New exhibition explores photographs from the British Mandate for Palestine

23 Sep 2019

The role of archaeology and museums in recording and interpreting the past during the British Mandate for Palestine is the subject of a new exhibition at The University of Queensland’s RD Milns Antiquities Museum.

Contested Histories: Photographs from Mandate Palestine in the JH Iliffe Collection draws on the collection of British archaeologist and museum curator John Henry "Harry" Iliffe, the first Keeper of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem from 1931 until 1948.

The exhibition is a collaboration between UQ Library’s Fryer Library, which holds Mr Iliffe’s photographs, diaries and other documents, and the Antiquities Museum.

Dr Janette McWilliam, Museum Director and exhibition co-curator, said the collection recorded the challenges Mr Iliffe faced establishing an archaeological museum in the complex social, political, historical, and religious setting of Mandate-era Palestine. 

John Henry Iliffe, “Tinting the Repairs” Restorer Mubarak Saad works on a Bronze Age incense burner, 1931-38, Black and White Photograph, John Henry Iliffe Collection, UQFL 514, Box 4, Folder 1, Item 62, Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

“The exhibition challenges viewers to consider the practise of collecting, recording, and interpreting history in the British Mandate,” she said.

“It also explores Mr Iliffe’s personal experiences in curating the first gallery of the Museum, where he faced unexpected political and religious challenges.”

The JH Iliffe archive was donated to UQ in 2012 by a cousin of the late Luke Iliffe, JH Iliffe’s grandson.

Senior Museum Officer and co-curator James Donaldson said the photographs were a stunning record of Mr Iliffe’s time as the first Keeper of the Palestine Archaeological Museum.

“It is a truly remarkable collection – more than 500 photographs alone, documenting his time in Jerusalem, his work in the Museum, and his travels to archaeological sites across the region.

“Many of the photographs were not identified, so it has been a long process to research and identify the people and places depicted,” Mr Donaldson said.

Fryer Librarian Simon Farley said the collaborative exhibition was a positive opportunity to showcase the collection of documents, artefacts and archives at UQ.    

“The Fryer Library continues to collect in support of the other museums on campus and we are proud of these inter-relationships and shared mission,” Mr Farley said.

“Together we make this campus an extraordinary place when it comes to cultural experiences including exhibitions, displays and talks.”

Contested Histories: Photographs from Mandate Palestine in the JH Iliffe Collection is on show at the RD Milns Antiquities Museum until May 2020.

A digital exhibition has also been prepared.

Media: James Donaldson,, +61 7 3365 7490. 

This article was first published by UQ News on 23 September 2019. View original article here.