Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums and the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser.

Author:Doyon, Wendy
Position:Book review

Contesting Antiquity in Egypt: Archaeologies, Museums and the Struggle for Identities from World War I to Nasser. By DONALD MALCOLM REID. Cairo: THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO PRESS, 2015. Pp. xxii + 491, illus. $59.95.

The history of Egyptology in our time can be divided into two periods: before Donald Reid and after Donald Reid. Histories of the first period--a long twentieth-century prologue to historical criticism of a quintessentially nineteenth-century discipline--basked in the glow of Egyptology's great European heroes well into the postcolonial era. They bequeathed a narrative that was, among other things, largely blind to modern and living Egyptians into the very late twentieth century. Many scholars today are busy probing the shadows of those outsized European legacies for the stories behind the legends. The introduction to Reid's pioneering research in this field first appeared here in the pages of JAOS more than thirty years ago with an article entitled "Indigenous Egyptology: The Decolonization of a Profession?" (vol. 105 [1985]: 233-46). By the time his first full-length study on the history of Egyptology appeared in 2002, with the publication of Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I, the question mark had moved auspiciously from subtitle to title. This time the question shot straight to the heart of the matter: who has the greater claim to Egypt's archaeological legacy, Egypt or the West? With this question, Reid framed the first generation of the critical history of Egyptology. What are we to make of the question mark's disappearance in this, the long-awaited sequel to Whose Pharaohs? Has the question finally been answered?

Like its predecessor, this book turns our attention away from the shopworn tales of Egyptology's giants toward the remarkable and poignant experiences of others around them. The leading chapters provide a bridge from the nineteenth-century world of Whose Pharaohs? to the very different world that emerged from the Great War, picking up the story on the other side of 1914. The stars are all still here, of course--names like Napoleon, Champollion, Mariette, Petrie, Carter, Borchardt, Breasted, and Reisner are to the history of Egyptology what oxygen is to life on earth--but with Reid we see them in their correct historical proportions.

We see also several brilliant and inspired Egyptians, whose Sisyphean struggles for a foothold in the archaeology...

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