William Carruthers

Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, Department of Art History and World Art Studies, University of East Anglia

‘A Future in Ruins’ by Lynn Meskell

Lynn Meskell. A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. 400 pp., illus., notes, bibl., index. Oxford University Press,  2018. $29.95 (hardcover)

Histories of heritage seem to be having their moment in the sun. Within the past year, Christina Luke’s A Pearl in Peril: Heritage and Diplomacy in Turkey (OUP, 2019) has been published, as has Lucia Allais’s Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2018). Lynn Meskell’s A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace is the third part of this (unintentional) trilogy. Part history and part anthropology, the volume puts the operation of UNESCO’s heritage concept in historical perspective, detailing the development of that notion and its institutional governance from the interwar period to the present day. As Meskell admits (xxi), her own disciplinary background in archaeology means that she concentrates on the “cultural” side of a concept that also deals with “natural” sites, most famously through the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. That limitation aside, however, throughout the volume Meskell charts the intertwined histories of heritage and UNESCO in a way that is, to my knowledge, unparalleled in its depth.

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‘The Pursuit of Ruins’ by Christina Bueno


Christina Bueno. The Pursuit of Ruins: Archaeology, History, and the Making of Modern Mexico. 280pp., 23 illus., 3 maps, notes, bibl., index. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2016. $95 (cloth), $29.95 (paper), $29.95 (eBook)

Christina Bueno’s The Pursuit of Ruins provides an engaging and comprehensive account of the development of archaeology as a national, modernizing project in Porfirian (late nineteenth and early twentieth century) Mexico. The volume is well-researched, extremely readable, and resonates well with much of the scholarship on the history of archaeology that has emerged in recent years. I recommend it as an introduction not only to the history of archaeology and “the past” in Mexico, but also as a useful comparative work for scholarship on the history of archaeology elsewhere in the world, which often seems to ignore the discipline’s development outside of Euro-America, the Mediterranean, and South Asia.[1] As Bueno notes, debate about whether Latin American countries “are postcolonial nations” is ongoing (8). The Pursuit of Ruins reveals the merits of a postcolonial perspective in the Mexican case.

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‘Artefacts of History’ by Sudeshna Guha


Sudeshna Guha, Artefacts of History: Archaeology, Historiography and Indian Pasts. xiii+273 pp., 15 illus., bibl., index. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2015. $59 (hardcover)

Sudeshna Guha has written a book that not only complicates the history, but also provides a searing critique, of the practices and historiography of archaeology and heritage in India. Artefacts of History is required (and perhaps uncomfortable) reading for anyone interested in that history, questions about the global circulation of knowledge, issues surrounding the role these practices have played in the making of the pre- and post-partition Indian nation-state, and the conduct and role of archaeology and heritage in ‘postcolonial’ countries more generally. Furthermore, Guha makes the reader rethink the history of Indian archaeology in ways that question the writing of that and other archaeological histories. Similar to the recent work of Christina Riggs on the history of Egyptology,[1] her volume also prompts renewed consideration of the role such histories might play in helping to constitute archaeological and heritage practice that actually interrogates the categories and taken-for-granteds upon which it relies.

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Entangled Tensions


The history of archaeology, as a field, has always seemed (to me) to be playing catch up with work in the history of anthropology.[1] Yet, reading the contributions to HAN’s “Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks” Special Focus Section suggests to me that the histories of archaeology and anthropology now operate on the same plane in terms of the tensions that drive their production. Anyone working on archaeology’s history should be willing to grapple with the many tensions inherent in acknowledging the field’s geopolitical entanglements in the same way as historians of anthropology. Indeed, these shared but distinct histories of knowledge production can be put to good analytical use. As their investigations are driven by similar—and often entangled—tensions, are bounded categories like ‘the history of archaeology’ or ‘the history of anthropology’ still useful?

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Special Focus: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology


Read the full Focus Section here.