Anxieties about Race in Egyptology and Egyptomania, 1890–1960


I’d like to introduce
our speaker tonight. Professor Donald Reid
earned his doctorate in Modern Middle East History
at Princeton University. He now lives in
Seattle where he’s faculty affiliate of the
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization,
University of Washington. And he’s also a board member
of the American Research Center in Egypt from
the Northwest Chapter. And this follows a long career
at Georgia State University, where he’s also
professor emeritus of Middle East History. He is uniquely qualified
to talk to us tonight due to his expertise in
Arabic, French, and German, and his residence or travel in– are you ready for this list– Egypt, Lebanon, Israel,
Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia,
Morocco, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan,
Oman, Yemen, and Cyprus. Are you exhausted? Professor Reid is the author
of countless articles and many books, including Cairo
University and the Making of Modern Egypt, Lawyers and
Politics in the Arab World 1880-1960, and the
Odyssey of Farah Antun– A Syrian Christian’s
Quest for Secularism. But for our lecture
tonight, it’s his most recent books that have
been absolutely groundbreaking for the history of
archeology in modern Egypt. And they are Whose Pharaohs? Archeology, Museums, and
Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I.
And then just about a year ago, another classic,
instant classic, came out called Contesting
Antiquity in Egypt– Archeology, Museums,
and the Struggle for Identities from
World War I to Nasser. And you see the title of his
lecture right on the screen there, so you don’t need
to read that to you. But please join me in welcoming
Professor Donald Reid. Thank you, Peter. Good evening. I’d like to thank
everybody at the Peabody Museum of Archeology
and Ethnology and Dr. Peter
Manuelian for inviting me to participate in its 150th
Anniversary Lecture Series– Race Representation and Museums. And I’ve called my
presentation “Anxieties about Race in Egyptology
and Egyptomania, 1890-1960.” I did not approach this
subject as an Egyptologist, archaeologist, classicist,
anthropologist, or biologist, but as a historian of
the modern Middle East who has done research on
archeology and museums in Egypt in the context of
colonialism, nationalism, and decolonization. I start from the premise
that races are not fixed, scientifically
verifiable identities, but shifting social
constructs which vary from time to time
and place to place. A person considered
black in the US might be judged colored in the
Caribbean and white in Brazil. In 1924, some Virginians
who thought they were white woke up one morning to find
that a change in the law had made them black. In 1887, African-American
leader Frederick Douglass encountered a white
American family at the pyramids who
mistook him for an Arab and assumed that he
did not speak English. Such confusions point up
the artificiality of race, but that does not mean that
race and racial hierarchies are unimportant. They have real consequences,
often disastrous for real people. Ancient Egyptians
would have been bewildered by our
debates over whether they were black or white. Like modern Egyptians,
they had a range of skin colors, hair
types, and facial features. They often depicted men as
reddish brown and clean shaven and women with pale,
yellowish skin. New Kingdom artists often
stereotyped Africans to their south as
black with broad noses and curly hair, and Asiatics
to their northeast and Libyans to their west as lighter
skinned and bearded. On his footstool,
Tutankhamen symbolically trampled Asiatic
and Nubian captives. An Egyptologist could
elaborate on the evolution of such artistic conventions and
how they reinforced or differed from social realities,
but our focus tonight is on modern racial anxieties
anachronistically projected back onto ancient Egypt. My talk is organized around five
vignettes, each representing a theme with a long history– whitening the Egyptians,
number one, number two, ancient Egypt as the founder of
civilization with the question marks Western,
white, number three, blackening the Egyptians, number
four, sons of the pharaohs, modern Egyptian perceptions
of race and ancient Egypt, number five, Nazi anti-Semitism,
Egyptology, and Harvard’s missed opportunity. Vignette One, whitening
the Egyptians, centers on James
Henry Breasted’s influential high school
textbook Ancient Times, a History of the Early
World published in 1916 with a revised edition in 1935. I first encountered it
