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Open Digital Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies Seminar 10: Wednesday 17 March 2021 - 4pm UK time

Open Digital Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies Seminar 10: Wednesday 17 March 2021

4pm UK time; 12pm Eastern time; 9am Pacific time

Madeleine Pelling, University of Edinburgh

Digging Up the Past: Contested Territories and Women Archaeologists in 1780s Britain and Ireland

This paper unpacks the gender, political and material implications of archaeological excavations carried out by Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira (1731-1808) and Catherine Downes (dates unknown) in 1780s Ireland and England, respectively. Locating their endeavours within increasingly contested territories (in terms of the landscapes in which their enquires took place and the scholarly spaces in which they were reported), I ask why and how women disbarred from all-male knowledge institutions turned instead to developing archaeological practice in order to contribute historiographically. For the Countess, whose Dublin salon hosted Anglo-Irish antiquaries interested in a Celtic past, the discovery of a bog body on her husband’s land became part of a wider programme in legitimizing her own socio-political position. Similarly, for Downes, the careful prioritising of Roman archaeology over the remains of an Ancient British burial at Warminster spoke to contemporary discourses in which the Roman occupation became a desirable colonial model. In both cases, remains had first been discovered by local agricultural workers before being disseminated in elite circles, setting this work against backdrop of mounting tensions around land enclosure and occupation. From Downes’ comparison of Roman pottery fragments with ‘Mr. Wedgwood’s teapots,’ to the Countess’s linking of clothing preserved on the bog body to her efforts to revive Ireland’s textile industry, I examine these women’s historical interpretation through subterranean and contemporary objects, as well as the political implications in bringing the past to the surface. Dr Madeleine Pelling is an art historian specialising in eighteenth-century Britain. She completed her PhD in 2018 at the University of York, where she was the recipient of the History of Art Department doctoral scholarship. She has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester, as well as visiting research fellowships at the Royal Archives through the Georgian Papers Programme, the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies/Queen Mary University London and the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University. Her research focuses on material and visual culture, with focus on four key sites: the collected object, the manuscript, the inscribed surface, and the cinematic screen. Her work appears in Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Journal 18: a journal of eighteenth-century art and culture, Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal and Women’s History Review and she is currently preparing a monograph, The Duchess’s Museum: Collecting, Craft and Conversation, for publication. Book a place at this seminar

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