Navigation Menu+

Trowelblazers


Petrie would get a documentary on BBC4, but nobody ever talks about Hilda Petrie.

Dr Alice Stevenson

Well I think it’s to enrich our…the kind of stories that we tell, so for example when we’re working in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, it’s named after Flinders Petrie, a man, but his work was built on the labour of others, you know, he couldn’t do what he did without the teams of people that worked on a dig and many of them doing so many different things, including an awful lot of women, who we just…you know, when I was studying as an undergraduate and you’ve got your textbook and you open it up and it says, you know, here’s the pioneers of archaeology and there’s, you know, white bearded faces, you know, there was Pitt Rivers and there was Petrie and there was Mortimer Wheeler and Gordon Childe, and you can’t really identify with that somehow.  And what I love about Trowelblazers is that it’s delving into the archives; there are often…you know, people go to museums and think it’s about the objects, but there are often letters and diaries and photographs and if you start looking at those, you start to see histories of discovery in a completely different way and just the huge cast of characters that were involved in scientific discovery in the early 19th century.

It’s usually important to encourage, you know, as I say there is a moment of identification and I think young girls who are growing up, you know, it’s great to have role models and particularly in these subjects, so for example, what do you do about having children? Can you still have a career in a field where you need to be off in exotic locations, away from home at odd…you know, for six, seven, eight months of the year?  What’s extraordinary is how many of these women managed to not only make these extraordinary discoveries, to make these contributions, but also to do so at a time where society, you know, that wasn’t, it wasn’t catered for, there wasn’t a space, there wasn’t…and yet many of them managed to challenge both the society of science, which was male-dominated, and society back home, which didn’t cater for women to go off and do those kinds of things. 

Dr Brenna Hassett

Trowelblazers, how did that even start?  There were four annoyed people on Twitter, we just couldn’t believe…we all knew of our, like, personal heroes, sort of, women in archaeology, palaeontology, geology, who we’d heard of and they did awesome things and people just never really talked about it; you knew about these famous people, like Petrie would get a documentary on BBC4, but nobody ever talks about Hilda Petrie, who raised all the money between his digs.  And it’s one of these things…I can’t believe people aren’t talking about this.  So, like, I’ve got my personal favourite, who’s a woman called Halet Çambel who’s basically amazing; she was the first lot of Muslim women Olympians, she went to Berlin in 1936 on the Turkish fencing team, refused to meet Hitler and then preceded to do awesome archaeology for the rest of her career and then became an environmental activist, and she’s amazing! I can’t believe people don’t know about the sword fighting archaeologist chick!  Why don’t people know that? Everyone should know about her.

And she has students who are also inspired: the project I work on in Turkey was started by one of her sort of colleagues as well, so there are all these stories out there about, you know, people in amazing hats doing amazing things; people sort of doing spy work, labelling artefacts.  Everyone should know about that, especially the people with awesome hats.