Born to an intellectual family – her father was the art historian/collector/explorer/politician William Martin Conway – Agnes Conway (b. 1885- d. 1950) was well educated at Newnham College Cambridge at the turn of the 20th century. Although she studied for a History tripos (female students at Cambridge were not awarded degrees from Cambridge until 1948), she was entranced by archaeology, receiving lessons in Greek from the noted Newnham-based classicist and feminist Jane Harrison. Until her death in 1928 Harrison remained an influential mentor and friend to Conway.
After leaving Newnham in 1907, Conway floated between interests in archaeology and history. She studied at the British School at Rome in 1912 and in 1914 she was admitted to the British School at Athens. Her time at the BSA was completely taken up by a remarkable journey through the Balkans on the eve of the First World War, which she wrote up as a travelogue, A Ride Through the Balkans: On Classic Ground with a Camera (1917). Although the purpose of the trip was to document classical ruins in the landscape, Conway’s epic journey with her friend Evelyn Radford became reportage as they met groups of refugees made homeless by the recent Balkan Wars.
Refugees at Antivari, photographed by Agnes Conway Horsfield on her 1914 Balkan’s journey. From “A Ride Through the Balkans” by Agnes Conway Horsfield.
In the late 1920s Agnes Conway met George Horsfield, Chief Inspector of Antiquities in Transjordan. Accompanied by two other scholars, Ditlief Nielsen and Tawfik Canaan, Conway and Horsfield embarked on the first scientific excavation at Petra in 1929. Conway and Horsfield remained close after the excavation was complete, fell in love, and married in Jerusalem in January 1932. The Horsfields lived in Jerash, Transjordan, and undertook many trips throughout Transjordan and Palestine as part of George Horsfield’s job in the Department of Antiquities. They also wrote up the results of their work at Petra, published in the Quarterly for the Department of Antiquities of Palestine. The Horsfields left Transjordan in 1936, travelled in the Mediterranean and eventually settled in England during the Second World War, where Agnes Horsfield died in 1950.
In 1966 Joan Evans (half-sister of Knossos excavator Arthur Evans and first female President of the Society of Antiquaries) wrote biography of the Conway family, including Agnes Conway. Further information on Agnes’s Cambridge years and the networks of women in archaeology from that time can be found at: http://www.archaeologybulletin.org/article/view/5/7
Post submitted by Amara Thornton
Evans, J. 1966. The Conways: A History of Three Generations. London: Museum Press.
For more amazing images of the Mediterranean and Balkans taken by Agnes herself, see her travelogue online: A Ride Through the Balkans: On Classic Ground with a Camera (1917, London: R Scott)
Image: Agnes Conway Horsfield at Damieh, Transjordan. Copyright UCL Institute of Archaeology.