in my ninth grade class in Ancient History in 1954. One of two key founders of
American Egyptology, Breasted that established the University
of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in 1919 and it still
flourishes today. The other founder was George
Reisner, a Harvard professor and Egyptian curator at the
Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Breasted was born
in the same year as iconic poet of
imperialism, Rudyard Kipling, and the year the US
Civil War ended, 1865. In 1866, philanthropist
George Peabody endowed Peabody Museums
at both Harvard and Yale. And in 1867, George
Reisner was born. Breasted did his MA at Yale,
Reisner, his BA, MA, and PhD at Harvard. In the 1890s, both went on to
study in Berlin under an Adolf Erman. Jeffrey Abt wrote this fine
biography of Breasted and Peter Manuelian and is writing a
much anticipated biography of Reisner. Reisner was a meticulous
excavator in Egypt and Sudan who acquired much of
the Egyptian collections of the Museum of Fine
Arts and the Peabody. Breasted, in contrast, believed
that copying and publishing fast perishing inscriptions was
more urgent than excavation. These two founding
fathers were fierce rivals as their body language in
1935 photograph suggest. In 1905, Breasted wrote that
studying early burials in Egypt had quote “produced such
a diversity of opinion among physical
anthropologists as to render it impossible for the
historian to obtain decisive results from their
researches” end quote. In 1916, in Ancient
Times, he sensibly described modern peasants
in the delta as both brown and as descendants
of ancient Egyptians. The brown label
sidestepped the insistence of many white Americans that
except for American Indians and East Asians you had to
be either black or white. In 1919, however, Breasted wrote
home to his wife in Chicago comparing Egypt’s anti-British
revolt that year in the US– anti-British revolt in
Egypt to US race riots that summer which left
23 African-Americans and 15 whites dead
in Chicago alone. Quote “We reached
Alexandria Thursday morning. There had been rioting
the day before. The country people
have had enough and are ready to settle down
under British authority, but the little
Tarboosh defendees in Cairo and Alexandria
are still making trouble. The outbreak in Cairo is
likely to come at any minute. You need not have the
slightest anxiety, the trouble will be
confined to certain quarters just as was the Negro
rioting in Chicago. The authorities are quite
ready and indeed are hoping that the lid may
blow off very violently in order to assure the
agitators the strong hand at once and without mercy. The country is full of
British troops” end quote. The greater emphasis on race
in the 1935 second edition of his textbook
Ancient Times came in the wake of
such popular works as Lothrop Stoddard 1920
book, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy
and in the wake of the US 1924 Immigration Act, which
drastically reduced immigration from southern and eastern Europe
and nearly banned it from Asia. Stoddard had a Harvard
PhD and history and was also Klansman who warned
that the quote “great Nordic race was under siege
from all directions.” The preface to his
book was written by Madison Grant whose own book
The Passing of the Great Race– Or, the Racial Basis
of European History came out in 1916, the same year
as Breasted’s Ancient Times. No marginal figure, Grant
was chairman of the New York Zoological Society and
Trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. In 1930, the US census
succumbed to the one drop rule dropping the category of
mulatto and classifying those with any fraction of
Negro ancestry as Negroes. When Breasted’s 1935
textbook edition discarded the brown
option, however, he annexed ancient Egyptians to
his quote “Great White Race.” Ignore the white
patch here which represents the ice sheet
in the last Ice Age, maybe since this is
a geology hall here, I shouldn’t say to ignore that. But concentrate instead on the
sweep of his great white race from the Arctic through
the Sahara and the Atlantic to the Urals and the Caspian. The black race and the
Mongoloid or yellow race are reduced to small letters
on the margin and, of course, not labeled great. Breasted insisted, quote “The
peoples of the great Northwest quadrant as far back as we know
anything about prehistoric man have all been members
of a race of white men who have well been called
the Great White Race. The men of this race created the
civilization we have inherited. The Mongoloids on the east
