W. E. B. Du Bois, Education, and Archaeology in Egypt


Welcome, everyone. You are the die-hards. You are the ones who braved
coming out in the rain. I thank you for doing that. I think you’ll be
rewarded shortly. So Vanessa Davies
early academic training was in Islamic studies. In the early 2000s, though,
she had the epiphany. And we’re glad she did. She moved backwards in
time to ancient Egypt. And this happened via
the University of Chicago where she received
her PhD in Egyptology. Her work as an epigrapher
at Chicago House or more formally known as the
Epigraphic Survey in Luxor, Egypt is indicative
of her approach to the ancient Egyptian
world in general. Because she pays close
attention to the intersection between art and texts. Vanessa is currently
co-editing a massive tome called the Oxford Handbook
of Egyptian Epigraphy and Paleography
with Dimitri Laboury of the University of Liege. And I think we’re up to,
what is it, 50 articles now? So this will make
spectacular reading. She has been a Distinguished
Fellow of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, a
Mellon fellow at the University of California Berkeley. And she’s currently a researcher
at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley. That very important
Egyptian collection has direct ties to us here. Because it was excavated by the
very same George Reisner who later founded the
Harvard University Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Vanessa is now working on a 3D
imaging and paleography project involving scarabs in the
collection of the Hearst museum. And with a new grant
she just received from our own
White-Levy Publications Program for Archeological
Publications she’s facilitating
a collaboration between the Hearst museum and
the Museum of Fine Arts Boston here to publish material from
George Reiser’s excavations at the very important
site of Naga ed-Dair. And she recently received
yet another grant from the Rockefeller Archive
Center in New York for research there on a book which
involves some of the material that you’ll be hearing
about tonight on race and Egyptology in the
early 20th century. Please join me in welcoming
Dr. Vanessa Davies. Thank you so much. Thank you, Jane,
also and thank you Peter for inviting
me to be here today. And thank you to the staff
of the Harvard Semitic Museum who have been so
welcoming to me. I’m really happy to be
here in Boston and here on Harvard’s campus. It’s been a long time
since I was here. The last time I was here,
I was in high school. And I came here with my high
school for a model Congress convention. I was in the Supreme
Court division. And I was a lawyer arguing that
a certain Native American group should be allowed to use peyote
in their religious rituals. And so here I am again
today on Harvard’s campus arguing something else. And that feels really great. So thank you all
for coming out today to hear about my research. I’m really excited to
talk to you about it here, especially because I feel
like here Du Bois’s spirit is in the air. There are so many
people here who work on him and his research. There’s a wonderful
Institute here named for him. Of course, he was
a student here. So I’m really happy to
be here today talking to you about my research. And I appreciate
you all coming out on this rainy day for my talk. I’ve been thinking a long
time about the impact that ancient Egypt has on us. And I pay very
close attention when I see people, for instance,
wearing earrings that are ankh signs or
wearing a t-shirt with the bust of Nefertiti
or the funerary mask of Tutankhamun. And I drive around the
East Bay of California and I take pictures
of murals when I find ancient Egyptian
iconography in them. And I think about all of this. I think about how
for many people ancient Egyptian culture
factors into our conceptions of who we are and what
our cultural heritage is. And in the US this often
has a racial aspect to it. So I began looking at
receptions of ancient Egypt in early 20th century America. And I’ve uncovered
many conversations about ancient Egypt among
the scholars and writers of that time. And knowing the connections
between W.E.B. Du Bois and Harvard I thought this
would be an ideal place to talk to you about a set of
letters that were exchanged between Du Bois and a
British Egyptologist by the name of W.M.F.
