Photography, Empirical Science, and the Politics of History in Mandate Palestine

JH Iliffe’s archive at the Fryer Library reveals the central role that photography played in documenting life in Mandate-era Palestine. This talk will reflect on the Palestine Archaeological Museum’s use of photographs as historiography, showing how the Museum’s deployment of photos aligned with a developing intellectual culture of empiricism that characterized the early part of the twentieth century. It analyses how the medium’s revelatory effect and prolific reproducibility were manipulated to affirm certain cultural and political assumptions. Through a close reading of some of the photographic images and postcards from the Jerusalem museum’s collection, the talk will explore how photographic images were mobilised politically to articulate Hellenised and Jewish histories of Palestine that continue to endure for the present-day observer.

Presented by Sushma Griffin (UQ) in association with the exhibition Contested Histories: Photographs from Mandate Palestine in the JH Iliffe Collection.  

About Contested Histories: Photographs from Mandate Palestine in the JH Iliffe Collection

July 2019 to June 2020

Contested Histories presents a selection of photographs from the archive of John Henry "Harry" Iliffe, the first Keeper of the Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem, between 1931 and 1948.  These largely unpublished photographs are a fascinating record of Iliffe's time in Mandate-Era Palestine (present day Israel and Palestinian territories).

This exhibition examines the role of archaeology and museums in recording the past by exploring Iliffe's role in establishing the Jerusalem museum in the complex social, political, historical, and religious setting of Mandate Palestine.  It challenges the viewer to consider how notions of "history" can be constructed, not only through writing and images, but also through physical spaces such as buildings and monuments, and especially the seemingly neutral setting of a museum.

The JH Iliffe Collection is held by the Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library.

View Online

Image: JH “Harry” Iliffe, Untitled [Wide Angle view of PAM], c. 1935, UQFL514 Box 4, Folder 1, The Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

Curated by Mr James Donaldson and Dr Janette McWilliam


The Fryer Library
Level 4, Duhig Building (02)
The University Of Queensland
St Lucia QLD 4072