and the Negroes on the south occupy an important place
in the modern world, but they played no part in
the rise of civilization. On the south, lay the
teeming world of black Africa as it does today. It was separated from
the Great White Race by the broad stretch
of the Sahara Desert. Sometimes the blacks
of inner Africa did wander along the Nile
Valley Road to Egypt, but they came only
in small groups. Thus cut off by
the desert barrier and living by
themselves, they remained uninfluenced by
civilization from the north. The Negro peoples of
Africa were therefore without any influence
on the development of early civilization”
end quote. Drawing on decades of
painstaking craniometry or craniology, the
measurement of skulls, this diagram breaks
Breasted’s Great White Race into three subgroups. Number one, the Nordics
of the northern flat lands with long headed, tall,
blue eyed, and blond. Number two, round headed alpines
of central Europe’s highlands. And number three, long
headed Mediterraneans whose southern branch
included ancient Egyptians. The note under the diagram
concedes without elaboration that quote “south of the
Mediterranean, the people of the Great White Race are
darker skinned than elsewhere” end quote. Breasted’s 1935
edition did protests that the popular term Aryan
should be applied only to the Indian and Iranian
branch of Indo-Europeans, but it also hailed quote “the
eventual triumph of Greece and Rome in the Near
East as evidence that the Indo-European
branch of the white race triumphed over the
southern Semitic branch, the complete triumph of
our ancestors” end quote. This not only conflated the
Indo-European and Semitic language groups with
race, but also implied the rejection of Semites,
which in the US of the 1930s primarily meant Jews, as part
of his American we or us. Even so, for his
“they,” Breasted was relatively moderate
on race compared to some of his
scholarly predecessors and contemporaries. In the years leading up to
the Civil War and the founding of the Peabody Museum, the
American ethnological school of Samuel Morton, Josiah
Nott, and George Gliddon claimed that science
proved that races had not changed since ancient times. Whites were big
biologically superior. And that ancient
Egyptians were white. But as in the southern US had
blacks as slaves and servants. Nott and Gliddon’s 1854 Types of
Mankind declared of Ramesses II quote “his features are as
superbly European as Napoleon’s whom he resembles.” [LAUGHTER] Then they showed this pharaonic
captive with collar and cord labeling it Negro,
3,200 years old. Flinders Petrie,
Breasted’s contemporary, was an ardent eugenicist who
attributed Egypt’s civilization to an invading superior race– white, of course. Clarence Fisher, in a labor
dispute with his mentor, George Reisner assumed that
modern Egyptians were black and thus not to be trusted. Quote “Dr. Reisner’s present
attitude is an acknowledgement that he regards the word
of a native black man as to be more relied on
than that of two white men, such as Mr. Sanborn and
myself, the representatives of a sister
university” end quote. To Reisner, Fisher wrote,
quote “It is usually accepted that the
word of a white man is better than that
of a native, but I am sorry to say that several
times during the past two years, you have thought it
best to think otherwise. If you intend to support
Mahmoud el Majid, it is intended as an insult
not only to us personally, but to the University
of Pennsylvania. It will certainly destroy any
other white man’s authority over these people” end quote. Vignette Two, Ancient Egypt
as the founder of civilization with the question marks– Western, white. In the Dome of the Library
of Congress in 1896, Edwin Blashfield’s mural
Evolution of Civilization, anticipated by two decades the
outline of Breasted’s textbook. Egypt and America sit side by
side in Blashfield’s painting because Egypt is the
origin of civilization which progresses around the
dome to its climax in America. Blashfield, who had
studied painting in Paris knew Egyptian antiquity
firsthand through his marriage to Evangeline
Wilbour, the daughter of amateur Egyptologist
Charles Wilbour. In 1890, the three
wintered together for five months on her father’s
Nile Dahabeeyeh, the Seven Hathors. Blashfield’s vision of the
progress of civilization runs from Egypt to
Judea to Greece to Rome. Only Mesopotamia and
Persia were major omissions from Breasted’s later
textbook outline. Breasted’s textbook
grew out of an earlier Outlines of European
History, coauthored for medieval and modern Europe
