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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

About Time Lecture Series: 'Time and Nationhood: beyond the invention of tradition and imagined communities

13th May 2013, 18:15 to 19:15, Holgate Room, Grey College, Durham University, Professor Chris Gosden (University of Oxford)


Abstract: What does it mean to be English? Notions of (sub-)national identity are often seen as deriving from the spatial arrangement of people and their attachment to a territory. Space is obviously important, but Professor Gosden shall argue that time is a key element of our identities. In 1983 two key books were published relevant to national identities, Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson and The Invention of Tradition edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. These have rightly set the tone of much discussion since and both emphasized broad historical considerations, so that nationhood and its cultural forms were seen as part of response to modernity. In looking at the English collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, collected between the mid-nineteenth century and the present, the importance of time has become obvious. Broadly speaking, the Victorians were confident about the future, but worried about the past, which led them both to imagine a past and to distance themselves from aspects of that past deemed primitive. Professor Gosden shall focus on a collection of nineteenth century magical objects to explore this point. From the later twentieth century onwards we have become happier with the past, but worried about the future, providing in the process quite a different set of views about ourselves and our identities. The two books mentioned above were inclined to see constructions of past and future as elements of false consciousness, but I shall argue that our stance towards time and temporality is an inescapable aspect of wrestling with identity and its material dimensions. He shall not, of course, answer the question of what it means to be English?, but hope to throw some light on how such a question has been differently posed and answered over time.


Chris Gosden is Professor of European Archaeology, University of Oxford. He has carried out archaeological and ethnographic work in Britain, central Europe, Papua New Guinea, Turkmenistan and Borneo. His current interests concern the nature of human relations with the world, late prehistoric and Roman period cultural change, art and aesthetics. Recent works include Gosden, C. 1999. Archaeology and Anthropology: a changing relationship, London: Routledge; Gosden, C. 2003. Prehistory. A very short introduction., Oxford: Oxford University Press; Gosden, C. 2004. Archaeology and Colonialism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Gosden, C. 2005. What do objects want? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12: 193-211; Gosden, C. and F. Larson, with A. Petch. 2007, Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884-1945; Oxford: Oxford University Press; Garrow, D and C. Gosden. 2012, A Technology of Enchantment? Exploring Celtic Art: 400 BC to AD 100, Oxford: Oxford University Press. He is currently working on a book on Englishness through an analysis of the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, which forms the basis of his lecture. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a Trustee of the Art Fund.

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