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Indiana Jones, The Eternal Explorer: The Politics of Archaeology, Empires, and Exploration

Evening Program

Session 1 of a 5-Session Lecture Series

Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Code: 1B0231

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British archaeologist Howard Carter cleaning the second coffin of Tutankhamun, ca. 1924

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.


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.

To view the full lecture series description or view other sessions, click here.

Other Connections

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.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)