Ancient Egypt in Modern Memphis

Article excerpt

Memphis, Tennessee is a natural spot for Egyptomania. Residents, both long- and short-term, know the city's name originates with the capital of ancient Egypt. The ancient city's location on the Nile parallels modern Memphis on the Mississippi, the "American Nile." Local interest in Egyptology had no academic focus, however, until 1984, when the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology was founded at Memphis State University. Since its establishment, the Institute's faculty has increased from one to three Egyptologists and has built an international reputation.

The educational mission of the Institute centers around its collection of Egyptian antiquities, which is continually augmented by gifts, purchases and long-term loans. This collection is housed in the Egyptian Hall of the Memphis State University Gallery and is a cultural resource and teaching tool for the University, the city and the Mid-South. There are antiquities from the full range of Egyptian ancient history: Pre-Dynastic (c. 4000-3200 B.C.) through Coptic (c. 200-640 A.D.). Objects, like tweezers and jewelry, remind visitors that ancient Egyptians had day-to-day concerns similar to ours. The mummy of Iretiruw is frequently introduced as the University's oldest faculty member. He is certainly an effective teacher. Children are spellbound by him, but adults are not beyond his grasp. A team front the University of Tennessee Medical School has made a study of him--complete with CAT scan.

Egyptology in the classroom

The education program of the Institute supports the Egyptological interest within the local and Mid-South school systems through its traditional docent-led tours, its participation in the Memphis Arts Council's "Arts in the Schools" program, and its education packet for teachers. The time-tested, docent-led tour for students is the backbone of the Institute's school program. Teachers realize that a first-hand experience of art has a profound potential for piquing a student's curiosity. In order to entrance the gallery experience, docents attend classes to learn the basics of Egyptian history, culture, language and geography, and then they relate this knowledge to the specific antiquities in the Egyptian Hall. The docents use the education packet, which is made available to teachers, and thus, have a scale by which to measure students' knowledge and meet their level of understanding.

Of course, many difficulties may thwart a teacher's desire to bring his/her class to visit the Egyptian collection. Therefore, through the Memphis Arts Council's "Arts in the Schools" program, graduate students and docents are trained to visit the classroom and give a presentation adaptable in length and complexity to the age and knowledge level of the class. This presentation includes a slide show and display of reproductions of Egyptian antiquities.

The education packet offers material which will aid the teacher to present, process and reinforce basic artistic and cultural concepts. The Institute currently has a packet which includes sections on such subjects as hieroglyphs, mythology, arts and crafts, and what is found in a tomb. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts has made possible the development of a new and more extensive education packet. …