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Archaeology, politics and tourism: an historic relationship

By news editor, on 25 November 2011

Propaganda, spying, exploration, secret societies and, of course, money were all key ingredients of a workshop on British Mandate Palestine and Transjordan held on 9 November, writes Paul Butenshaw.

The workshop,’ Tourism as Colonial Policy? The History of Heritage Tourism in British Mandate Palestine and Transjordan’, brought together an impressive array of scholars and experts to explore the interrelationship of scholarship, state and travel in this pivotal period of the region’s history.

Professor Michael Berkowitz (UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies), began proceedings with an examination of Zionist tourism to Palestine in the inter-war period, describing how tours sought to control travel and showcase a particular view of the area and its history that suited their own perspectives.

At the other end of the day this case found a contemporary counterpoint with Glenn Bowman’s (School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent) interesting work on ‘shared shrines’ in Israel, where heritage sites are used by different groups who may have different meanings and values for the same locales. Bowman expressed the need for a “mixed heritage”, one which the audience could see has been difficult to establish since at least the Mandate period.

Following this, Dr Amara Thornton (UCL Institute of Archaeology), the driving force behind the convening of the workshop, gave an introduction to the importance of archaeology to the Mandate administrations and the personalities involved in the establishment of the British and other foreign schools and government departments at this time.

This presentation was complemented by an exhibition of photographs of the travels of George and Agnes Horsfield during the 1930s for delegates to digest along with their lunch.

The theme of individual actors in this story was continued in a paper from Professor David Gill (University Campus Suffolk), charting Harry Pirie-Gordon’s travels to the Near East as an ancient history student of the British School at Athens; Pirie-Gordon’s expeditions were used to create maps for military intelligence that were later re-purposed for tourism.

Another individual, highlighted by Silvia Krapiwko (Israel Antiquities Authority), was Austen Harrison, designer of the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem. The thread of secrecy and covert activity was taken up later in the afternoon by Dr Beverley Butler (UCL Institute of Archaeology) as she showed the fascinating role of Freemason travel and ideology in the region.

One of the organisations with which the Freemasons had some connection at this time was the Palestinian Exploration Fund, whose history with another key player, Thomas Cook’s Tours, was the subject of the presentation by Felicity Cobbing (Palestine Exploration Fund).

Early archaeological work and the establishment of tourism to the region went hand in hand in the early history of both organisations. These first footsteps were bookended on the day by the discussion from Dr Bob Bewley (Honorary Lecturer, UCL Institute of Archaeology) who examined the problems, missed opportunities and potential of heritage tourism in Jordan today.

The day was rounded off by the erudite Tim Schadla-Hall (UCL Institute of Archaeology) who led the final discussion and highlighted the importance of understanding the lessons that history teaches us.

The day demonstrated the strong ties that bind archaeology with ideologies, ideologies with tourism and tourism with archaeology. The historic perspective proved a very clear indication of the importance of remembering these ties in the contemporary world.

Heritage is one of the primary driving forces of tourism, which is today a global multi-billion pound industry. How the past is represented, packaged, marketed and sold has consequences beyond the fences of a tourist attraction and shapes perceptions and, therefore, politics for decades to come. It is a relationship that we must not forget, and workshops such as this do an excellent job in examining and showcasing this history and its effects.

Paul Burtenshaw is a PhD candidate at the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

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