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Through an Archaeologists Camera

Upinder Singh

Edited by Sudeshna Guha
The Alkazi Collection of Photography in association with Mapin Publishing, 2010, pp. 288, 118 plates, $75.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

As Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (1902-28) and then Officer on Special Duty (1928-34), John Marshall carved out an extremely important place for himself in the history of Indian archaeology. His tenure is associated with increasingly systematic excavation and conservation activity, especially when compared with the rather haphazard activities of the Cunningham era. The highest point was his announcing the discovery of the Indus civilization to the world, but apart from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, the Marshall era also saw excavations in many other major sites such as Charsada, Nal, Taxila, Bhita, Charsada, Nalanda, Nagarjunakonda, Mahasthanpur and Pagan. This was also the period when photography was increasingly used in archaeology, and this is the subject of this book. We have here a selection of photographs from three sets of 'Marshall Albums'—those in the Alkazi Collection of photography and in the Universities of Cambridge and Durham, which form an exceptionally rich archive for the history of archaeology and photography. The images are a visual treat, and range from photographs of Marshall and his family, to details of monuments and breathtaking panoramas of archaeological and scenic views. Sudeshna Guha's Introduction explains the focus of the essays in the book—to look at the relationship between archaeology and photography, especially at 'the ways in which historical evidence is often negotiated and fixed as irrefutable fact through archaeological work'. Guha draws attention to many issues—Marshall's activities at Taxila, his interest in the restoration of Mughal Gardens, the place of Indians in the Archaeological Survey, the conflicts between various agencies over conservation, and the fallout of the policy of appointing British architects to supervise conservation projects. The connection between Curzon's interest in the restoration of Mughal palaces on the one hand and imperial ceremonials and lavish tea parties on the other, is also highlighted. Although Marshall is prominent in Guha's Introduction and in her later essay, as well as in the Appendices, a full-fledged essay on him would have been fitting. Michael Dodson's essay on 'Orientalism and Archaeology: Writing the History of South Asia, 1600-1860' seems to rewind the tape a bit too much, taking us back to the 17th century European travelogues. Dodson's emphasis on the relationship between the agendas of archaeology and imperialism is well taken, but over time, there were significant changes within both. Bernier and Travernier, and even Prinsep and Kittoe (and the long aside ...

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