927), Persepolis in Iran (1932), Daphne in Syria (1936) (annexed by Turkey, 1939). These served as focal points of controversy, bringing an immediacy to the debate over the rights of excavators versus those of host governments. Thus the very success of Western archaeologists exacerbated tensions with local nationalists.
Although there is much in this study about British and French archaeology, somewhat less on German, which was less active in this period, American archaeology takes center stage. There are good reasons for this. The interwar period saw a dramatic expansion of the discipline in the United States, for this was a time when Americans and their institutions, as in so many other areas of endeavor, including business, communications, and entertainment, dominated the field as never before. Although the most prominent American archaeologists had received their advanced training in Germany, new academic departments were being established in the United States to train students at home. The noted Egyptologist James Breasted persuaded Americans that archaeology was a necessary academic discipline for the study of man. Breasted's importance in this period is hard to exaggerate. With the strong support of the Rockefellers, he established archaeological expeditions throughout the region. He will appear again and again throughout these pages.
Americans such as Breasted had expansive plans for the Middle East, which, they believed, held the secrets of the origin of Western civilization. To decipher these, they introduced new, more sophisticated techniques. They considered themselves scientists, a view that put them in concert with 1920s advocates of technological and scientific advancements in the United States. Breasted's closest friend was George Hale, the well-known astronomer, and Breasted, who wrote history books for the general public and served as president of the American Historical Association (1928), was also inducted with much fanfare into the National Academy of Science in 1920 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1933.
Most important, the Americans had money, and the Europeans, suffering from the tremendous expense and destruction of World War I, did not. They were hard pressed to put expeditions in the field and certainly to supply them as amply as Breasted could. Traditionally, European expeditions had closer ties to their respective governments, receiving much of their funding from public monies rather than from private philanthropies. After 1918 their governments could spare few resources for archaeology, a situation commonly lamented among European scholars. They envied the wealthy Americans, who showed them new ways of organizing and outfitting their expeditions. In these early years there were not enough trained American archaeologists, however, and so American institutions hired British, Dutch, and German experts. These became truly international undertakings.
Americans were also in the vanguard because they had started much later than the Europeans, and they were eager to catch up. European museums already bulged with exquisite antiquities, which they had been collecting since the late eighteenth century. After World War I civic-minded philanthropists in the United States would pay for splendid museum buildings and for expeditions to fill them. There was a sense of urgency in all this, for even the most unenlightened archaeologist or museum director sensed that the day could not be far off when the door to the export of antiquities would be closed, perhaps forever. Struggle though they might against such an eventuality, they wanted to get all they could while law and practice still treated foreigners generously. Their determination often brought them into conflict with local authorities attempting to restrict the flow of antiquities abroad.
As we might expect, American sources for this period are abundant and accessible. Archives contain not only letters, reports, diaries, and journals of Americans but also of many foreign archaeologists, who worked closely with them, such as the Britishers Leonard Woolley, who excavated at Ur, and Howard Carter, discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun. European and American institutions often organized joint expeditions, such was the case at Ur in Iraq and Antioch, then in Syria, to cite but two examples. These became more common after the Stock Market Crash in 1929, when many donors stopped contributing. There is in these sources, as well, interesting material from prominent Middle Eastern nationalists, such as Sati` Al-Husri (Iraq), Sa`d Zaghlul (Egypt), and Halil Ethem (Turkey). Although I have drawn substantial material from archives in Britain, France, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, that from the United States is the most extensive, showing connections to all the centers of archaeological activity.
The discipline of archaeology was relatively new in 1919. If not quite in its infancy, it certainly had not yet matured. It was a Western invention, growing out of the Enlightenment, the scientific study of the life and culture of ancient peoples based on the excavation of artifacts. Western archaeologists rarely incorporated local people into the story of a site, taking them for granted as foremen, laborers, cooks, and domestics.