Petrie who is also known as Flinders Petrie. And in these
letters they discuss matters relating to race, past
and present, and education. These letters are
important for understanding the rich and complex history of
the discipline of Egyptology. And these letters have
important resonances for us today in relation
to scientific inquiry, how we address social issues,
and in terms of our humanism, recognizing the essential
humanity in all people and broadening our
perspectives to consider other people’s points of view. So first I want to give you
a little bit about each man’s background and tell you how
they came to know each other. And then we’ll discuss the
actual correspondence itself. Egyptologists are very
familiar with Petrie because he invented the
science of archeology as it’s now practiced
in egyptology. He is a giant in our
field and in the field of ancient Mediterranean
studies in general. Petrie was a prolific author. He wrote many, many
scholarly volumes. He wrote an autobiography
that was published in 1931. And a student of his
wrote a biography of him that came out in 1985. So we know a tremendous amount
about Petrie, about his work, about his thoughts,
about the things that happened to him in his life. But nowhere in
these sources does he mentioned the
letters that I will be talking to you about today. So most Egyptologists
are unaware that Petrie and Du Bois had
a friendly, professional relationship and that in the
first few months of 1912, they exchanged a series of
very interesting letters. Petri was born in London. His first major
archaeological work involved surveying and measuring
various monuments in England. In 1880 a London
based organization called the Egypt Exploration
Fund asked Petrie to go to Giza to measure and
map the tombs and pyramids on the Giza Plateau. The Egypt Exploration Fund still
operates today out of London. Now they’re known as the
Egypt Exploration Society. Petrie quickly moved from
surveying and measuring to also excavating ancient sites. And his careful
methodologies became the basis of a new
scientific discipline of Egyptian archeology. And these included actually
excavating material as opposed to just ripping
artifacts out of the ground, but also documenting his work,
drawing and photographing all of his finds, and publishing
the results of his fieldwork. Petrie was unusual among
archaeologists of his day because he cared not just for
the finely carved and painted statues and stelae that
appealed to wealthy donors and to collectors, but Petrie
recorded and tracked all finds. So things like ceramic
cooking dishes and reed mats and little beads, objects
that other researchers would discard. The images you see
here are drawings that Petrie published in 1890
from one of his excavations. In the top corner here
where the 18 and 19 are, those are sinkers made
of limestone or lead. They would be attached
to fishing nets to weigh them down. And then moving across the
slide you have fishing hooks, you have various
pins and needles. There are two combs
in the center. Those long items
are bone needles that would be used for
weaving and for making nets, for fishing nets. In the top corner are
two spindle whorls. And then of course
there’s a large basket. Over here you have three flints. And along the bottom are
various types of pottery. So this is an
example, this slide is an example of some of
the items of everyday life that Petrie thought
was important that other archaeologists
of his day were simply not paying attention to. Petrie felt that
histories should be written based on
objects like these ones even if those objects
appeared unspectacular to the untrained eye. These histories
that Petrie wrote were the histories
of non-elite people. These types of people might
be represented in wall scenes in elite tomb art. So for instance you
might see a scene of men in a boat catching fish. But not much is said
about those men. The image in the
elite person’s tomb showed only a limited part of
the non-elite person’s story. But when Petrie excavated,
drew, and photographed items like the ones you
see here, Petrie could tell much
more of their story. He could give more depth and
more detail to their histories. Petrie brought a whole new
segment of the population more fully into the
historical record. Besides advocating for
careful scientific excavation, Petrie also developed
sequence dating. So using pottery,
like the type you see at the bottom
of the slide, he developed a system of
dating that involved making a stylistic
analysis of pottery to construct a
relative chronology. His development of
scientific method differentiated archeology
from treasure hunting. Now Petrie did not have
much formal schooling. When he was four, he nearly
died from a bronchial infection. A few years later again in the
winter, he became very ill. And his parents decided that
he would not leave the house anymore in the wintertime. His health simply
couldn’t take it. And so this prevented
Petrie from attending any sort of formal schooling. He did however,
receive an education just outside of a
formal structure. His father taught him the
basics of surveying and mapping. His mother and his great aunt
had a prolific collection of books. And this provided him
with much reading. When he first went
to Egypt in 1880, he had done some reading
on the ancient culture. But he wasn’t overly
familiar with it. He learned much more
working on site, talking to his colleagues,
most of whom were European, and reading their publications. And here’s Petrie
that first year that he was working
in Egypt in 1880. He’s standing outside of a
rock cut tomb that he lived in. And that bit of fluff
in the front down here. That’s his goat. So he had a fresh
supply of milk. So Petrie’s scholarly
training as an Egyptologist was different from his peers. He taught himself how
to read hieroglyphs. We know from a Swiss
colleague of his that his translations were
apparently maddeningly slow, at least to his Swiss colleague. But it’s OK. Petrie was doing it at his pace. Petrie also didn’t
know Latin or Greek as the other scholars
of his day did nor did he know German well. So he had some
difficulty translating the work of his colleagues
who published in German. All of this put him at a
disadvantage in his own field. But Petrie maintained
that engineering, as he put it, the mapping and
surveying skills that he had, were more useful for an
archaeologist than bookwork alone. So keep that in mind. Because later on we’ll see
Petrie talk about bookwork again. Despite his lack of
formal education, in 1893 Petrie was
appointed a professor at the University of London. A longtime associate of his
from the Egypt Exploration Fund, a woman named
Amelia Edwards, she was one of the founders
of the Egypt Exploration Fund. And she had supported Petrie
