Indiana Jones is an appealing figure: a handsome, thoughtful professor by day, swashbuckling savior of the world’s archaeological treasures by night. Although Jones is fictional, many of the major themes in the film franchise that celebrates his exploits are reflected in the stories of significant archaeological expeditions and missions of exploration throughout the world, from the excavation of Pompeii in 1750 to the Cold War-era race to the moon. Indy as both a familiar movie character and an archetype offers a fascinating lens though which to examine the political controversies and historical contexts of archaeology and exploration.
Justin M. Jacobs, associate professor of history at American University, leads the expedition into real-life and Hollywood-style history. He is the author and producer of a book and documentary series, Indiana Jones in History: From Pompeii to the Moon, which uncovers the politics of antiquities, exploration, and empires.
Note: If you are interested in purchasing individual sessions of this lecture series, click the dates highlighted below.
DEC 7 Who Was Indiana Jones?
Jacobs offers an overview of the historical conditions that gave rise to the first practitioners of scientific archaeology. What sort of educational and economic background did a collector of buried antiquities possess? When, why, where, and how did they collect artifacts, and what did they do with them? From Karl Jakob Weber (the excavator of Pompeii) and Lord Elgin to Howard Carter and Aurel Stein, he considers common themes—and unique exceptions—from the careers of some of the most famous explorers and archaeologists over the past 250 years. Jacobs also looks at the longstanding and intimate association of archaeologists and scholars with espionage, from the jungles of Guatemala to the race to the moon.
JAN 4 Why Does That Belong in a Museum?
Without his signature phrase—“That belongs in a museum!”—Indiana Jones would be little more than an unprincipled tomb raider. Museums have served to justify the removal of untold treasures from around the world and into some of the most famous collections of the Western hemisphere. Jacobs traces the institutional history of the modern museum and its relationship with archaeologists—and soldiers—in the field, from the Louvre and British Museum to the Met and Smithsonian. Non-Western institutions such as the Bulaq (Egypt), Janissary (Ottomans), and National Palace Museums (China and Taiwan) are also discussed.
FEB 1 Who Enabled Indiana Jones?
Despite his image as a lone maverick on the silver screen, a real Indiana Jones could not remove a single antiquity from foreign lands without a substantial amount of assistance. Jacobs analyzes the ideologies and the cast of characters that enabled and facilitated the removal of antiquities from sites in the Middle East and China to museums in the West. Why, for instance, were European and American scholars able to remove ancient Egyptian artifacts with relative ease, while encountering significant competition and resistance to similar objects in China? Who helped the historical equivalents of Indy to get what they wanted, and why?
FEB 22 Who Confronted Indiana Jones?
The golden age of Western archaeological expeditions lasted just over a century. But golden for whom? By the late 19th century, why did the same people who had once been content to watch antiquities leave their lands for Western shores begin to resist further efforts on the part of European and American archaeologists? Jacobs discusses the earliest attempt to obstruct a Western excavation—by Heinrich Schliemann at Troy in 1873—and the subsequent nationalist tide of resistance that put an end to Western expeditions in the decades after World War I. That story of controversy and conflict reached its climax with Howard Carter in the tomb of King Tut in 1923 and ended for good in the years just prior to World War II.
MAR 22 Did Hollywood Get It Right?
How accurate are the Indiana Jones films? Did George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg do their homework? Would an historical Indiana Jones actually fight Nazis while searching for Biblical treasures? In the 1930s, could Jones be British or French, or must he be an American? How are the local Arab, Muslim, and Hindu populations who help or hinder Jones portrayed? Do the movies make any historical sense at all, or are they mostly flights of fancy filled with degrading stereotypes? With the aid of a leaked transcript of a brainstorming session for the first film and a critical eye toward all four Hollywood films, Jacobs weighs fact against cinematic fiction and demonstrates the ways in which popular culture intersects with the truth of the past.
Take a look at “The Great Belzoni” episode the Indiana Jones in History documentary series by Justin M. Jacobs. It tells the story of Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian circus strongman who in the early 19th century undertook the first major archaeological expedition to Egypt and introduced the art and culture of the pharaohs to the Western public.
Photo caption: British archaeologist Howard Carter cleaning the second coffin of Tutankhamun, ca. 1924