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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Egypt's rich and celebrated ancient past has served many causes throughout history--in both Egypt and the West. Concentrating on the era from Napoleon's conquest and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone to the outbreak of World War I, this book examines the evolution of Egyptian archaeology in the context of Western imperialism and nascent Egyptian nationalism. Traditionally, histories of Egyptian archaeology have celebrated Western discoverers such as Champollion, Mariette, Maspero, and Petrie, while slighting Rifaa al-Tahtawi, Ahmad Kamal, and other Egyptians. This exceptionally well-illustrated and well-researched book writes Egyptians into the history of archaeology and museums in their own country and shows how changing perceptions of the past helped shape ideas of modern national identity.

Drawing from rich archival sources in Egypt, the United Kingdom, and France, and from little-known Arabic publications, Reid discusses previously neglected topics in both scholarly Egyptology and the popular "Egyptomania" displayed in world's fairs and Orientalist painting and photography. He also examines the link between archaeology and the rise of the modern tourist industry. This richly detailed narrative discusses not only Western and Egyptian perceptions of pharaonic history and archaeology but also perceptions of Egypt's Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Islamic eras.

Throughout this book, Reid demonstrates how the emergence of archaeology affected the interests and self-perceptions of modern Egyptians. In addition to uncovering a wealth of significant new material on the history of archaeology and museums in Egypt, Reid provides a fascinating window on questions of cultural heritage--how it isperceived, constructed, claimed, and contested.

Excerpt

France, snatching an obelisk from the ever heightening mud of the Nile, or the savage ignorance of the Turks … earns a right to the thanks of the learned of Europe, to whom belong all the monuments of antiquity, because they alone know how to appreciate them. Antiquity is a garden that belongs by natural right to those who cultivate and harvest its fruits.

Captain E. de Verninac Saint-Maur, Voyage de Luxor (1835)

It is indeed a matter of deep regret that the monuments should be ours and the history should be ours, but that those who write books on the history of ancient Egypt should not be Egyptians. … Nevertheless we cannot avoid expressing admiration for Professor Selim Hassan on his archaeological skill and his continuous finds, the last of which was the fourth pyramid.

The Arabic newspaper Al-Balagh, 26 February 1932

This book examines the evolving uses that Egyptians—mostly nationalists—and Europeans—mostly imperialists—made of various eras of the long Egyptian past between Bonaparte's conquest in 1798 and the outbreak of World War I. European archaeology in Egypt began in earnest during the French expedition. French soldiers uncovered the Rosetta Stone by accident in 1799, and twenty-three years later Jean-François Champollion's decipherment of its hieroglyphic text opened the door to modern Egyptology. In the half-century between 1858 and 1908, Europeans played key roles in the founding of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and four historical museums—the Egyptian Museum (for the pharaonic period), the Greco-Roman Museum, the Coptic Museum, and . . .

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