For their part, members of traditional societies rarely approached their ancient history and monuments as scientists. They recited mythical tales of glorious ancestors, without the need to tie these to specialized study of surviving sites or monuments. In Egypt, medieval Muslims wrote with wonder of the pyramids and other antiquities. In a cave in southern Iran stood a headless statue of Shapur I, the powerful Sasanian ruler. Local people believed that Iran's greatness had come to an end when the statue was broken and that it would return when it was repaired. From pre-Islamic times beginning with the Sasanian dynasty (226-641 c.e.), Iranians had been moved by the ruins of Persepolis, and in spite of the fact that they had little specific historical knowledge about its builders, the site retained a crucial symbolic value, which was handed down over the centuries, reinforcing it "as a place of spiritual resonance with Iranian traditions of noble greatness."
Generally, intense local interest in antiquities came only in response to a demand for them in the West. Once a market existed, illicit digging followed. Western nations had experienced this pattern as well in the days before their citizens had been taught to protect their own cultural heritage.
Many early excavators were no more than adventurers and treasure hunters; they worked in the region using the most primitive methods, thereby destroying much of the historical record. By the early 1920s, however, new, more effective methods of excavation had been developed. The American archaeologist George Reisner, director of the Harvard-Boston Museum of Fine Arts expedition at Giza in Egypt, was a leader in employing these techniques. Having been influenced early in his career by the great British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, a pioneer in the field, Reisner carefully documented the context in which an object was discovered, keeping detailed records and taking many photographs. These new methods spread quickly, although one could find a mix of the old and the new throughout this period.
Also, there was the perennial question of the propriety of purchasing antiquities from dealers, who usually obtained them from illicit diggers. At the start of this period, it was a common practice, indulged in by almost all archaeologists and museum directors. Only Reisner and one or two others consistently criticized this trade. By the end of the interwar period, many had abandoned the custom, pressed by local governments but also convinced that such a market encouraged illicit digging. According to one expert source, "an example of ancient artistry which is brought to light by ignorant natives in a clandestine dig and is sold to a museum by an antiquities dealer who cannot know the circumstances of its finding . . . may retain its aesthetic appeal, but as an historical document it is worthless."
Archaeologists considered themselves scientists, and their reports and letters are full of references to the scientific nature of their work. This claim put them at the leading edge of development in 1920s America, where scientific and technological advancement seemed to hold endless promise. They called for the continuing export of antiquities in the interest of furthering scientific study.
Archaeologists belonged to an international fraternity, and although they sometimes engaged in nasty exchanges with each other, these tended to be personal disagreements, unrelated to nationality. One should not forget that they often worked together under trying circumstances, plagued by heat, dust storms, floods, primitive living conditions, inadequate budgets, bureaucratic interference. Overall there was a remarkable amount of cooperation and camaraderie. Where they came from seemed relatively unimportant to most of them. It was not uncommon to have three or four nationalities represented at a single site. How could it be otherwise when American institutions depended on Europe to supply them with experts even into the 1930s. In the mid-1930s, with the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany, American field directors and their sponsoring institutions provided safe haven in the United States for a number of German Jewish archaeologists.
James Breasted, director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, which sponsored by far the most expeditions in the region, introduced a new model of organization. Whereas the Europeans hired archaeologists and other specialists only for the duration of the season, three or four months at most, Breasted contracted them for the whole year. This guaranteed that virtually the entire staff would return year after year, providing a continuity that had previously been lacking. In the off-season they would gather in Chicago to study their finds, to work on publicizing them, to give lectures, and to prepare for the next season. Breasted was able to implement this practice because of the generous support of John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Breasted had few equals when it came to fund-raising to support his expeditions in the field. He was a wonderful storyteller, a gifted historian, who was able to link the ancient past with the present in ways that allowed him to play upon potential contributors' interest in the Bible. Writing to Rockefeller in May 1925, for example, to seek financial support for an expedition in Palestine, the director conjured an irresistible vision of what this picturesque spot must have meant to an earlier resident:
It is one of the extraordinary things about Megiddo [Armageddon] that the boyhood village of Jesus is perched upon the hills looking directly down upon the Megiddo plain. He must have looked down upon it every day of His life there. We shall never know how often His own visions of future peace and brotherhood may have been clouded by the contemplation of that great battlefield where the fate of the world empires had been decided for thousands of years by the brutal force of physical power, which He proposed to displace by the rule of love. It is the task of those who look back upon His wonderful life to piece together, without a gap, the marvelous development which culminated in His teaching. And we cannot do this without Megiddo.