with James Harvey Robinson. Robinson’s text loosely
continued Blashfield’s sequence after the fall of Rome. This is Blashfield’s mural
around the dome here. And after Rome comes Islam,
the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Italy, Gutenberg’s Germany,
Columbus’s Spain, Shakespeare’s England, revolutionary
France, and so on. Blashfield’s scheme cries out
for a gender analysis, too. We don’t have time
for that tonight. But Egypt, Rome, Islam,
Germany, Spain, and America are represented as men and
Judea, Greece, the Middle Ages, Italy, England, and
France as women. In the 1920s,
Blashfield’s, Breasted’s, and Robinson’s world
view crystallized into the standard
Western civilization course in US colleges. As for race, there’s no hint
that Blashfield’s America or his ancient Egypt
was anything but white. Indeed, all his figures
anticipate Breasted’s history of civilization as the triumph
of his Great White Race. Blashfield did interposed Islam
between Rome and the Middle Ages in his painting. This represents Western
Civ’s usual nod to Islam for passing lost Greek
learning on to Europe. China, India, and sub-Saharan
Africa are off the mental map until Europe’s age of discovery. And Egypt under Islam drops out
of sight into an alien orient. I took Western Civ as a freshman
and taught it for a dozen years when I first started teaching. Sometimes it came
close to its caricature in the late 20th
century culture wars as chronicles of dead white men. In 1980, I strongly supported
the decision of my department at Georgia State
University to replace Western Civ with world history. Vignette Three,
Blackening the Egyptians. Whoops. Let’s see. Given the insistence with which
scholars of Breasted’s stature proclaimed ancient
Egypt a white triumph, counterclaims of it
for black Africans should come as no surprise. This debate captured
national attention again in the 1980s as Afrocentrists,
such as Cheikh Anta Diop, an older
Senegalese scholar, and Molefi Asante attacked
Eurocentric histories head on. Meanwhile white backlash against
the Civil Rights Movement and the 1960s radicalism had
helped elect President Reagan. In 1987, Martin Bernal’s Black
Athena, the Afro-Asiatic roots of classical civilization,
made him a partial ally of the Afrocentrists. Classicist Mary
Lefkowitz soon rallied a conservative countercharge. The echoes of this fracas
still reverberate, sometimes with productive
scholarly results. Vignette Three centers
on WEB Du Bois’ The Negro, published
in 1915, the year before Breasted’s Ancient Times. Du Bois did not have
to start from scratch. This book by Scott Trafton
explores Du Bois’ 19th century predecessors. Du Bois and Breasted
both saw Egypt as the fount of civilization. And they also had
other things in common. Born in the 1860s, like
Breasted and Reisner, Du Bois graduated from Harvard
in 1890 a year after Reisner. While Du Bois was
doing is MA at Harvard, Breasted was
earning his at Yale. German research
universities were riding high as models for
American higher education. And all three men
leapt at the chance to go on to the
University of Berlin. Whether or not Du Bois ever
met Breasted and Reisner, they might well have
passed each other on Unter den Linden in Berlin. Race, however, had dealt
them very different hands. Breasted came home with
his Berlin Egyptology PhD to a career at the
University of Chicago. Du Bois who was only
months away from his Berlin PhD in sociology when the
trustees of the John F. Slater fund back home cut off his
German fellowship hoping instead that quote “you
will devote your talent and learning to the good of
the colored race” end quote. As Du Bois’ biographer
David Levering Lewis put it, quote “Black PhDs
from Germany were not a priority in Booker T.
Washington’s America” end quote. Passing the Statue of
Liberty on his way home, Du Bois wrote, quote “I
dropped suddenly backed into nigger hating America.” He had to settle for
a mere Harvard PhD then divided his career
between scholarship and political activism, mainly
at historically black Atlanta University and the NAACP. A passing reference in
Breasted’s Ancient Times to quote “our grandfathers
in New England” suggests that his envisioned
high school readers were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Du Bois’ publisher, The Home
University of Modern Knowledge targeted self-improving readers
who had not been to college. At a time when African
history and geography hardly figured in college
courses, the Negroes surveyed not only
Africa but also in North and South America. It cited a specialized
