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

Evening Program

Session 3 of a 5-Session Lecture Series

Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Code: 1B0233

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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 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?

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)