October 3 2019
School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Vere Gordon Childe (1892-1957) is remembered today as one of the foremost prehistorians of the 20th century. A totemic figure of Edinburgh University, which he joined in 1927 as Abercromby Chair of Archaeology, Childe’s career progress was initially slow. At 30 he was essentially unemployable in his home country of Australia, due to his activities as conscientious objector during the Great War and his involvement with the Labor Government of New South Wales. This talk will focus on the period when Childe returned to London in 1921 and transitioned from politics to prehistory. The transition was less abrupt than might be expected. In fact, Childe’s early writings, including The Dawn of European Civilization (1925), The Aryans (1926), The Danube in Prehistory (1929) and Man Makes Himself (1936) can all be read as a continuation of his politics. Childe used prehistory to make statements about the present and challenge, for instance, the ideological foundations of the national-socialist revolution in Germany. This ultimately raises the question of what is prehistory, if not the continuation of politics by other means.