Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I

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Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I, by Donald Malcolm Reid. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London, UK: University of California Press, 2002. xiii + 297 pages. Maps. Figures. Appendix to p. 30. Notes to p. 363. Sel. bibl. to p. 383. Index to p. 409. $35.

Medieval Arab writers expressed an interest in Pharaonic antiquities that went beyond the Qur'anic stories, and as early as 1829 the masthead of the Egyptian official gazette, al-Waqa'i' al-Misriyya, contained a drawing of a pyramid symbolizing Egypt. By the early 20th century the pyramids, sphinx, and other antiquities had become nearly ubiquitous symbols of national identity invoked by Egyptian modernists and conservatives alike. Yet, Western archaeologists dismissed the possibility of Egyptians' interest in their own antiquities, and even blocked their participation in Egyptology.

Donald Reid's aim, admirably accomplished in this book, is to write Egyptians back into the history of Egyptology as well as Greco-Roman, Islamic, and Coptic art and archaeology in the dual political context in which these sciences developed - imperialism and nascent Egyptian nationalism. Egyptians committed to these sciences, like Ahmad Kamal (Egyptology) and Ali Bahgat (Islamic archeology) struggled, on one hand, to arouse public interest in the study and preservation of Egypt's antiquities, and on the other hand to win acceptance in these European dominated fields.

In this way, Whose Pharaohs? can be seen as a contribution to the new genre of studies of the development of imperial forms of knowledge that link the production of knowledge of ancient non-Western civilizations to the political - and often colonial - context in which these sciences arose. Yet, Reid is first and foremost a historian of Egypt, and is interested not only in how ancient Egypt was "constructed" by Western scholars, but also in the interaction of Western and Egyptian scholars, popularizers, and tourists, not all of which was conflictive, in this discursive field. Rifa'a Tahtawi, for example, was exposed to the young science of Egyptology while in Paris in the late 1820s, and later he included the Pharaonic period in his foundational narrative of Egypt's national history. On a trip to Europe in 1907, Salama Musa was embarrassed by knowing less about ancient Egypt than his hosts did, and upon returning he took a Cook's tour of Upper Egypt to educate himself. "Discovering one's homeland by leaving it is a common phenomenon in modern nationalism (p. …