report by Reisner, but had a complaint
about Breasted. Quote “The works of
Breasted and Petrie, Maspero, Budge, and
Newberry, and Garstang are standard books on Egypt. They mention the Negro,
but incidentally and often slightingly” end quote. In a statement that might
have been written yesterday, Du Bois declared, “In fact, it
is generally recognized today that no scientific definition
of race is possible” end quote. Although he sometimes
identified himself as a mulatto, by including all mixed groups
in his definition of Negro, he made ancient Egypt
a Negro civilization whether or not its people
differed biologically from those further south. In 1948, he wrote,
quote “One must remember that Egyptology
starting in 1821 grew up during the African
slave trade, the sugar empire, and the cotton kingdom. Few scholars during
the period dared to associate the Negro race
with humanity much less with civilization” end quote. In 1915, in The Negro,
he wrote, “Of what race, then, were the Egyptians? They were certainly not white in
any modern sense of that word, neither in color nor in
physical measurement, in hair nor countenance, in
language nor social customs. They stood in relationship
nearest the Negro in earliest times. And then gradually, through the
infiltration of Mediterranean and Semitic elements became what
would be described in America as a light mulatto stock
of octoroons and quadroons” end quote. Du Bois also struck
out at the school who asserted that all advanced
civilization in premodern Africa was due to white
Hamites rather than to Negroes from further south. Quote “Ancient and modern
mingling of Semite and Negro has given rise to
the term Hamite under the cover of which
millions of Negroids have been characteristically
transferred to the white race by some eager
scientists” end quote. For evidence of ancient
Egyptians as Negroes, Du Bois drew on Herodotus
and Volney’s description of the Giza Spinx as negroid. He said that the 12th Dynasty
pharaohs were farrows pharaohs’ quote “whose Negro descent is
plainly evident” end quote. The Hyksos may have been black. New Kingdom founder
Ahmose was mulatto. And his queen
Ahmose-Nefertari a Negress. And Tuthmose III and
Hatshepsut had quote “a strong negroid countenance.” He made much of the
black Kushite or Nubian pharaohs of Egypt
of the 25th dynasty, whom the Greeks
called Ethiopians, quote “those with burnt faces.” From Napata, in today’s
Sudan, these Nubians conquered Egypt and ruled
Thebes until driven south again by the Assyrians. Back in Napata, and then
further south at Meroe, their state lasted
well into Roman times. This 1911 cover of the
NAACP’s The Crisis Magazine, which Du Bois edited,
featured quote “one of the black kings
of the Upper Nile.” The relief of this
particular Nubian pharaoh is from this pyramid, ruined
pyramid, here in number 17. These got the tops
knocked off of them by treasure hunters, some of
them in pretty modern times. The relief of this particular
pharaoh, then, that we just saw from that pyramid. The 60 rulers of
ancient Egypt selected for listing on the Cairo
Egyptian Museum of 1902 facade included other
foreign pharaohs– Libyans, Persians, the Greek
Ptolemies, and the Romans, but it skipped over the
Nubian 25th dynasty. Gaston Maspero,
the French director of Egyptian Antiquities, would
have overseen this selection. Breasted’s Ancient Times also
omitted this Nubian Dynasty from its account,
which this dynasty has loomed large for Du Bois
and later for Afrocentrists. And had Egyptians designed
the museum plaques in the late 1940s when
they were campaigning for post-independence
Egyptian-Sudanese unification, they would surely have included
the 25th Dynasty Nubian pharaohs. Also note, by the way, that
the inscriptions here are in Latin on this 1932 museum. And this came
naturally to Egypt’s British and French colonizer. But no state school in
Arabic speaking Egypt then taught Latin. And its ruling families
still spoke Turkish. Finally Du Bois’
The Negro staked out racial claims as sweeping as
Breasted’s, but in reverse. Quote “That Negro peoples
were the beginners of civilization along the
Ganges, the Euphrates, and the Nile seems proven. Early Babylon was founded
by a Negroid race. The Assyrians showed
distinct Negroid strain. And early Egypt was
predominantly Negro” end quote. Vignette Four, Sons
of the Pharaohs, Modern Egyptians’ Perceptions
of Race and Ancient Egypt. My title here is derived
from this century old book. For most Egyptians asking
if Egyptians are or were black or white is a nonstarter. Religion has been
