In advance of her 125th birth anniversary, and in the shadow of the destruction of antiquities during the ongoing crisis in Syria and Iraq, Agatha Christie’s ‘forgotten’ Syrian memoir Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archeological Memoir was republished in 2015. In the memoir, Christie chronicles her experiences of participating in various archeological digs at Nimrud, Mosul and Palmyra, all sites which have been irreparably damaged in the intervening years. The republication of the memoirs, as well as the exhibition Investigating Agatha Christie at Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, recast Christie as a serious and inventive archeologist at the frontiers of the profession, in addition to her reception as a popular novelist whose oeuvre explores the spaces that defined the Empire--from the English country manor, the vicarage and the affluent residences of London to the outposts of Empire at archeological digs in Iraq and Syria.
Similarly, while the recent documentary (Letters from Baghdad) on and celluloid adaptation (Queen of the Desert) of the life of Gertrude Bell has rekindled interest in her extraordinary contributions towards the making of the modern Middle-East, current scholarship such as Lisa Cooper’s In Search of Kings and Conquerors: Gertrude Bell and the Archaeology of the Middle East have emphasised Bell’s crucial role in describing the architectural heritage of Mesopotamia through painstakingly composed photographs, site surveys, archeological drawings and even publications in reputed scholarly journals.
This seminar seeks to re-examine the body of work produced by women adventurers, memoirists, novelists and visual artists as ethnographic travel narratives which, from Lady Mary Montagu to Freya Stark (a contemporary of Christie’s who wrote extensively on her travels in the Middle-East and Afghanistan) to Veronica Doubleday (Three Women of Herat), has greatly shaped metropolitan ideas about the Orient and advanced the fields of anthorpology and archaeology. Mapping a female imperial-ethnographic gaze in women’s writing, this seminar is interested in viewing memoirs, popular fiction, ethnographic accounts etc. particularly from the 18th century to the present as a valuable alternate archive through which the reception and circulation of ideas about Empire, the Orient, travel, and archeology can be untangled and investigated.
Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Gender and early archeology
- Women as Imperial agents
- Travel writing as ethnography
- Travel writing as a hybrid genre, e.g. political discourse in personal correspondence
- Non-European women as ethnographers and producers of travel narratives
- Women, Self-fashioning and Cultural Heritage
- Women’s travel photography and the female gaze
Panel organiser Diviani Chaudhuri received her PhD in Comparative Literature from State University of New York at Binghamton in 2016 and is currently Assistant Professor of Communication and Cross-Cultural Management at Indian Institute of Management, Sirmaur.