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

Evening Program

Session 4 of a 5-Session Lecture Series

Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Code: 1B0234

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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 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.

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)