Archaeology made front-page news, especially in the 1920s, and Breasted and his colleagues took full advantage of the fact. Amazing discoveries grabbed the public's attention at home. American newspapers were filled with details of the discovery of "Tut's" tomb and the supposed curse of the ancient pharaoh. Those few who could afford the trip booked passage for Egypt's Valley of the Kings; the majority feasted on the special photo sections that appeared in all the popular magazines. This response was repeated again and again over the decade, following subsequent discoveries. Articulate spokesmen, individuals such as Breasted, Woolley, Arthur Upham Pope, and William F. Albright, had larger than life personalities, and they enthralled countless audiences with firsthand stories of adventure and discovery in the Orient. One had to be something of a showman to attract attention and financial support for future or continuing expeditions, and they did not disappoint. To give one example, when Albright, foremost authority on biblical archaeology in Palestine, took home leave in 1927, he was swamped with lecture requests from all over the country. During the winter of 1926-1927, he gave seventy-two formal lectures and slide presentations, and this in a sabbatical year. Breasted constantly referred to his own busy lecturing schedule; he was always in demand.
Archaeologists were not free from the prejudices of their day, of course, and many carried to the Middle East those notions of racial and religious superiority that were common baggage in the West. Their writings overflowed with disparaging references to the "natives," whose abilities they impugned and whom they encountered almost exclusively in their roles as employers and supervisors of local laborers. They seem to have recognized a hierarchy among the various peoples of the region. In Iraq, for example, they considered their imported Egyptian supervisors to be far superior to any workers the local environment could produce. In Iran, some preferred Indians over Iranians; in Turkey, it was Kurds over Turks. Overall their tales were strikingly similar. "Natives" were incapable of respecting the ancient sites and monuments; they could not be trusted with antiquities, nor could they appreciate their artistry, and so on. Even in the rare instance where they were allowed to assume responsibilities usually reserved for Europeans, such as taking photographs or keeping the expedition's diary, a paternalistic relationship existed between the foreign expert and local members of his staff. These attitudes contributed to their difficulties when they began to encounter "natives" in positions of authority.
The education and training of local students as archaeologists was not encouraged. Many Westerners thought they were incapable of taking on such large responsibilities on their own. Then, too, if there were local archaeologists, they would surely challenge foreigners for a share of the field and perhaps come to dominate it. Westerners resisted this possibility well into the interwar period. Even those who accepted the proposition that "natives" could be, perhaps should be, transformed into archaeologists wanted to put off the day, believing it should come gradually at some unspecified time in the future. Thus it was not until very late in this period that a handful of professionally trained archaeologists began to undertake excavations in their own homelands. Turkey and Egypt led the way, and by the late 1930s Iraq and Iran had joined them. Local governments, not Western institutions, sponsored their education.
Surprisingly, Western archaeologists working in the Middle East did not generally view their activities as in any way political. Thus John Wilson of the Oriental Institute could write in November 1937, concerning the ongoing Arab Revolt (1936-1939) in Palestine, "We have every expectation that we may continue without serious difficulty. . . . [M]ost archaeologists feel that they are sufficiently removed from the political scene so that they may continue work in expectation of quiet." Yet everything they did, from the sites selected for excavation to the disposition of antiquities, drew attention to their activities and frequently engaged them in controversy. They seemed largely unprepared to cope with the fact that field archaeology was a highly political practice.
Most archaeologists worked on pre-Islamic sites, ignoring the thirteen centuries since the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad. They knew little about the Arab world or Islam, and many believed that nothing original had come out of the Islamic world, that everything of worth there had derived from earlier civilizations. They searched for the roots of Western civilization and of the Bible, and these they expected to find in excavations at prehistoric sites or in ancient Egypt, Palestine, or Sumer, not in the Muslim dynasties that ruled from Damascus, Baghdad, or Cairo from the seventh century. Many Middle Eastern nationalists resented this neglect.
These resentments increased as both new (Turkey, Iraq) and old (Egypt, Iran) states began to define themselves more clearly. Much has been written recently on the idea of the nation and the special circumstances required to bring such an artificial entity into existence. Benedict Anderson was one of the first to tell us that nations are imagined communities with constructed identities. Citizens were made, not born. An important part of this process involved the creation of a narrative of the nation, which would be told and retold until it became accepted as historical truth. This narrative, rooted in a definite historical perspective, provided common myths and memories that contributed to a sense of community among people within a given territory. This common narrative also justified claims to particular borders.
