A Contemporary Archaeology of London’s Mega Events

From the Great Exhibition to London 2012

Jonathan Gardner


ISBN: 9781787358454

Publication: May 16, 2022

A Contemporary Archaeology of London’s Mega Events explores the traces of London’s most significant modern ‘mega events’. Though only open for a few weeks or months, mega events permanently and disruptively reshape their host cities and societies: they demolish and rebuild whole districts, they draw in materials and participants from around the globe and their organisers self-consciously seek to leave a ‘legacy’ that will endure for decades or more.

With London as his case study, Jonathan Gardner argues that these spectacles must be seen as long-lived and persistent, rather than simply transient or short-term. Using a novel methodology drawn from the field of contemporary archaeology – the archaeology of the recent past and present-day – a broad range of comparative studies are used to explore the long-term history of each event. These include the contents and building materials of the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace and their extraordinary ‘afterlife’ at Sydenham, South London; how the Festival of Britain’s South Bank Exhibition employed displays of ancient history to construct a new post-war British identity; and how London 2012, as the latest of London’s mega events, dealt with competing visions of the past as archaeology, waste and heritage in its efforts to create a positive legacy for future generations.

This book offers significant new directions for the study of mega events in its comparison of how three mega events changed London over three centuries. Drawing on a varied selection of theoretical and methodological frameworks and a rich array of sources, it demonstrates the great potential of contemporary archaeology for re-examining recent processes of urban transformation.

Jonathan Gardner is an archaeologist and heritage researcher based at Edinburgh College of Art.

List of figures
List of abbreviations

1 Introduction: Mega events as time machines

2 Mega methodologies 

3 1851: Rematerialising the Great Exhibition 

4 All that is solid melts: The Crystal Palace at Sydenham,1854–2021 

5 Rebuilding the past at the South Bank Exhibition and the Festival of Britain, 1951

6 Games Time: London 2012 and the absent present

7 Legacy or heritage? Making time in the post-Olympic city

8 Discussion: The contemporary archaeology of mega events 


‘This is a meticulously researched, inventive, and compelling read. Gardner employs an expansive methodology to weave together a multitude of perspectives on the three case studies, which are fruitfully contextualised within evolving backdrops of war, colonialism, class, time and place. The book is an invaluable resource for multi-disciplinary researchers of mega events and an enjoyable read for the generalist.’ – Laura McAtackney, Aarhus University

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

304 Pages

71 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2022

ISBN: 9781787358454

Publication: May 16, 2022

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