A Winning Combination

Adoration of powerful leaders + allure of guiltless colonial treasure hunting + pay-per-view family entertainment = the survival strategy of 21st century museums.

Listen to the promo and recognize the subtext.   Too much wealth and power flows through too few hands.

Time for Egyptology to experience its own Tahrir Square?


2 thoughts on “A Winning Combination

  1. “Time for Egyptology to experience its own Tahrir Square?”

    It already has. Since the 1990s, Egyptologists have increasingly questioned the political, social, cultural and other agendas that have affected the discipline since its inception, in books such as “Whose Pharaohs?”, “The Face of Tutankhamun”, “Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt” and my own book, “The Mummy’s Curse: Mummymania in the English-speaking World”. At University College, London, in 2010 a conference entitled “Disciplinary Measures” formally announced the establishment of History of Egyptology, a whole new branch of Egyptology dedicated to the critical examination of the discipline’s motivations and consequences.

    What we see in the promotional video for the Tutankhamun exhibition (and in so many other Egypt-themed programs nowadays) is a typical example of the media’s tendency to fall 50 years behind academic progress, dragging museum blockbuster exhibitions with it. While Egyptologists are now rethinking their work in a constructively critical way, the media is still engrossing the uncritical public with neo-imperialistic Indiana Jones tales of treasure hunting and simplistic Biblical-style portraits of pharaohs who were at once romantic figures of power and authoritarian monsters. A number of journalists reporting on the recent events in Egypt have likened Mubarak to the pharaohs, but this relies on one of the classic Western stereotypes of ancient Egypt that History of Egyptology has now “outed”: the evil Middle Eastern despot.

    However much it is true that Mubarak behaved like a dictator, criticisms of his regime must be based upon a sound understanding of politics, not derived from Victorian-age Orientalist ethnic archetypes. All too often, discussions of Egyptian politics rely on outdated tropes that have racist subtexts. If journalists and the media don’t mean to use these subtexts (and I’m sure they don’t), they need to find a new language for discussing their topic.

    Dr Jasmine Day
    Anthropologist / Egyptologist
    The Ancient Egypt Society of Western Australia Inc.

    • I accept many of your points but the problem is Egyptologists (to the extent that some do not perpetuate 19th century stereotypes, and I would suggest that many still do!) have a.) submitted to dictatorial antiquities administration and b.) have done a very poor job of articulating to the public alternative narratives.

      As far as a sound basis of critique of the corrupt and autocratic Mubarak (and earlier) regimes, I suggest you take a look at RULE OF EXPERTS by Timothy Mitchell, for example, and see how much the racist tropes and orientalist archetypes of “timeless Egypt” have effectively served to exploit the people of Egypt.

      Are you suggesting that Mubarak did NOT see himself as a pharaoh? Do you think that the critique of his regime was voiced by the demonstrators in Midan Tahrir who were just trapped in the false consciousness of western stereotypes? Come on.

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