In recent years, more studies have been written on nationalism, perhaps, than on any other Middle Eastern topic. It has become clear from this large body of work that nationalism is extremely complex and that it always means different things to different people in different contexts. Nationalist identities are not exclusive and absolute; individuals often claim multiple identities. Thus some clarification is warranted regarding the approach used here. This study focuses largely on elite nationalism and on what one scholar has labeled "official memory." It examines nationalism from the top down. It can be characterized, I believe, as part of the "new narrative" on nationalism because it examines elite ideologies in the context of the larger society, suggesting how these ideas permeated the growing middle class in each of the four countries. In each of these states nationalist elites made extensive use of the media and the education system, both of which they controlled, to disseminate their messages.
In these newly constructed or reinvigorated nations, history became one of the primary disciplines, for whoever controlled history controlled the nation's memory. Those who wished to create a national identity saw as one of their most important tasks the rewriting of history to convince their fellow citizens of the glorious achievements of their ancestors and thus to breathe pride and confidence into them. If such glories had once existed, surely with effort and commitment, they could be re-created in the present among the descendants. Writing history became an obligation among nationalists everywhere. This history would serve a clearly political purpose; it was not necessarily a balanced attempt to approach the truth. An Egyptian author, admiring the success of the Turks in this endeavor, called upon his countrymen to write a new history of Egypt. "We must improve on our own self-conception," he advised, "by taking examples from Egyptian history . . . and if we don't find anything we should create something." According to the Iraqi nationalist, Sami Shawkat, "history is made or formulated according to necessity and that is the politics of history." Nationalists placed a high priority on writing history texts for the public schools, which became for them the favored locale for inculcating the narrative of the nation.
In the process of constructing a national identity, archaeology came to play a decisive role. Buried within the national domain lay the remains of the ancestors, and it became the responsibility of archaeology to establish links between the past and the present, to provide the evidence to support the national narrative. Thus modern Turks sought to establish links to the Hittites, Egyptians to the pharaohs, Iranians to the Achaemenids, and Iraqis to the ancient Semites who had migrated out of the Arabian peninsula. Control over archaeology and its discoveries, therefore, became a critical battleground in developing nations. As most work was being undertaken by Western archaeologists, who had quite different agendas, questions arose over how the historical record was to be obtained and interpreted. For Western archaeologists to claim scientific objectivity and a nonpolitical status, with the memory of colonialism still fresh, seemed naive and perhaps disingenuous.
Foreign archaeologists paid scant attention to what their discoveries meant to local people. They saw the ancients as quite distinct from and decidedly superior to the current inhabitants of the territory, who seemed with their dulled senses to have no appreciation for the works of art around them. At the turn of the century one archaeologist lamented the looting of an ancient church, writing that "the miserable Moslems of the present generation have simply destroyed the beautiful relics of antiquity to furnish material for putting together their hideous little hovels." Almost forty years later, also in reference to the plain of Antioch, a publication of the Oriental Institute reported that "the scattered miserable villages in this plain today, with their incredible reed hovels[,] . . . are in striking contrast to the numerous stately city-mounds—the material of ancient civilizations—which are characteristic of the present landscape." They often disparaged the motives of "native" nationalists as being rooted in greed or political chicanery while presenting themselves as representing the higher interests of humankind.
In no other area did the debate become sharper than over the question of the disposition of antiquities. Westerners developed a litany of arguments to support the continued division of finds between the expeditions and the host governments. As the period progressed, nationalists resisted this practice with increasing tenacity and effectiveness, responding with their own justifications.
