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Narrating the postcolonial landscape: archaeologies of race at Hadrian’s Wall

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Abstract:

This paper presents research completed as part of an interdisciplinary project entitled ‘Tales of the Frontier’; both between the disciplines of geography and archaeology; and on the landscape narratives of Hadrian’s Wall. In particular, the paper unravels the currency of race-geographies present in the collaboration, material interpretation and dissemination processes which included the curating of a public exhibition ‘An Archaeology of “Race”‘. In public museums and popular narratives of Roman Britain, black and African residents and cultures on the frontier are seemingly discordant with narratives of Hadrian and Roman Britain. In the paper, using critical antiquarian and classicist accounts, Roman history and culture as practised in Britain’s northern landscape is interrogated and as a result emerges as multicultural, particularly through the re-narration of the Roman heritage of the Wall centred on Emperor Septimius Severus, the African Emperor. This recovered set of narratives sits as counter to narratives along heritage sites at the Wall and perceptions in the public sphere as well as enabling the critique of narratives of archaeology employed in justifications of political ambition, rule and governance of the British Empire, in the 19th century. The postcolonial orientation taken in this paper therefore contributes, first, to an evaluation of narrative as a postcolonial politics of praxis; and second, to a means of critiquing popular accounts of this landscape’s history. Here, the postcolonial narrative mode also provides a framework for producing the exhibition and a teaching pack to represent Roman British cultures of citizenship in this landscape. Overall, narrative operates as an important political tool of doing postcolonial history and heritage that is inclusive and that can be used to engage in public geographies, both materially and intellectually.

Keywords: Hadrian’s Wall; archaeology; exhibition; heritage; landscape narrative; race

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00414.x

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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