throughout his career. When she died she had
a fair bit of money and no immediate family. And she had endowed a chair
at the University of London in Egyptian Archeology
in Philology with the expressed
intent that Petrie should be the first
person to hold that chair. So with that position
which he assumed in 1893, his future was secure. And he was able to continue his
practice of excavating in Egypt in the winters and going
back to London in the summers to write up the results of
his work and to give lectures. And Petrie had an
incredibly long career excavating sites in Egypt. This map is disjointed. And I know you can’t read
all of the names of the sites but it starts down here in Nubia
and it works its way north, down the Nile to the
delta and then east into the Sinai and
then Palestine. And I’ve highlighted in
yellow all of the sites that Petrie worked throughout
the course of his career. It’s nearly 70 different sites
over the course of 57 years. Also notable is
the scale of work that he directed at these sites. These two images are from
Petrie’s excavations. You can see on the left a
large cloud of dust in the air and under that cloud of dust
is a long line of workers. They are turning over
the top layer of soil to prepare the ground for
the initial excavation which will happen next. In the picture on
the right, there’s a pit down below, down here. And that’s where the
excavation is happening. And when a bucket is
filled with sand and dirt it is passed person by person up
the cliff 41 feet up the cliff to then dump it out at the top. Because there’s no room
to dump it down below. So these images give you a
sense of the scale of work that Petrie directed
on his excavations. And Petrie cared first
and foremost about this, about the work of archeology. From these images you can see
that he directed that work on a huge scale,
employing large numbers of the local population,
mostly boys in their teens, but sometimes also girls and
sometimes older men as well. And Petrie cared for the
Egyptians who worked for him but he cared for them from
the point of view of his work. He tried to give those
who labored for him protection in the
sense of their work. So for example,
protection from overseers who might demand a cut of
their wages, protection from looters who
might try to tempt them to turn over
artifacts to them rather than to turn the
artifacts in to Petrie. And to protect them from
each other, from theft and quarreling amongst
the other laborers. Petrie approached the hiring,
training and oversight of his workers for a rather
practical perspective. But it’s a perspective
tinged by the views of the colonialist imperialist
era in which he lived. He credited well-trained
workers with having wisdom and important
observations about the work at hand. He described them
as personal friends. But then wrote that
they quote “are regarded much as old servants
in a good household.” His views on Egyptians
could not escape the fact that these people worked for
him and he compensated them. They were paid laborers. This is one of the main
lenses through which he views Egyptians. Another major factor that
influenced Petrie’s perspective on modern Egyptians was
that Petrie subscribed to the theory of eugenics
and for a period of time he worked closely
with Francis Galton. The influence of Galton’s
theory on Petrie’s Egyptological research can be
seen, for example, in Petrie’s idea that a
European race migrated to prehistoric Egypt, conquered
the local people there, and began Egyptian
history as we know it. This idea has been
discredited within Egyptology but in Petrie’s day the
idea was given some credence and Petrie was a
proponent of it. So the three factors that come
to bear strongly on the ideas that Petrie discusses in
his letters with Du Bois are the theory of eugenics and
Petrie’s ideas about ancestry, Petrie’s work in Egypt, which
required a lot of workers, and finally Petrie’s own
educational experiences, which is to say his
lack of formal schooling and his subsequent successful
career as an archaeologist and as a professor. And now Du Bois. Du Bois had a liberal arts style
of education at Fisk University and at Harvard. He had a completely different
perspective on education than Petrie did. Dubois had been exposed
to many disciplines and to different approaches
to both asking and solving questions. Petrie left England in his
late 20s to work in Egypt and lived and worked
there for many years. Dubois also had a culturally
immersive experience. But his was in Germany
where he lived and studied from 1892 to 1894. There Du Bois
lived a life devoid of the racial prejudices
and racial discriminations that he experienced in the US. He was treated by
Germans in ways radically different
from what he had become accustomed to in the US. And that distance, both
physically and culturally, led him to see the
US in a new light. In Germany, he was influenced
by the detailed scientific research of his professors,
people like the economists Gustav Schmoller and
Adolph Wagner who devised and recommended solutions
for social problems based on statistical
analysis, the accumulation of historical and contemporary
facts, and questions of ethics. So let me tell you how
these two men crossed paths. Early in Dubois’s
career he had an idea to put together an
Encyclopedia Africana. This would be a
companion or counterpoint to the Encyclopedia Britannica. His plan was to assemble
an editorial board and an advisory board. And when we look at a
copy of the letterhead for the Encyclopedia
Africana, who do we find as the second name
on the board of advisers but Flinders Petrie. Du Bois had secured the
assistance of Petrie on the encyclopedia
project in 1909. In the last week of
July 1911, Du Bois attended a conference at
the University of London called the Universal
Race’s Congress. The Universal Race’s Congress
was intended to encourage understanding, friendship,
and cooperation between people of the east and
people of the West, or as the organizers wrote
the quote “so-called white and so-called colored peoples.” The organizers of
the Congress wanted to facilitate universal
peace by pointing out ideas, such as
anti-miscegenation, that were based on faulty
science and by challenging what they called the inertia
of the uninformed human mind. I’ve assembled images
of some of the speakers here so you can get a sense of
who attended this conference. Starting at the top
left you have people from Haiti and China. The third man in the top
row here is Gustav Spiller. He was one of the
organizers of the Congress. There are two women
on this slide. There were actually
more than two women who spoke on the Congress. But only two made
it to my slide. We have Sister Nivedita here who
was a social worker and author living in India. And here Dr.
