Ancient Egypt: Art, Archaeology, and Empire
Ancient Egypt has never ceased to fascinate. Its monumental architecture and highly stylized iconography are instantly recognizable, due in no small part to the fact that its remnants, from sprawling reliefs to exquisite funerary figurines, have been acquired—and had their acquisition contested—by museums across the globe. But, beyond a popular fixation on the grandeur of these marvels, what can we know of the complex, and remarkably enduring, socioeconomic system that underwrote their production? What might a study of the material culture of Ancient Egypt—including its sophisticated hieroglyphic script, at once phonetic, semantic, and symbolic—reveal about its abiding political structures, social relations, and system of beliefs? And how does the often politically charged practice of archaeology itself, from the excavation to the collection and exhibition of these materials, inform the limits and possibilities of our understanding of ancient civilizations?
In this course, we will explore the archaeology of Ancient Egypt by way of a study of its primary sources: its texts and material culture. Tracing its dynasties and rulers and tracking its substantial tradition of record keeping and history writing, we will ask: what contributed to the formation and durability of its powerful political structures? Alongside the political framework, we’ll examine its rigidly principled visual arts practices and the belief systems embedded in these, which included a pantheon numbering in the thousands and a rich notion of the afterlife that are key to understanding its legacy. Throughout, we’ll consider the historiography of excavations, earlier European collecting habits and exhibition practices, as well as the current cultural heritage laws and the state of field work and museums in modern Egypt, all of which continue to shape the discipline of archaeology.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
October 23 — November 13, 2022