far more critical than race in their debates
about pharaonic heritage. In the Quran, as
in the Bible, Moses defies a tyrannical
pagan pharaoh to lead believers in the
one true God in their exodus from Egypt. This book cover
Pharaoh and the Quran depicts the tyrant as aghast
at the miracle of turning Aaron’s staff into a serpent. Here, the Quranic quotation
“Lo, Pharaoh aggrandized himself on earth” accompanies
apocalyptic lightning over the pyramids, archetypical
symbols of ancient Egypt. For some Muslims,
paganism poisons all pre-Islamic antiquity and
denouncing any ruler as pharaoh is the ultimate insult. Most Egyptians,
however, take pride in the pharaonic civilization
that dazzled the world. Similarly, African-Americans
under slavery and then under Jim Crow were torn between
identifying with Hebrew bondage in Egypt, “tell old
pharaoh, let my people go” and the lure of Egypt
as the land of wisdom and wonders with which they
felt an African kinship. “Egypt,” says an Arabic proverb,
“is the mother of the world.” In the Quran, as
in the Bible, Egypt was where Joseph rose up to
become Pharaoh’s trusted vizier and where the world’s
most famous refugees– Mary, Jesus, and Joseph– found welcoming asylum
from King Herod. This book cover even
seems to suggest that the Holy family enjoyed
the sound and light show at the pyramids. Many modern Coptic Egyptians
are proud that the latest form of the very
language of ancient Egypt survives in their
Coptic scriptures. If the pharaohs are
really the anathema that some fundamentalists
would like to make them, would Egypt’s
government have dared put Tutankhamen on
its one pound coin or to call their international
teams in this football mad country the Pharaohs. So how do modern
Egyptians deal with race? Islam asserts the
equality of all believers. Until slavery’s abolition
in the late 19th century, slaves in Egypt, as in
ancient Greece and Rome, came in all colors. And there was never a legal
color line, as in South Africa or the southern US. Yet, although Egyptians often
deny any color prejudice, the experience of Sudanese
and of Egyptian Nubians, who often work in Cairo as
doormen and servants, indicates otherwise. Egypt’s 19th century
conquest of the Sudan was interrupted by Britain’s
occupation of itself in 1882 and by the Mahdist
Revolt in the Sudan. After Kitchener’s reconquest
of the Sudan in 1898, Britain dominated the
Anglo-Egyptian condominium over it. Up to the very eve of
Sudanese independence in 1956, Egyptians, proclaiming the
unity of the Nile Valley, pushed for the union
of the two countries. Back in 1910,
rejecting comparisons with the European scramble
that had carved up the rest of Africa, Egyptian
writer Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed downplayed racial differences. Quote “Who are the
sons of the Nile? They are those who live in
that distant, torrid region and whose color is black. And those who live in
the temperate zone. And whose color, as you
see, is somewhere between white and black. It would be senseless
were skin color to cut off blood relationships
between two brothers or to cause the estrangement
of two partners. For the Sudanese is an
Egyptian and the Egyptian is a Sudanese by virtue
of their being brothers who owe their common father,
the Nile, their existence, their proliferation,
and their wealth.” But behind this
brotherly facade, Egyptians asserted
right of conquest going back to the pharaohs and
Islamisizing and civilizing mission in Balada, Sudan,
the land of the blacks, where slaving right raids
were justified as jihad against pagans. Two Egyptian cartoons from an
Arabic periodical of the 1920s illustrate racial prejudice. Here, colonial
ruler Lord Lloyd has a demure, white aristocratic
Egypt on one arm and a sexualized Sudanese
savage on the other. Here, Sudan is a
dark little urchin trying to escape British John
Bull to join her big sister Egypt, again a fashionable,
light skin, perhaps Turkish lady. In the background,
the pyramids proclaim which side of the fence
is civilized Egypt, while thatched huts
represent primitive Sudan. The Arabic
[SPEAKING ARABIC] for slaves is sometimes used as
an insult to all blacks with all the sting of
our English N word. Last June, an Egyptian
diplomat in Nairobi caused an uproar with an
alleged Arabic aside calling sub-Saharan Africans
dogs and slaves. After 1945, Egypt
campaigned at the UN to regain the Sudan, opened
an Institute of Sudan Studies at Cairo University,
and published a book The Unity of the Nile Valley. In it, Egyptologist Ahmed Badawi
and classical historian Ibrahim Nasi recounted the
