Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology. 2: The Golden Age: 1881-1914.

Author:Reid, Donald Malcolm
Position:Book review

Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology. 2: The Golden Age: 1881-1914. By JASON THOMPSON. Cairo: THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO PRESS, 2015. Pp. xiv + 374. $39.95.

The second volume of Jason Thompson's projected three-volume history of Egyptology is as impressive as the first (Wonderful Things: A History of Egyptology. Vol. 1: From Antiquity to 1881. [Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2015]). Drawing on a wide range of published secondary and primary sources as well as extensive archival research, he engagingly recounts the history of the emerging discipline of Egyptology in both Europe and North America and in the field--Egypt.

Since Jaromir Malek's foreword and the author's introduction to vol. 1 have already situated Wonderful Things in relation to previous historiography, vol. 2's preliminaries are brief: a page each for the preface, a chronology of ancient Egypt, a map of ancient Egypt, and one of Nubia. The prefaces to both volumes explain that because even a limited selection of illustrations from the rich trove available would have overwhelmed the text, a supplementary volume of illustrations and a video series are envisioned. Even so, the reader loses a great deal by not having illustrations in near proximity to relevant portions of the text. Thirty-one pages of endnotes and thirty of bibliography--the separate bibliography for each volume is handy--conclude vol. 2.

Gaston Maspero's arrival as director-general of the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1881 and his retirement in 1914 bookend vol. 2 and Thompson's "Golden Age" of Egyptology. The British occupation of Egypt in 1882 soon after Maspero's arrival reinforces the beginning date, and World War I--more than his retirement two months earlier--marks the end of the era in Egyptology and much else. Nevertheless, the periodization leaves one wondering whether the gold of Tutankhamun, whose tomb was discovered in 1922 and inspired the title Wonderful Things, should be cut out of Egyptology's "golden age."

Maspero's two terms as director-general (1881-86, 1899-1914) and those of three other Frenchmen during the interregnum--Eugene Gre'baut (1886-92), Jacques de Morgan (1892-97), and Victor Loret (1897-99)--provide the chronological frameworks for about half of the chapters. The titles of chapters 6 and 7 highlight directors' tenures: "Loret's Interlude" and "The Return of Maspero," and chapters 1, 3, and 8 implicitly set their temporal limits by directors' tenures. These five chapters may be considered first.

Chapter 1 plunges directly into Maspero's succession in 1881 upon the death of Auguste Mariette, the founding director-general of the Antiquities Service. Maspero arrived amidst the financial and political turmoil which climaxed with Great Britain's colonial occupation of...

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