Guest post by Eleanor Newman, Summer intern in the Modern Archives & Manuscripts Department
As a Classical Archaeology DPhil student, I was thrilled to learn that my job as Archives Processing intern would be cataloguing the work files of Professor C.F.C. Hawkes (1905-1992), founder of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford. A complex but brilliant scholar, his archives are made up of everything from scribbled notes to full publications, drawings to photographs, and even a real Roman potsherd discovered in Colchester. The files of Hawkes contain a fountain of knowledge on archaeology from Prehistoric Europe to Bronze Age Greece to Roman Britain and beyond, and provide a wonderful insight into the life and career of an established archaeologist.
The correspondence of C.F.C. Hawkes has been particularly interesting, revealing close friendships, bitter rivalries, and even full-blown archaeological scandals (on more than one occasion). What I have found particularly striking, however, are the consistent references to the unstable political climate of the early 20th century and the effects of war on the field of archaeology. A collection of letters from this time highlight the devastation caused by the Spanish Civil War and World War II and the impact on the careers of archaeologists who were, otherwise, just trying to go about their lives.
Hawkes, like many of his colleagues, was called up for duty during WWII. A letter from Hawkes to the Headmaster of Colchester Royal Grammar School (1944) [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] reveals that he had “war-time duties”, which involved working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. M. R. Hull, curator at the Colchester and Essex Museum states in a letter addressed to Hawkes (1942) [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] that he was part of the Observer Corps, which was taking time away from his ability to do archaeological work. Of course, war time duties carried great responsibility and may have even been traumatic, but I had personally never considered the impact that it must have had on careers which people such as Hawkes and Hull had dedicated their lives to.
References to war and its ongoing impact have appeared in unexpected circumstances throughout this archive. Correspondence between Hawkes and two colleagues working in Ireland, Seán Ó Ríordáin and Gerhard Bersu, refers to a dispute between the latter two about the approach to archaeology in Ireland in the early 1950s [MS. 21042/156, Ireland]. Bersu claims that Irish archaeologists should follow the continental European approach, while Ríordáin stresses that, actually, the Irish approach is perfectly good. The drama and, in some places, comedy of this dispute is overshadowed by one devastating fact: Gerhard Bersu was working in Ireland at this time because, as a German of Jewish ancestry, he had been removed from his position as director of the Römisch‐Germanischen Kommission in 1935 and was forced to flee Germany, eventually taking refuge in Ireland. As a letter from 1950 reveals, it was still not safe for him to return to Germany even five years after the end of the war [MS. 21042/156, Ireland].
Bersu was not the only one of Hawkes’ colleagues displaced from their home as a result of conflict. In 1947, a letter to Hawkes details the emotional struggle of Pere Bosch-Gimpera, a Spanish archaeologist and the Minister of Justice of Catalonia in the government of Lluís Companys, following the Spanish Civil War [MS. 21042/156, Iberia 1]: “I read…with emotion that my ancient colleagues and pupils remember me and still think that I have done something for the archaeology of my country…I fought more than 20 years for having a real Archaeological Museum in Barcelona and to make an organisation of Archaeology in Catalonia, and when things began to become settled I had to fly away.” This story told by Bosch-Gimpera, who fled to Mexico following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, reflects the personal and professional devastation caused by conflict. Not only did he leave behind friends and colleagues, but he also was not able to witness the impact of his campaign for archaeology in Barcelona and broader Catalonia. A heart-breaking read, this letter shows one man’s touching dedication to archaeology through turmoil.
Finally, Hawkes’ correspondence reveals the severe physical impact of war on museums and collections of artefacts. Museums were no longer able to function as research facilities, as a letter from M.R. Hull to Hawkes in 1940 [MS. 21042/162, Colchester] suggests: “To what extent is the [British Museum] still functioning?” Instead, practical measures for the preservation of material took urgent priority over research and analysis. In a letter from 1947, Bosch-Gimpera details the earlier evacuation of artefacts from a museum in Spain to prevent their destruction by bombings [MS. 21042/156, Iberia 1].
Unfortunately, these preventative measures were not always successful. A devastating letter from A.J.E. Cave, Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, to Hawkes details the damage caused by the London blitz in 1941: “You will be sorry, I know, to learn that our Museum was practically totally destroyed by enemy action on May 10th-11th, and that a mere handful of specimens alone remains of our former incomparable collections. The devastation is truly terrible: I cannot even attempt to describe the extent of this national loss. The most famous historical specimens in British biological science are gone for ever and two centuries of labour and collecting are wiped out at one foul blow. We were burned to the foundations in some places and material placed underground for ‘safety’ has suffered with the rest. A nucleus remains, it is true, for a future Museum, but nothing can ever replace the priceless specimens in osteology, anatomy, pathology and physiology now utterly vanished.” The extent of this loss is inconceivable and its impact on research is surely ongoing even now.
The correspondence of C.F.C. Hawkes highlights the ongoing struggle of archaeologists through conflict in the 1940s. These heart-breaking stories are reflections of the, sometimes surprising, impacts of war on individuals and their work. They are also inspiring demonstrations of persistence and tenacity during difficult times, and echoes of the love that these men held for archaeology.