Foreign archaeologists and museum directors argued that the antiquities would allow them to educate people in the West about little-known areas in the developing world and that their display would encourage tourism—a thriving industry in the 1920s—to those same countries. They believed that the antiquities belonged to humanity and were not the sole property of the nation where they happened to be found. Furthermore, advanced scientific methods in the West could provide more sophisticated facilities for their study, leading to a better understanding of the common past. There would, they observed, be no expeditions without a division at the end of each season, for no one would advance the sizable sums necessary unless guaranteed a return for their museum. As one plainspoken official at the British Museum stated, regarding a proposed expedition in Syria, "the question is, will [it] give the trustees an adequate material return for their money." In addition they claimed that the host country received a fine collection of antiquities at no cost whatsoever. Finally, they argued that there was no interest in the antiquities within the countries where they were discovered, except, that is, as a source of profit. Sites were not adequately protected, and given the political instability, many antiquities would be damaged, destroyed, or stolen if left at the sites.
In response nationalists claimed that the antiquities belonged to their nation and that they constituted an important part of their heritage and would be used to educate future generations on the glorious past of their ancestors. With improved transportation, tourists could now arrive in greater numbers than ever before. Rather than dispersed around the world, antiquities should be kept together in their country of origin, where they could be more easily studied. As local facilities improved, scientists, too, could just as easily undertake their studies in Baghdad or Tehran as in New York or Boston. To insist on a share of antiquities was an attempt by the West to continue its domination; such practices should come to an end. As for security, nationalists pointed to all the antiquities and works of art that had been destroyed in Europe during World War I and also to the considerable amount of loss and damage occurring during the long, frequently hazardous journeys to museums in Europe and America. Finally, they charged, if the West had not provided a market for antiquities, illicit digging would not have become such a problem.
As they debated back and forth, tempers often flared, especially among those archaeologists such as Breasted, Woolley, and Ernst Herzfeld who had established their careers prior to 1914. They found the increasing restrictions insufferable. They were the ones who usually had the greatest difficulty adjusting to the new world of independent nations emerging in the Middle East.
It is easy to see from argument and counterargument the importance each placed on museums. Recently, the study of these institutions and their important role in society has become a burgeoning research field. In each of the four nations studied here, building museums occupied an important part of the nationalist agenda.
The purposes of museums in the West were somewhat different from those in the developing world. Western museums vied with each other to boast the best collections from this or that era or location. Fine collections attracted visitors, but more important, they attracted donors, who would finance new expeditions and purchases. They performed an educational role as well, and here some experts have speculated that by amassing treasures from around the world, Western museums were expressing the continuing domination of the West, both culturally and politically, over less developed and often poorer regions.
For the nationalists, museums became primarily institutions within which "a significant part of national education" could take place. They used them to teach and to inspire citizens of the new nation. The nationalist press was full of exhortations to readers to visit ancient sites and museums to familiarize themselves with the glories that were part of their cultural heritage. Youth and scouting groups made frequent visits to such locations, which for many became places of secular pilgrimage. Going to the national museum became a ritual of citizenship.
Museums were highly politicized. Choosing what objects to display privileged some over others, and the mere act of placing an item in a museum had considerable significance for "such objects expose[d] the power to own as well as the power to construct the [historical] narratives." The French, for example, manipulated museums in Syria and Lebanon to suit their larger purposes. In the museums of the former the Arab roots were emphasized and in the latter the Phoenician era, with its openness to the West, to appeal to a Maronite constituency.
This brings to mind another important point concerning nation building and national identity formation in the Middle East. Many nationalists had come to accept the view promoted by Westerners and their own Westernized fellow citizens that the influence of Islam and the Arabs had been responsible, at least in part, for the decline from former greatness and that to return to that glory and pride in nation, one would have to dismiss the Arab contribution and weaken the deadening hand of Islam. Hence most of these new nations chose to emphasize their pre-Islamic past.
This tendency, however, should not be exaggerated. Many Egyptian nationalists, for example, edged away from pharaonism toward an Arab-Islamic identity in the 1930s. Neither held absolute sway among the elite. In Iraq, the emphasis on cultural heritage was centered more on the Islamic centuries for reasons having to do with ethnic diversity and the non-Iraqi origin of leading members of the elite, but in Iraq, too, history and archaeology became important tools for spreading ideology.
To this day much less archaeological work has been done on the Islamic period in the four countries studied here than on the ancients. Young archaeology students trained in the West studied—and many still do—the traditions and history of the ancient and classical worlds. When they returned home many focused on these same periods in their own excavations.