Caroline Rhys Davids who is a specialist
in Buddhist studies. You have Franz Boaz up here
next to a man from South Africa. You have these two
gentlemen who I put side by side, one from
India one from Germany, and I just thought they looked
so identical to each other with their long beards. So you have people from Turkey,
Japan, France, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, India, Persia
and of course, Du Bois. Du Bois gave a talk at
the Congress entitled “The Negro Race in the
United States of America,” which summarized the
history, demographics, and social issues of people
of African descent in the US. Petrie did not give a
talk at the Congress nor was he listed among the
supporters of the Congress, which did include a
few Egyptologists. And also included,
I should note, F.W. Puttnam of
the Peabody Museum. So Petrie was not on that
list nor did he give a talk. But he must have
attended the Congress. Years later Du Bois wrote a
letter to a professor at Fisk recounting that he had discussed
the Encyclopedia in 1911 with Petrie and with others
at the Congress in London. And it makes sense that Petrie
would be at the Congress. He was, after all, a professor
at the University of London. And the Congress
happened in July when Petrie would have
been in England not excavating in Egypt. So when they met in
July 1911, Du Bois must have told
Petrie about or maybe even given him a
copy of his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. In November, Petrie
left England to begin the season of archaeological
work in Egypt. Soon after he arrived, he was
bothered by recurring pain. And he went to a
doctor and found out that he was going to
need a hernia operation. This, of course, interrupted
his archaeological season but the subsequent convalescence
gave him some unexpected time for reading. It was at that time that
he read Du Bois’s book. And in January 1912 while
still recovering from surgery, Petrie initiated with
Dubois a conversation about race and education that
would address contemporary life in the US and in Egypt. Petrie wrote Du Bois a
letter on January 3, 1912. The letter begins with his
appreciation for Du Bois’s book because Petrie
wrote he has quote “long wanted to grasp
the Negro problem and your prudent balanced
statement is very helpful.” Petrie went on to
explain his point of view as an archeologist
and a historian, as an Englishman who had
been living and working in Egypt by that time
for over three decades. Petrie used Du Bois’s
metaphor of the veil to discuss the difference
between, as he put it, the native and the English. Petrie reported that
despite dramatic differences in the social realities
in the US and Egypt, namely that there was no recent
history of slavery in Egypt like there was in
the US and that there was no discrimination in
Egypt based on skin color, or at least none that
was visible to Petrie. He wrote that there
was in his experience still very little social
interaction in Egypt between educated Egyptians
and educated Europeans. And in addition, Peter knew
of only three marriages between an English person
and an Egyptian person. So Petrie posed to
Du Bois the question, how could the US achieve an
integrated society when a place like Egypt cannot even though
Egypt lacks the complex social factors that are
present in the US? Petrie wrote that he
himself is not so inclined. But his conclusion, which again
borrowed Du Bois’s metaphor, was that quote “the
English race all over the world insists on the veil.” So to illustrate for Dubois the
presence of the veil in Egypt, Petrie explained in his letter
what he called the Englishman’s objections to the native. Petrie stereotyped Egyptians
as dishonest cheats and informed Du Bois that he
adopted a strict disciplinarian attitude towards
his workers at work and then was more friendly
to them outside of work. Regarding education,
he noted that it was more likely to cause damage
than to benefit Egyptians. He wrote, “education
of book and memory sort is an injury in most cases. It depends on ancestry. The Arab is generally
spoiled by it. The copt–” that is
Coptic Christian, “–with 100 generations of
literary ancestors is generally benefited. I should say that some technical
and trade teaching and hygiene would benefit all. Not more than 5% would be the
better for reading and writing just to supply the
minor official staff but no useless subject
should be taught. Not more than one in
1,000 would really benefit by higher education. To give more only produces
a moral deterioration.” And the letter goes on touching
on a few different issues and Petrie restated his
position that quote “education in the formal lines will
no more clear the Negro problem in the US than
freedom or voting.” At the end of
February 1912, Du Bois wrote a strongly worded
response to Petrie. He expressed his regret that
Petrie countered dishonesty among his workers with an
authoritarian attitude. And he argued that denying
people an education does nothing to
combat such issues but only inhibits
personal development. Du Bois informed Petrie