pharaoh’s southern expansion from the 1st Dynasty on. Of the Nubian 25th
Dynasty, they wrote, quote “As this kingdom
was built by Egyptians and was a reproduction of the
Ammonite theocracy at Thebes, it is therefore justifiable to
call it the Egyptian kingdom of the south.” These rulers quote
“decided that the time was right to free the northern
valley from its usurpers” end quote. The later Greek Ptolemies ruling
from Alexandria, in contrast, may have eschewed Nubian
conquest out of fear that quote “reviving the past
glory of the great Nile Kingdom might infuse in the
nation of the Nile a new buoyant spirit that would
uproot the Greek conquerors.” Only months before
the Egyptian army overthrew King Faruq in
1952, this postage stamp proclaimed him King
of Egypt and Sudan with a map of the Nile Valley
including Sudan, Egypt, and part of Ethiopia. After the revolution,
the new regime kept up Egypt’s claim with a
similar map and the inclusion of the Sudanese
man on the right, alongside the light skinned
Egyptian soldier and woman. Vignette Five. Nazi Anti-Semitism, Egyptology,
and Harvard’s missed opportunity. During the 19th century,
anti-Semitism once mainly religious, became
increasingly racialized. Nott and Gliddon’s
1854 Types of Mankind declared Thutmose I strikingly
Hellenic, but his queen, absolutely Jewish. [LAUGHTER] 80 years later, Du
Bois visiting Germany in the year of the
1936 Berlin Olympics wrote that to Nazis,
the Jew was the Negro. Nazi effects on
Egyptology are finally getting the serious scholarly
examination they deserve. Thomas Gertzen spoke here in
2015 at the Semitic Museum on Queen Nefertiti in
Berlin, Anti-Semitism and the spoils of war. My fifth vignette highlights
the tragic last years of Ludwig Borchardt, the
discoverer of the famous bust of Nefertiti. Born in the same
1860s generation as Breasted, Reisner,
and Du Bois, Borchardt, too, studied in Berlin under
Adolf Erman In 1907, he became the founding director
in Cairo of the Imperial German Institute for
Egyptian Archeology. In 1912, he uncovered
at Tel el-Amarna the bust of Nefertiti, queen of
the so-called heretic pharaoh Akhenaten. In still controversial
circumstances, a French official of
Egypt’s antiquities service cleared the bus for
export to Berlin. When Borchardt’s
Institute in Cairo, sequestered by the British
during World War I, reopened after the
war, the dispute over the return of
the bust of Nefertiti blocked further German
excavations until 1920. The cover of my
recent book comes from a German cartoon on King
Fuad, the King of Egypt’s visit to Berlin in 1929. It takes an Orientalist
jab at both Egypt’s demand for the return of the
bust and Britain’s holding Egypt in
semi colonial bondage despite having declared
her independent in 1922. King Fuad pleads,
“Come back to Egypt with me, beautiful Nefertiti. And I’ll make you my
favorite wife in the harem.” Nefertiti sniffs, “Out of
the question, my little Fuad. I’m better off in Berlin in
a glass case than in Cairo as make believe queen by
England’s grace and favor.” Temporarily sidestepping
the Nefertiti dispute, Egypt allowed
Borchardt’s successor at the reorganized German
Archaeological Institute, Herrmann Junker to
resume excavations. Borchardt retreated to
the private Institute for Architectural and
Archaeological Research, which his wife’s fortune
enabled him to found in Cairo. As reported here,
Hitler later personally vetoed a deal to return
Nefertiti to Egypt. But the German hero who had
brought the bust to Berlin received no thanks
from the Fuhrer, for Borchardt was Jewish. This 1935 photo shows a meeting
of Borchardt with his successor Junker and that other set of old
rivals, Breasted and Reisner. Junker, to say the
least, cordially hosted Nazi officials in Cairo. As with the Americans, the body
language of the two Germans here suggests anything
but reconciliation. In 1936, the University of
Berlin expelled a 81-year-old Adolph Erman– Borchardt’s, Breasted’s,
and Reisner’s professor and the Dean of
Germany Egyptology because one of his
grandmothers had been Jewish. He’s expelled from the
University of Berlin. By July 1938,
Borchardt was pleading with Americans,
Britons, and Swiss for immediate citizenship. Reisner wrote home to Harvard,
quote “At the present time, the German government is
canceling all German passports held by Jews and
making an attempt to confiscate all their
possessions in Germany and in foreign lands. Thus Borchardt
anticipates the wiping out of his private
Research Institute, the total impoverishment
