Visual Archaeology: the photographic character of the archaeology of O.G.S. Crawford

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: History Classics and Archaeology


O. G. S. Crawford was one of the most influential archaeologists of the last century and photography was central to his work and influence. He was a pioneer of aerial photography, having flown in the First World War, and he worked for most of his career in the Ordnance Survey making maps of prehistoric and later features still in use today. He was a great proponent of the importance of landscape as a record of human history and of photography as a means of recording landscape features. Although he styled himself as a rationalist and scientist (influenced by H. G. Wells), his photographs were things of great beauty and depth, so that his work was also important to artists, such as Piper and Nash. A life-long socialist and some-time communist, Crawford used photography to document the politics of the present in ways that emphasised the material aspects of politics. For instance, in the 1930s he made trips to the Soviet Union (influential in causing him to renounce communism) and to Nazi Germany, from which powerful collections of photographs stem. Crawford also documented bombed buildings in Southampton, a unique record of a now demolished medieval city, and of what he called the 'uglification of Britain' through the growth in suburbs, large roads and advertising hoardings. His work has recently attracted considerable attention outside archaeology, principally through two well-received volumes by Kitty Hauser - Shadow Sites (2007) and Bloody Old Britain (2008). The former looks at Crawford's influence on British art in the middle of the 20th century and the latter is a biography (the title taken from an unpublished autobiography by Crawford) exploring his character, politics and broader cultural influence. Crawford (1886-1957) studied Geography in Oxford prior to the First World War and worked on excavations carried out in Sudan by Henry Wellcome. After working as an observer for the 48th Squadron when he took photographs, met H. G. Wells and was taken prisoner of war, Crawford returned to England to work for the Ordnance Survey, set up the journal Antiquity in 1927, which has remained one of the premier world journals. He worked for the OS for the rest of his working life, saving many records in his garage in Nursling, which would have been destroyed when the Southampton offices were bombed. Crawford's work and life have been much discussed, but his basic archive of photographs and writing has never been brought into order or digitised. The vast majority of Crawford's archives are in Oxford - there are 9600 photographs held in the Institute of Archaeology, records of his flying and work in the Ashmolean Museum, an archive of 46 boxes of written material in the Bodleian Library and smaller archives in Keble College (as well as smaller amounts of material in Southampton and Historic England, Swindon). The main emphasis of the doctoral work would be on the photographs, which will be digitised and set into order. The supervisory team will be able to provide guidance from the perspective of visual approaches current in archaeology and anthropology (McFadyen, Baird and Morton) and the history of collections and of archaeology (Gosden). Extra support will be provided by Ian Cartwright, photographer in the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford.


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