image After André Gunthert's lecture in the lhivic seminar on the early days of the digital photograph and its 'inventor', we returned to one of the inventors of analogue photography, to William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). Talbot is now primarily remembered as one of the pioneers of photography, but his work ranged across the natural sciences, classical scholarship and Assyriology. The recent acquisition of Talbot's archive, including his hitherto neglected non-photographic notebooks, by the British Library now provides an opportunity to uncover Talbot's various interest and outstanding role as a Victorian universal scholar.

The aim of the project "Beyond the photograph: Science and the antique in the work of William Henry Fox Talbot", which began in October 2007, is to catalogue the approx. 330 notebooks and situate the work of the inventor of the positive-negative photographic method on paper in a wider historical and scientific context. Through an examination of archival material at the British Library and elsewhere, this project also aims to produce a doctoral thesis on new aspects of the work of Talbot in addition to the catalogue of his notebooks. The thesis explores Talbot's interest in photographic inventions in connection to his lifelong significant scholarship in Archaeology, Classics and Assyriology, allied to a broader academic programme of research in the history of Middle Eastern Archaeology. When Henry Austen Layard, after his Assyrian excavations in ancient Mesopotamia in the 1840s and 1850s, brought back numerous objects to the British Museum, Talbot became one of the four leading experts in the decipherment of cuneiform. At that time, Archaeology and Assyriology started to establish themselves as disciplines and photography quickly became one of the most important tools for archaeological research. Hence, Photography and Archaeology/Assyriology were directly linked to each other in the 19th century. Talbot as a leading expert in both fields offers an exceptional case study to show how the disciplines have been closely linked to each other in practical terms. For the French context it is crucial to mention, that the first scientific use of Talbot's technique in Mesopotamia was carried out by the French expedition team lead by the archaeologist Victor Place in the 1850s. The project is supported by a collaborative doctoral studentship awarded by the AHRC to the University of Cambridge (Professor Simon Schaffer, Department of the History and Philosophy of Science) with the British Library. Link:

Résumé de la présentation par Mirjam Brusius dans le cadre du séminaire "Recherches en histoire visuelle", EHESS/INHA, 13/11/2008.