of his wife and himself. They have no children. He is now 75 years
old” end quote. Reisner perceived an unexpected
opportunity for Harvard explaining, quote “I
have tried all my life to get an endowment
of a million dollars for historical
research in Egypt. I was in site of
success with the help of an American millionaire when
the depression broke in 1929 and the scheme went to pieces. Now the political
events in Germany and the persecution of Jews has
brought again a possible hope of an endowed American Institute
for Egyptian Architecture and Archeology, preferably
Harvard or the Boston Museum of Fine Arts” end quote. Borchardt’s investments
outside Germany and his land, buildings,
and library in Cairo were worth nearly
a million dollars. In return for
citizenship, he would bequeath his estate
after his and his wife’s deaths to an institution
in the rescuing country. He stipulated that his assistant
Herbert Ricke succeed him as director. But that except for Ricke,
quote “no so-called Aryan German is to be employed
in the Institute until 12 years after the
restoration of equal rights to Jews in Germany, de jure
and de facto” end quote. Whoops. Reisner arranged an
interview for the Borchardt’s at the American
embassy in Paris. But the State Department
ruled out citizenship without prior US residence. Borchardt’s pleas to British
colleagues Alan Gardiner and Norman de Garis
Davies also fell through. He died in Paris
on August 12, 1938. His desperate widow sent Reisner
in Cairo power of attorney to transfer her property
to a Swiss corporation. Reisner conceded that
his bid had failed. Quotation “It appears that
Mrs. Borchardt cannot get citizenship anywhere with the
possible exception of Egypt. The poor woman is
worried to death. It would have been an irony of
fate if war had been declared and she had been interned
somewhere as a German subject. I think we must give up the idea
of taking over the Borchardt Institute” end quote. George Reisner and Harvard had
missed an unusual opportunity. Frau Borchardt and Herbert Ricke
rode out the war in Zurich. After her death in 1948, her
husband’s Institute in Cairo became the Swiss
Institute of Architectural and Archaeological
research on ancient Egypt, which Ricke directed
until retiring in 1971. After the German Institute of
Archeology reopened in Cairo in 1957, it collaborated closely
with this Swiss Institute. A block of granite
marks Borchardt’s grave in the garden of
the Swiss Institute. In conclusion,
race was rarely far beneath the surface of
19th and 20th century America and Europe. And the legacy of
ancient Egypt became a high stakes racial prize. The Egyptomania revealed
in Blashfield’s mural affirming Egypt as the founder
of civilization underpinned Breasted’s and
Reisner’s pioneering of professional
Egyptology in America. The textbook Ancient Times
helped shape standard college courses of Western Civ. The 1935 edition’s insistence
that early civilizations sprang from a Great
White Race, embracing both ancient Egyptians and quote
“our Indo-European ancestors” end quote was in tune with much
scholarly and popular opinion of the day. Du Bois lacked the
specialist authority on Egypt of his Ivy League and
Berlin contemporary, Breasted, but he understood far better
the socially constructed nature of race. His challenge to
exclusivist white claims on the heritage of
ancient Egypt still echoes today well beyond
the ranks of Afrocentrists. In modern Egypt, religion
figures more prominently than race in arguments
over pharaonic heritage. If Western debates about
the whiteness or blackness of ancient Egyptians rightly
strikes most Egyptians as off key, Egyptian
racial prejudice sometimes does come through as in
attitudes toward Nubians and the Sudanese,
ancient and modern. Anti-Semitism dealt a
blow to Nazi Egyptology and left Ludwig
Borchardt, the discoverer of the bust of Nefertiti,
to die a hunted man without a country in 1938. At least his wife
and his institute escaped the Holocaust. And the Borchardt’s
legacy lives on in the Swiss Institute in Cairo. I’ll close by thanking
the Peabody Museum for inviting me to speak
and by complementing the museum on its choice of
theme, which unfortunately is more timely than ever. With white supremacy groups
on the rise in Europe and barely cloaked
racism being promoted from the very top
of our government, I hope these reflections on race
in the history of Egyptology and Egyptomania have
provided some food for thought and for healing. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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