Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Donald Malcolm Reid's "Contesting Antiquity in Egypt"

Donald Malcolm Reid is author of Whose Pharaohs? Archaeologies, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I and Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt, among other works. He is professor emeritus, Georgia State University, and affiliate professor, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, University of Washington.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums, and the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s whimsical Page 99 Test seems oddly appropriate for Contesting Antiquity in Egypt, for it calls to mind the Islamic tradition that there are 99 names of God (Allah)—The Compasionate, The Merciful, The Most Holy, etc.

Page 99 of Contesting shows a photo captioned “Imperial archaeology: The Oriental Institute’s Chicago House, Luxor, completed 1931.” Rockefeller money enabled James Henry Breasted, a great Egyptologist who founded the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, to open this magnificently-equipped archaeological field house despite the onset of the Great Depression. Such millionaire philanthropy enabled American archaeologists to outspend their British, French, German, and Italian colleagues in interwar Egypt. Despite Egypt’s nominal independence in 1922, British colonial interference in politics was never far beneath the surface, and the French ran the Antiquities Service for 94 years, down to Nasser’s revolution in 1952.

Traditional accounts highlight the role of European and American archaeologists in discovering and interpreting Egypt's long past. Following up on my earlier Whose Pharaohs? Archaeologies, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I, Contesting Antiquity in Egypt redresses the balance by also highlighting the lives and careers of often-neglected Egyptian specialists. Close attention is paid not only to the contests between westerners and Egyptians over the control of antiquities, but also to passionate debates among Egyptians themselves over pharaonism—popular interest in ancient Egypt-- in relation to Islam and Arabism during a critical period of nascent nationalism. The sensational discovery in 1922 of Tutankhamun's tomb accelerated the growth in Egypt of both Egyptology as a formal discipline and of pharaonism as an inspiration in the struggle for full independence.

As with Whose Pharaohs?, Contesting Antiquity in Egypt is also unusual in examining not only pharaonic, but also Islamic, Coptic, and Greco-Roman archaeologies in Egypt. Each of these four archaeologies gave birth to, and grew up around, a major antiquities museum in Egypt. Later, Cairo, Alexandria, and Ain Shams universities joined in shaping these fields. All four disciplines, as well as the closely related history of tourism, are brought together here in a single framework.
Learn more about Contesting Antiquity in Egypt at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue