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Monuments in Print and Photography: Inscribing the Ancient in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

This article considers printmaking and photography as media of inscription in late nineteenth-century Mexican archaeology. Specifically, it analyzes a debate about the relative virtues of drawn and photographic archaeological images between the Mexican polymath Antonio Peñafiel (1830–1922) and the British and French-American explorers Alice Dixon Le Plongeon (1851–1910) and Augustus Le Plongeon (1826–1908). Peñafiel, tasked with assembling comprehensive documentation of Mexico’s patrimony, found the constructed image of the print an ideal venue for demonstrating national scientific accomplishment, while the Le Plongeons celebrated the apparent presence and documentary holism afforded by photography. However, despite contentious epistemic debates about how scientists should navigate an unsettled ecology of nineteenth-century reproductive media, archival materials in the GRI collections reveal these scholars’ practices to be thoroughly intermedial. This article argues for further attention to local cultures of archaeological knowledge- and image-making as well as a complication of the frequently coupled historiographies of nineteenth-century archaeology and photography.
Relevant research areas: South America, 19th Century