Our pairing of women for today’s Raising Horizons portrait are connected through the area they work in, and their activism.

Dr Margaret Murray in 1933 not long before her official retirement. By permission of the Petrie Museum.

Margaret Murray in 1933 not long before her official retirement. By permission of the Petrie Museum.

Dr Margaret Murray and Dr Amara Thornton

Born in India in 1863, Margaret Murray had an early life that seems surprisingly “globalized” today; spending the first 30 years travelling between Britain, Germany and the Indian subcontinent. It was after this in 1894 that Margaret followed her earlier interest in archaeology, and became a student at the new Egyptology Department at UCL, taught by Flinders Petrie. Within a year she had her first publication, and shortly afterwards became the first female archaeology lecturer in Britain. She taught various subjects including Egyptian linguistics, as well as evening classes. In 1902 Margaret had her first taste of fieldwork in Egypt, and despite not liking it much, went on to undertake many excavations, including discovering major sites. It was also in the field that she began to develop a feminist position, which she became more active in both personally and professionally over time, including successfully campaigning for UCL to open a common room for women, which was named after her.

Margaret’s career was very long and extensive; lecturing at other institutions, cataloguing Egyptian materials at many museums, effectively running the journal Ancient Egypt for many years until she became Editor, and travelling to diverse countries including Jordan (digging at Petra), the Soviet Union, Scandinavia, and South Africa for a meeting of the then British Association for the Advancement of Science. She was still publishing into her very advanced years, including the year she died, her autobiography titled My First Hundred Years.

Margaret was committed to advancing public knowledge through research, and wrote non-academic books on Egyptian language and myths, as well as being the first woman to publically unwrap a mummy (in front of 500 people). She is also notable for many professional collaborations with other women, for example while in Egypt she excavated sites with Hilda Petrie, trained Gertrude Caton Thompson and later excavated with the latter and Edith Guest in Malta. You can read more about Margaret Murray in Kathleen’s Sheppard’s biography.

Our modern trowelblazer, Dr Amara Thornton, has many links with Murray through her research into the individuals and networks operating in the archaeological world of the early 20th century, and her research interest in and active practice of public outreach.

Dr Amara Thornton

Dr Amara Thornton

Originally from the US, Amara is an Honorary Research Associate at UCL having recently completed a British Academy postdoctoral fellowship there. A social historian of archaeology and current Co-ordinator of the Institute of Archaeology History of Archaeology Research Network, she excavates from the archives the hidden stories of archaeology in the early 20th century. She is especially interested in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East between 1870 and the Second World War, and focuses on examining in detail the contributions of individuals, such as George and Agnes Horsfield. She also specializes in prosopographies– studying the connections between people and things (something close to our hearts at TrowelBlazers), uncovering the networks that formed the foundations of archaeological relationships both professional and personal in this period. She won an honourable mention in the 2012 Leigh Douglas Memorial Prize from the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, which is awarded annually to the writer of the best PhD dissertation on a Middle Eastern topic in the Social Sciences or Humanities in Britain.

Amara is also- like Margaret Murray- committed to public dissemination of her fascinating research, as well as studying how this occurred in the past and present, and the wider societal and political implications: her postdoctoral research examined the history of popular publishing in archaeology. She has published herself on historic film, photography, tourism, archives, colonialism, and more recent practices such as archaeological blogging and wikipedia. She regularly gives public talks including at the Petrie Museum, and shares her findings on Twitter. She also maintains her own blog stuffed with intriguing posts (warning- major rabbithole!). Amara is currently Principle Investigator on the Filming Antiquity project, which is digitising excavation footage held in the UCL archives.

Check back on Monday for the next week of Raising Horizons’ women to be revealed!


Written by Becky

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