My favourite historical places: Professor Rebecca Earle

As part of our weekly series, cultural historian of Spanish America, Professor Rebecca Earle, picks out her favourite historical places to visit

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Q: What is your favourite historical place in Britain?

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A: I’m very fond of the British Museum. The objects on display are about both the culture that made them, and the historical processes that brought them to London.

The enormous and beautiful Assyrian reliefs, for example, prompt questions about ancient Iraq, and about how these wonderful things came to be in Bloomsbury. I find these double histories fascinating.

Material culture is never static; objects change meaning as they move across time and space, and the museum’s collections show this very clearly.

Q: What is your favourite historical place overseas?

A: I visited Machu Picchu in 2004, while researching a project on the construction of ‘national pasts’ in post-independence Latin America. Machu Picchu astonished me with its strange, beautiful atmosphere. The landscape – green and lush – reverberates with suppressed power.

I’ve never believed in ley lines, but the site seemed to possess a deep energy – and I don’t think my response was due solely to the coca leaf cocktails they served at the nearby lodge!

Q: Where would you most like to visit?

A: My partner and sons tell me I’m keen to visit Detroit, to view the effects of capitalist devastation on an urban space, and perhaps they’re right.

If I could travel back to the past I’d like to witness one of the grand banquets served to the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, in his palace in Mexico-Tenochtitlán, and see the city’s famous market – so vast, it was said, that it would take two days to view it all.

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Professor Rebecca Earle is a cultural historian of Spanish America at the University of Warwick.