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2000-2001 Visiting Fellows

Yannis Hamilakis
Lecturer in Archaeology
Department of Archaeology
University of Southampton (UK)

Thanks to a Friends of Firestone Library fellowship I was able to spend a month at Princeton and use the invaluable resources of the library. The material (the Bonfils photographs of archaeological monuments of Athens) allowed a broad discussion on how the then new technique of photography (invented in 1839) shaped the attitudes towards classical antiquity in the West; it also permits us to explore the intersection between two devices of modernity: the photographic and the archaeological.

Bonfils was following the 'pilgrim's trail' through the 'sacred' sites and places of classicism but at the same time he was using a new technique for the "management of attention," in many ways different from the earlier techniques of travel writing and drawing that early travellers used. He was participating in an international visual economy which demanded certain stereotypical images of classical antiquity. Photography coincided with the emergence of a new kind of individualised observer within a field of regimented vision (a proto-society of the spectacle); within this framework, mass-produced photographs of standardised views of classical monuments contributed to the disembodied and mystifying reception of classical antiquity. At the same time, archaeologists operating within the framework of classicism and nationalism, were engaging (through selective excavation, demolition and rebuilding) in the material production of idealised and sanitized classical monuments. Archaeologists on the ground were staging the themes that photographers were reproducing and circulating. Classicism, national imagination, archaeology and photography were thus different aspects of the same process: modernity was creating its charter myth with its material and visual signifiers.

The results of this work were published in the journal History of Photography vol. 25 (1), 2001, pp. 5-12 and 23-43. I have also presented them at a workshop organised by the Program in Hellenic Studies, Princeton University (27 April 2001), and at an international conference at Southampton on representations of the past (November 2000); I also plan to contribute to the Princeton University Library Chronicle special issue on "Ancient Greece through Modern Eyes," currently in preparation. Finally, my work has contributed to the preparation of the exhibition of this material, currently on show in the Firestone Library. Once more, I am grateful to the Library and its staff and Friends for the support and for the assistance they provided during my research at Princeton.


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