Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jeffrey Abt's "American Egyptologist"

Jeffrey Abt is associate professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University. He is the author of A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1885–2000.

Abt applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute, and reported the following:
The page falls in the middle of a chapter on one of Breasted’s most prolific periods. Between 1905 and 1906 he published three books that foreshadowed his scholarly career and established him as a rising international star in Egyptology. The first book, invited by a stereograph publisher, accompanied a set of 100 stereoscopic views of Egypt’s ancient sites. Egypt Through the Stereoscope, which included maps keyed to the views, was packaged with the stereographs as a “tour” to be experienced in the comfort of one’s home. The text exemplifies Breasted’s growing ability to integrate illustrations and text into colorful, inviting introductions to ancient history for a general reading public. He raised that skill to a much higher level a decade later in richly illustrated and beautifully written textbooks that transformed the teaching of ancient history in America. It was there that he coined the expression “Fertile Crescent” to characterize the cause and shape of ancient Near Eastern settlement patterns.

The next book, consisting of five volumes, was Breasted’s Ancient Records of Egypt. It was a massive undertaking intended to provide in English translation nearly all the surviving historical records of ancient Egypt. Possessing a particular genius for ancient and modern languages, Breasted rendered all the translations from Egyptian hieroglyphs himself. Page ninety-nine comes near the end of my discussion of the book and its reception. Ancient Records became one of Breasted’s most durable contributions to scholarship and remains in print to this day. It also served as the primary source for his remaining book published during this period, A History of Egypt. Breasted was determined to write a new history, based on his more accurate translations of the ancient inscriptions, in order to correct the errors of other scholars that he attributed to sloppy research and insufficient command of hieroglyphs. Covering the period from Egypt’s earliest times to the Persian conquest, A History of Egypt is also attractively written and well illustrated, and the original edition featured a lavish Egyptianesque binding, the cover of which was cleverly adapted for the dust-jacket of my book.
Learn more about American Egyptologist at the University of Chicago Press website and Jeffrey Abt's website.

My Book, The Movie: American Egyptologist.

--Marshal Zeringue