that the viewpoints he described, denying Egyptians
an education based on the idea that they somehow
can’t handle it, that it somehow would cause
them more harm than good, those views were
quite similar, Du Bois wrote, to his own experience. People who held opinions
similar to Petrie’s had discouraged Du Bois’s
parents from educating him. He wrote, “if your ideas had
been carried out in the United States, and there are many
people trying to carry them out, I should not be
having the pleasure of communicating with you now. On the contrary
I should probably be the victim of that
manner which you use to your underlings in Egypt.” Du Bois then addressed each
of Petrie’s major points about education and about
the situation in the US. Du Bois asked for
Petrie’s permission to publish these letters,
which Petrie subsequently gave. By the time that Petrie
would have received this letter of Du
Bois’s in March of 1912, he had recovered from
the hernia operation and he was back
at work in Egypt. Despite facing the demands
of being back in the field, Petrie felt it imperative
to respond quickly to Du Bois’s letter. In a letter dated
March 20, 1912, Petrie wrote of his desire to
assure Du Bois that he did not agree with the European
attitude towards other races that he had outlined
in his first letter nor was he defending it. He intended, he wrote
“to illustrate for Dubois that the ill will of
Europeans towards other races was directed at all other races
and was not just, as he put it, anti Negro.” And he really meant that comment
to make Du Bois feel better. Petri clarified for Du
Bois that he did not desire to deny
people an education. But he thought
that the education should be fairly divided
between hard work and bookwork. Here Petrie makes a distinction
between hard work, by which he means work involving
physical labor, and bookwork which he
evidently does not consider to be very difficult.
Petrie further explained his position regarding
education and politics, his desire to not
provoke Du Bois again on the
subject of education can be seen in his caveat,
that his opinions apply to contemporary England. But he would not claim
that they apply to the US. So at that time in
1912, Du Bois was the editor of The Crisis
the magazine of the NAACP. Petrie had given him
permission to publish their correspondence. And in the main 1912 issue of
The Crisis the letters appeared under the title “Self-righteous
Europe and the World.” correspondence with
Flinders Petrie. The string of abbreviations
after Petrie’s name stand for Doctor of Civil
Law, Doctor of Letters, Doctor of Laws, and Fellow
of the Royal Society. They look like a slew
of earned degrees but those are honorary degrees. Why are they here? There are many reactions that
readers might have to this. In a reader’s mind,
this list of degrees might lend more authority
to Petrie’s voice. Or perhaps it would read as a
bit of a tongue in cheek move drawing attention to
a kind of disconnect between the narrow
scientific world that Petrie inhabited
and the larger world view the Du Bois
discussed with him. A reader might see those
degrees is representative of different value
systems, a focus on titles and academic honor
versus a focus on humans. The first two letters were
reproduced in their entirety with only a small portion
of the third letter. The correspondence is
published without commentary or explanation except for
this title that you see. So three of the factors that I
identified in Petrie’s letters are his eugenic
ideas about ancestry, his focus on archaeological
work in Egypt, and his own educational
experiences. Petrie’s espousal
of a eugenic theory can be seen in his
letter to Du Bois when he wrote that education
of book and memory is an injury in most cases. And then he elaborated,
it depends on ancestry. The Arab is generally
spoiled by it. The Copt is generally benefited. So here Petrie is making a
distinction based on region. By Arab he means Muslims
since he’s contrasting that with the Coptic Christian. And so he favors the
ancestry of Coptic Christians and thus their abilities
to benefit from education over that of Muslims. Petrie’s viewpoint that
ancestry determines life oversimplifies the realities of
life, such as wealth and status differentials and
the resultant access or inaccess to
resources of all types. And it ignores things like
human resourcefulness creativity and enthusiasm. But Petrie applied a view
of genetic determinism to himself as well. Knowing his background,
we might view Petrie’s great success
as an Egyptologist as due to a variety of factors. The fact that his parents
could afford to own books enabling him to read,
the fact that his father had leisure time
and could set up scientific experiments
for his son, the fact that his mother was
educated and could help him with his education. And Petrie’s own determination
in pursuing the subjects that appealed to him, not
to mention the fact that a wealthy benefactor
with no husband or children had endowed a position
specifically for him at the University of London. Petrie however, had a
