- Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I
With Whose Pharaohs? Donald Malcolm Reid makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on imperialism, cultural identity, and nation building during the “long” nineteenth century (1798–1914). Focusing on Egypt, he examines the emerging scholarly disciplines of Egyptology, classical studies, Islamic art, and Coptic studies, and the institutions that harbor them. At the outset, he establishes five levels of synthesis he attempts to achieve, revealing his theoretical standpoint, methodology, and goals: insertion of the Egyptian scholars that have been omitted from the history of Egyptology, placement of archaeology and museums within the broader parameters of Egyptian history, consideration of the four disciplines as an ensemble and in reference to each other, treatment of scholarly and popular interests together, and examination of the interplay between nationalism and imperialism. Reid’s ambitious and revisionist agenda leads him to investigate diverse sub-themes that include the Description de l’Egypte, mass tourism, artistic representations, world’s fairs, scholarly societies, and a wide collection of nineteenth-century publications. Throughout, he highlights the Egyptian protagonists and convincingly argues on the centrality of their role in shaping the discourse and the institutions, with enduring impact. He thus portrays a nineteenth-century Egypt that has a remarkable intellectual dynamism owing much to cross-cultural dialogues. Based on extensive research that uses archival and published sources, the book opens up a wealth of new information, brought together within a unique and provocative framework.
Exploring the four periods of their country’s history, Egyptian scholars engaged in the definition of a national identity that was complex, inclusive, and “modern.” Situated in inevitable reference to European scholarship on the same topics, their debates were rigorous if responsive. Conforming to his synthetic approach, Reid interweaves his discussions of Egyptian scholars with European ones. He begins with a pair that may be more familiar to serious readers of Middle Eastern intellectual history: Jean-François Champollion and Rifaa al-Tahtawi, the former the “first” Egyptologist, the latter the first Egyptian who took serious interest in Ancient Egypt and urged his countrymen to follow him. Reid then brings in the British and German scholars to the scene, further complicating the dialogue and opening a window onto the early phases of the power struggle among Europeans to gain control over Egypt’s past. In his analyses of the learned institutions, such as Institut Égyptien, planted in Egypt after the mid-nineteenth century, Reid astutely argues that the rivalries between Europeans were intertwined with imperialism and racism.
European and local intellectuals continued to engage in Egyptology throughout the century. For example, under Ismail Pasha’s reign in the 1860s and the 1870s, the French scholar Auguste Mariette played a key role with responsibilities that ranged from organizing a museum for Egyptian antiquities in Bulaq to the architectural representation of Egypt in the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867 and the commissioning of Verdi for “Aida.” Al-Tahtawi and Ali Mubarak, belonging to different generations, also became involved in Egyptology: among other related activities, al-Tahtawi wrote a book in Arabic on the history of pre-Islamic Egypt and Ali Mubarak founded a specialized school in Egyptology. Their efforts to incorporate Egypt’s antiquity into their country’s history and make it accessible to Egyptians were pursued by younger scholars, such as Ahmad Kamal. In the early years of the twentieth century, Ahmad Kamal taught a course on ancient Egypt at the newly founded Egyptian University, convinced the Ministry of Education to start an Egyptology program in the Higher Teachers College, argued for the importance of small regional museums in the provinces, and contributed to the Annales du Service des antiquités de l’Égypte (often on illicit digging activities—an infamous theme that not only ran throughout the period covered in this book, but that extends well into the present day).
Constructing a rich past for contemporary Egypt and thereby rethinking its identity encompassed the Greco-Roman, Coptic, and Arabic periods...