Many nationalists faced the fundamental question concerning what period of the ancient world should be studied. When archaeological discoveries are used to privilege one national narrative over another, the choice of site and the focus within that site are crucial. The historian Lawrence Davidson has referred to this phenomenon as "archaeological theatre," by which he means the capture of archaeology by ideology. There are countless examples of this phenomenon. Zionist archaeologists, for example, remained fascinated with discovering the origins and history of ancient Israel. They gave scant attention to other levels within the same mound because at best they did not interest the excavators, at worst their tale might conflict with or even challenge the Israeli narrative. Lebanon has witnessed a similar development; Maronite Christians have focused almost exclusively on the Phoenician past, excluding the Islamic centuries, which are of most interest to the country's majority Muslim population. Iranian nationalists likewise emphasized the Achaemenid and Sasanian dynasties, both of which had Persian origins. Turks in the early republic focused on the Hittites, ignoring the Greeks and even the Ottomans.
Although the emphasis here is on archaeology, museums, and history, one realizes that not all nationalists focused so intently on these same concerns. The Iraqi governor of Baghdad, for example, eager to modernize the city in the mid-1930s, wanted to tear down medieval walls and towers to build roads, and he ended up butting heads with the director of antiquities. Yet both were nationalists. There were those who remained suspicious of archaeologists, thinking they were mere treasure hunters and that resources devoted to excavations, antiquities services, and museums might be better spent on factories, modern transportation, and an improved military. Nevertheless, this study shows that in each of these four countries key groups of political leaders, newspaper editors, intellectuals, and educators helped to set nationalist agendas in which archaeology and history were understood to have an important role. Even those not greatly enamored of the work of archaeologists would come to support the campaign to end the division of antiquities; as it became a symbol of the ongoing struggle between the colonizers and the colonized, a vestige of imperialism, they could hardly stand aside.
The nationalist ideology spread slowly among the masses via attendance in the public schools and service in the military. In this period perhaps only a minority had become sufficiently informed to abandon traditional ways of thinking and to embrace wholeheartedly the nationalist agendas. For the majority the conversion to this new, national identity would take decades or longer. It is reported that even in Turkey, a leader in the region, peasant support for Kemalism in the 1920s was limited, with many villagers continuing to identify themselves as Muslims, not Turks. Nadia Abu El-Haj discovered a similar phenomenon among Jews in Mandate Palestine, where "there seemed to be very little widespread popular regard for such an archaeological or national heritage project" as that proposed by Zionist leaders. Lack of interest in archaeology, she concluded, may not indicate a disregard for one's history but rather preference for other ways of relating to it.
The emphasis on pre-Islamic periods, considered by many Muslims the Age of Ignorance (Al-Jahiliyyah), caused tensions with orthodox believers and members of the ulama, leading them to dismiss archaeology as a new tool of colonialism and as anti-Islamic in nature. One prominent writer dismissed the art of ancient Egypt as glorifying idolatry and paganism and argued that it had no relevance for modern Egypt. Such ideas could result in violent action wherever mullahs stirred up villagers and local government authority was weak. In the late 1920s at Hadda in eastern Afghanistan where the French were digging, for example, a local mullah led a mob to the site to smash Buddhist antiquities that had recently been excavated. This was not an isolated occurrence.
In the rapidly changing context of the 1920s and 1930s, diplomats had no easy task trying to uphold the rights of their citizens under archaeological concessions that were constantly challenged. Examination of the efforts of this small group of hard-pressed American officials may be one of the most useful contributions of this study. American diplomats in the Middle East had always been few in number, representing the fact that the United States had no major interests there that required establishment of diplomatic posts. Often the government would engage some European or American expatriate to represent its interests on those rare occasions when any appeared. Sometimes this resulted in surprising developments. American missionaries, for example, often doubled as U.S. consuls, with nary a thought for separation of church and state. Then there was the amusing case of Aleppo in 1900 where the American consular agent in that Syrian city was an Italian, who spoke no English.
These casual arrangements worked only because very few Americans visited the region, with the exception of the Holy Land and Egypt, and there were few commercial or other relations. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the expansion of missionary activity and, of course, archaeological expeditions, the United States had exchanged diplomats with the Ottoman Empire and Iran. Still, they were found almost exclusively in the capital cities, and this remained the situation throughout the interwar years, even though U.S. interests were clearly increasing.
