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This research report provides edited excerpts from my PhD thesis, "Politics of the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism and Diplomacy in Afghanistan, 1919–2001," submitted to the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. The aim of the thesis was to assess the relationship between nationalist agendas and the discipline of archaeology in Afghanistan from 1919 to 2001. The material collected from the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) contributed to Chapter 5 of the thesis, which focused on the political period 1946–1978 in Afghanistan, when Afghan leaders began to open the country to international archaeological teams. At the RAC, I was particularly interested in uncovering material pertaining to a travelling exhibition of artefacts from the National Museum of Afghanistan, which opened at Asia House in New York City in 1966. The following segments also draw on archival material from the JFK Library in Boston, Massachusetts and the National Archives in Delhi, India. The material collected from the RAC helped demonstrate how Afghan leaders used archaeology to build diplomatic relations with key allies, including Japan and the United States, during the 1960s.
In 1908, when James Henry Breasted published ancient copies of some Biblical texts, he hoped that one interested reader would be Booker T. Washington. Breasted wrote to Washington to bring the matter to his attention, providing him with a copy of the article and explaining its general content. At that time, Washington was preoccupied with the aftermath of an injustice done to black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, and the subsequent refusal of Theodore Roosevelt, whom Washington had formerly advised, to undo the damage to the men's reputations, careers, and futures. Nonetheless, Washington replied to Breasted the following week, expressing his polite interest in the matter and noting that although he had not had the time to acquaint himself with the ancient history of Ethiopia, he noted that many West African traditions traced their cultural heritage to "a distant place in the direction of ancient Ethiopia." Washington wondered if that "distant place" and the subject matter of Breasted's article could be one and the same. "Could it be possible that these civilizing influences had their sources in this ancient Ethiopian kingdom to which your article refers?" If Washington saw ancient "Ethiopia," that is, the southern Nile River Valley, also known as the Upper Nile, Nubia, and in contemporary political designation the Sudan, as the source of other African people's culture, Breasted would have concurred.
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