The archaeological aesthetic in ancient world documentary

Hobden, Fiona (2013). The archaeological aesthetic in ancient world documentary. Media, Culture & Society, 35(3) pp. 366–381.



This article investigates the role of archaeology in the visual and discursive economies of ancient world documentary with reference to recent output from the BBC. By identifying and examining four primary modes – archaeology ‘as evidence’, ‘in performance’, ‘in action’ and ‘dramatized’ – it demonstrates how the on-screen presentation of ancient sites, monuments and artefacts, and the practices of archaeological investigation and excavation generate historical knowledge, and authorize it. Fundamental to this is the resonance between documentary representations of the past and viewers’ experiences of antiquity through archaeology in other television programmes and alternative media and contexts: for example tourism and film. Knowledge gleaned through one cultural encounter with the ancient world encourages or conditions the viewer to accept the historical facts presented on screen. By analysing the rhetorics of a distinctive and understudied strand of history programming, this study demonstrates its place within the construction of historical knowledge in contemporary society. This allows a fresh consideration of the merits of historical documentary on television.

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