Archaeologists, like missionaries, were what the historian Emily Rosenberg has called chosen instruments, that is, semiofficial representatives of the United States, flying the American flag in distant places where diplomats seldom ventured. Archaeologists, in fact, became quasi-diplomats, out of necessity negotiating with officials at all levels. These included kings, presidents, and prime ministers, as well as ministers of education and directors of antiquities. Often they enjoyed more influence in the various capitals than did Washington's official representatives. Usually they worked closely with the heads of American legations to further the interests of both. The archaeologists had important contacts on Capitol Hill and even in the White House, and on occasion they would go over the heads of resident diplomats to get the State Department to act. Sometimes their respective positions became blurred, with archaeologists entering into negotiations with or without diplomatic advice.
To make the relationship even more complex, many diplomats were amateur archaeologists, taking great pleasure in visiting sites during the short excavation season. They purchased antiquities from dealers, and some, such as Burton Y. Berry, who served in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq and left a remarkable collection to his alma mater, Indiana University, became experts in Middle Eastern art. In at least one instance in this period, a junior diplomat regularly purchased antiquities on consignment for a prominent American museum.
There was a significant policy change in these years, which indicated the growing involvement of the United States in the world of the 1920s. In the prewar years, the State Department regularly adopted a hands-off attitude toward American ventures abroad. Breasted complained early in 1914 that "the traditional policy of the State Department has been to refuse all official intervention on behalf of such expeditions. . . . American scientific enterprise in the humanities, therefore, is very much handicapped in the foreign field as over against the expeditions of foreign countries, which receive every assistance from their home governments."
In the postwar period the department became more supportive. This applied particularly to archaeological expeditions. When a disagreement arose between an American group seeking a concession in French-controlled Syria and colonial authorities, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes assured them that "the Department of State is in entire sympathy with the view expressed in your letter that the principle of the 'open door' should govern in the granting of concessions for archaeological exploration and as occasion may arise it will be glad to give appropriate support to this policy." Seven years later Assistant Secretary of State William Castle reiterated this assurance in a conference with James Breasted.
We can easily affirm the findings of other historians that in the decade of the 1920s the United States did not pursue an isolationist policy. Even in the decade of the Great Depression, American diplomats struggled to maintain a presence in much of the region. Department policy had changed so dramatically that at times it seemed the diplomats had become the handmaidens of the archaeologists. Time and again the U.S. government came to their support, either alone or in concert with the other Western powers, Britain, France, and, less often, Germany. There were frictions, of course, especially with the French, who devoted themselves to expanding their cultural influence in the Middle East during the interwar years, sometimes to the detriment of American interests. Although the struggle for great power dominance in the region that Neil Asher Silberman has so carefully detailed for the prewar period in his Digging for God and Country (1982) was more muted, tensions did develop, especially with France in the 1920s and with Germany after Hitler came to power in the early 1930s.
Even private support for the archaeologists, at least in the decade prior to the Great Depression, was more in evidence than it had been earlier. In May 1907 Breasted had tried to interest John D. Rockefeller Sr. in supporting a continuation of his survey and epigraphic work among the Pharaonic monuments of the upper Nile Valley. The great philanthropist denied his request, saying that this work should be paid for by the Egyptian government, not by private sources. Twelve years later, John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave the money for Breasted's postwar survey of archaeological sites and monuments in the Middle East and went on to contribute many millions of dollars to the Oriental Institute.
With this new policy of support, diplomats became drawn into disputes between local governments and the archaeologists, and much of their time and energy was devoted to smoothing out difficulties. Often they negotiated on behalf of American institutions with archaeological interests, such as the Oriental Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Princeton University. It was important for them that Americans succeed for this represented a prime—sometimes the only—area of long-term interest for the United States. They understood also how sensitive this issue had become for the new nationalist governments in the region, and they usually proceeded with great care.
Repeatedly during these years, archaeologists, nationalists, and diplomats clashed over issues that concerned them all. Much was at stake, and the disagreements arising in each of these four nations became drawn out and frequently bitter. In the end, however, despite disparities of power, the nationalists won undisputed control over their cultural heritage. How they succeeded is revealed in the following pages.