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Title: Structuring the notion of 'ancient civilisation' through displays : semantic research on early to mid-nineteenth century British and American exhibitions of Mesoamerican cultures
Author: Medina Gonzalez, E. I.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2730 0521
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2011
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This research focuses on studying the representation of the notion of ‘ancient civilisation’ in displays produced in Britain and the United States during the early to mid-nineteenth century, a period that some consider the beginning of scientific archaeology. The study is based on new theoretical ground, the Semantic Structural Model, which proposes that the function of an exhibition is the loading and unloading of an intelligible ‘system of ideas’, a process that allows the transaction of complex notions between the producer of the exhibit and its viewers. Based on semantic research, this investigation seeks to evaluate how the notion of ‘ancient civilisation’ was structured, articulated and transmitted through exhibition practices. To fulfil this aim, I first examine the way in which ideas about ‘ancientness’ and ‘cultural complexity’ were formulated in Western literature before the last third of the 1800s. This results in a basic conceptual structure about the notion of ‘ancient civilisation’, which is then analysed in relation to the representations formulated by eight displays on Mesoamerican objects, monuments, and people that date from the 1820s to 1870s, all which have been poorly studied up until now. This work is an original approximation of the history of Mesoamerican archaeology that concludes that early to mid-nineteenth century British and American exhibits structured some aspects of the notion of ‘ancient civilisation’ for the representation of Pre-Columbian cultures by articulating a language code composed of a set of conceptual traits. It also shows that the representation of the notion of ‘ancient civilisation’ through Mesoamerican exhibits was a complex, problematic and changing phenomenon. On one hand, it involved the use of visual, textual, spatial, object-based and performative display technologies and, on the other, the ideas articulated by the displays developed together with the theoretical, conceptual, informational, and socio-political transformations of the era.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available