William Carruthers

Thematic Module 1:     History as a Political Category

Grounding Independence: Archaeology, Nasser’s Egypt and the Making of the Decolonised World


This research focuses on the making of the past and notions of heritage across the decolonising world. In particular, it concentrates on the relationship between practices of archaeological fieldwork, modernisation and the materialisation of the ancient past and the postcolonial nation-state in Egypt and Sudan. The monograph, under the provisional title “Grounding Independence: Archaeology, Nasser’s Egypt and the Making of the Decolonised World” concentrates on the UNESCO-backed archaeological salvage campaign. This took place in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s due to the flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. It will demonstrate how the act of conducting fieldwork during the campaign dovetailed with local, national and transnational (Cold War, non-aligned, Afro-Asian) political concerns to produce Egyptian and Sudanese pasts that reflected and materialised all these phenomena, in addition to the notion of world heritage to which the campaign became connected.

While at ICAS, I will spend my time conducting research at the National Archives of India and at the photographic archives of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). During the Nubian salvage campaign, a team from the ASI excavated in Egypt at the site of Afyeh. How did this work reflect the wider themes at play in my project, and what can records and other material relating to this Indian fieldwork tell us about these themes that differs from other narratives related to the work? Can we, for instance, see the development of non-aligned notions of the past at Afyeh, or does the work at the site reflect other concerns? In addition to the book and article/s, I will use this period of archival research in India as a basis for a second book project that will examine notions of the non-aligned past more generally.

William Carruthers holds a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge  (2014) and is also the editor of Histories of Egyptology: Interdisciplinary Measures (Routledge, 2014). Beyond his time at ICAS:MP he is a Gerda Henkel Stiftung Research Fellow and a Visiting Guest Scholar at the German Historical Institute London. Previously (2014–15), he held a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence.

Outline of research (pdf)


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