Views of an Antique Land
A new online visual archive presents the little known Egypt and Palestine theatre of the First World War, as it was seen through the eyes of British soldiers.
The project set out to shed light on one of the First World War’s lesser-known theatres of conflict and its impact on iconic archaeological sites.
More than 2500 photographs and postcards of Egypt and Palestine, over the twice the number originally anticipated, have generously been made available by donors and are now being uploaded to this new searchable web resource for the public and specialists alike.
Views of an Antique Land collected and digitised many of its images, drawn from soldier photography and memorabilia, through a series of roadshows across England and Wales. Roadshows venues included Firing Line, the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh, The Tank Museum, Manchester Museum, Petrie Museum and the National Civil War Centre.
Not only does the archive vividly bring to life a picture of a changing archaeological landscape but also of soldiers off duty in ancient lands during the world’s first truly global conflict.
Soldiers and ‘enforced tourists’
The archive tells a story of ‘enforced tourism’ at a time when conventional tourism had largely ceased.
Serving soldiers, on short spells of leave, frequently mirrored the visitor itineraries of their pre-war counterparts. This can be seen by comparing soldiers’ photo albums with guide books of the time. Popular places visited included the Giza Pyramids, and the obelisk, Virgin’s Tree and ostrich farm at Heliopolis.
Documenting changes to archaeology through unofficial soldier photography
Despite the closely observed ban on photography elsewhere, serving personnel in the Egypt and Palestine theatre captured their surroundings in detail, supplementing the official record of the war years.
Documenting the condition of the archaeological sites during the conflict, these important images help to date contemporary commercial postcard images in circulation at the time. For the first time careful comparisons between contemporary photography and postcards has shown a faster pace of change than previously thought, with circulating memorabilia often reusing earlier images.
Sharing the resource
In Wales, the project was represented at the Senedd and National Museum Wales, featuring at the Imperial War Museum Centenary Partnership during the international Great War centenary commemorations.
Alongside the project’s conference, findings were also shared across the UK at institutions and forums including, in the southwest, The Association for the Study of Travellers in Egypt and the Near East (Exeter) and, in the north, Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities Conference 2016 (Salford). Views of an Antique Land also featured at the T.E. Lawrence Society Symposium (Oxford University) and The Society of Antiquaries of London (Cardiff).
Additionally, nine schools in southeast Wales benefitted directly from targeted workshops, facilitated by the SHARE with Schools outreach initiative.
The project has succeeded in reaching a broader audience through coverage online and in mainstream media, from Ancient Egypt Magazine to the children’s archaeology magazine DIG. Its roadshows generated further regional media coverage.
Significantly, feedback shows that the archive has enabled new generations to reconnect with the lives of their ancestors in a meaningful and reflective way.
By collecting and making available a large collection of images dedicated to the Egypt and Palestine theatre during the First World War, Views of the Antique Land has created a better understanding of life in British military service on this often forgotten front.
Lasting legacy for researchers
This substantial visual resource leaves a lasting searchable legacy, creating a far more realistic picture of this little recognised sphere of conflict.
Fitting commemoration of the service of a past generation
The project has rekindled a sense of connection with the past, particularly among the descendants of serving personnel and with school pupils at workshops.
Impact in participating Schools
The project has been successful in enhancing learning, bringing history and archaeology to life in a vivid and direct way. Here the archive has proved particularly powerful in inspiring a greater understanding of the First World War in lands far from the trenches of the Western front.
- Nicholson, P. T. and Mills, S. 2017. Soldier tourism in First World War Egypt and Palestine: the evidence of photography. Journal of Tourism History 9 (2-3), pp.205-222. (10.1080/1755182X.2017.1410582)