Authenticity, Endurance and Fragility: Indian and Egyptian Stone in the Nineteenth Century Scholarly Mind

  • Charlotte Coull

Student thesis: Phd


At present stone does not have agency in the history of nineteenth century archaeology. The current scholarship highlights both external and internal influences on the development of the discipline but has so far not foregrounded the role of stone in the methods and processes used to interact with it in text and in the field. It misses the details in these interactions that arise from a focused examination with stone at its centre. A body of work on the reception of objects comes close to granting stone agency but stops short of seeing both stone’s physical properties and its materiality as part of the work it did in the nineteenth century scholarly mind. In this thesis I use a framework of agency, materiality and the notion of stone “doing work” to view the actions of Indian and Egyptian historical stone in British nineteenth century scholarship. I find that there are multiple facets to stone’s agency: endurance, authenticity, opacity and fragility. I analyse the place of stone in the late eighteenth through nineteenth century British imagination, showing continuities in the representation of stone’s temporality between stone in fiction and art and stone in scholarship. Building on this I show the importance of stone in granting authenticity to the British histories of India and Egypt throughout scholarly work in the nineteenth century. These facets of agency are explored through two case studies, looking first at Indian megaliths and the Great Pyramid (the most iconic of the Egyptian pyramids) as stone without text and then exploring stone’s agency in inscriptions, a combination of stone and text, from India and Egypt. In the second of these case studies I introduce a typology of stone inscriptions in scholarly literature that I use to interrogate the division between stone as the medium onto which an inscription was carved and the textual content of the inscription. In future work this typology could serve as a foundation for understanding in more detail the role of stone’s materiality in the nineteenth century study of inscriptions. I also examine how stone’s perceived fragility drove narratives of conservation which saw stone sites and monuments surveyed and recorded in scholarly literature. Through these analyses and case studies I show how stone was deeply involved in shaping British archaeological texts on India and Egypt. In doing this I give stone a voice by using it as the focus for a history of these archaeologies and exploring its relationship with text.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCampbell Price (Supervisor) & Georg Christ (Supervisor)

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