The 18th Century Search for the Blue Nile

The History and Archeology behind 18th century Expeditions

The Renaissance created a culture that appreciated and valued the rare, the exotic, and the antique. During this time period, the study of antiquity represented one aspect of a larger cultural revival that would lead to a cultural desire to establish yourself as an inheritor of ancient culture.The eighteenth century experience a growth in antiquiarian research oriented expeditions. During the eighteenth century, the interest in the material culture of antiquity reflected an emerging fixation with national identiy among European countries. National states and independent, scholarly societies within became interested in their ancient past in order to help secure their present identity.

Society of Dilettanti

During the eighteenth century, as knowledge of ancient civilizations increased, a greater number of expeditions embarked to find the surviving monuments of these civilizations. Also, the greater number of expeditions that returned with a deeper understanding of ancient civilizations, increased the scope of antiquarian research during the eighteenth century. For example, cultural interests were found to be motivating factors behind eighteenth century expeditions. With the revival of Classical styles in art, literature and architecture, interest in ancient Greece and Rome continued to grow. Painter James Stuart of England, and architect Nicholas Revett, illustrating antiquarianism’s influence on eighteenth century expeditions, journeyed to Athens in order to study and record monuments of  Greek antiquity. However, they did not go individually. The Society of Dilettanti sponsored the antiquarian research driven expedition. A society who considered themselves “energetic and informed collectors”, by the middle of the eighteenth century, they held an influential role in cultural matters, and encouraged antiquarian research on expeditions (Redford 59). Founded in 1714, they began spreading a published journal two decades later called the Antiquity. As a prominent cultural figure in the eighteenth century, they encouraged the interchanging of ideas, leading to increased scholarly interest in ancient civilizations. The new revived scholarly interest in antiquity led to greater foreign scientific expeditions.  The vast number of expeditions led to the discovery of further ancient civilizations. After the discovering of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, expeditions interested in antiquity increased to investigate those cities. Beginning during the latter half of the eighteenth century, expeditions reached those cities with aspirations to successfully discover and record antiquities (Hoffmann 184).

Cited Works

Curran, Brian A., Anthony Grafton, Pamela Long, and Benjamin Weiss. "Changing the Stone: Egyptology, Antiquarianism, and Magic." In Obelisk: A History, 141-160. Cambridge, Mass.: Burndy Library, 2009.

Hoffman, Michael A. "The Rise of Antiquarianism in Japan and Western Europe." In Arctic Anthropology, 182-188. Vol. 11. University of Wisconsin Press, 1974.

Redford, Bruce. 'Seria Ludo': George Knapton's Portraitsof the Society of DIlettanti. 1st ed. Vol. 3. British Art Journal. 56-68.


The History and Archeology behind 18th century Expeditions