different view of the matter. In line with the theory of
eugenics that he subscribed to, he wrote in his autobiography
that his success in work was due to his heritage. Because he had been born
with all of the talents that led to his accomplishments. Petrie’s oversimplifications
due to his eugenic viewpoint gave him an excuse for not
advocating for the broader education of the workers who
supplied the very material on which he based his career. From his perspective
as their employer Petrie did not see a book
based education of his labors as a useful effort. He taught them what they
needed to know in the field. And the ones who showed
skill and honesty would be hired again
the following season. And I should note here
that Petrie’s attitude towards training his workers
is similar to the way that he educated his own
graduate students, primarily in the field. The formal education
for Egyptology students at the University of London
wasn’t developed until 1913 the year after he was
writing to Du Bois. In his letters to
Du Bois in 1912, it didn’t even occur to
Petrie that the Egyptians who worked for him might have
reasons to gain knowledge other than to work for him. Unlike Du Bois who considered
broader social and cultural needs, Petrie considered
the education of Egyptians only as it related to
his own work needs. And he showed a striking
lack of imagination for what might be done
with an education. In the Souls of
Black Folk, Du Bois explained the purpose
of the university. That it was to give a broad
multi-faceted perspective on life. He wrote, “the function
of the university is not simply to
teach bread-winning but to show students
realities of life that are different from the ones
that they grew up with, to help them see points of
views other than the ones that they brought
to university.” Du Bois was completely opposed
to opinions like the ones that Petrie outlined. In Du Bois’s view, it’s
fine for the university to teach wage-earning skills
but the result of university training he writes, “the final
product of our training must be neither a psychologist nor
a brickmason, but a person. And to make people we must
have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living– not sordid money-getting.” Du Bois’ vision of education and
of broadening one’s perspective was in line with the
German concept of Bildung. So here again his graduate
education in Germany and Petrie’s lack of exposure
to such concepts played a role. Petrie created workers with the
field training that he devised. Du Bois wanted to create people. Du Bois’s concern for people,
for humanity, prompted Reiland Rabaka to call Du
Bois a radical humanist, someone who works
with all people to achieve racial, gender,
economic and social justice for all people. Sure Du Bois thought it was
important to teach people how to make money. He was a realist and he knew
people needed money to survive. But what he really
stressed, what he cared the most about was
that the University help people to achieve a
concern for other humans. To help people to
contextualize their backgrounds and to understand
their fellow humans. It was an education
of empathy and unity that trained people
to think outside of their own needs
and fears and regrets and to think about
the good of humanity. Petrie and Du Bois both operated
within the scientific method of their day which
involved, for example, ideas about the blood
of various racial types and different physical features
as being characteristic of these quote unquote
“racial types.” With Petrie we see this
in his careful measurement that he made of the skulls
of Egyptian mummies. He tracked sizes and
shape differences and he used those
to make assumptions about social and racial
characteristics of people. He identified what he
referred to his racial types in ancient Egyptian
depictions which were just stereotypical
images of different humans. But he studied them, he
took photographs of them, he made plaster casts of them. Du Bois did not subscribe
to these eugenic theories. But he was influenced by
the scientific discourse of his day. If we carefully parse
Du Bois’s statement, In the Souls of Black
Folk, about the purpose of the university,
we see that it contains vocabulary reminiscent
of a eugenic viewpoint. He wrote that universities must
make people and to make people we must have ideals. Those ideals he defined as
broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living. Now Du Bois didn’t mean
purer from the standpoint of genetic purity. But this is the word
that occurred to him. A word that was floating around
in the science of his day. A word that resonated
with discussions of race and eugenics. This is a good example of the
innocence and power of words. Du Bois used purity
here in a positive way but this word has
a latent power. In someone else’s hands
this language of purity might be wielded like a weapon. It might become less
innocent, more dangerous. But I have another
example for you. The focus on physical
features that dominated some of Petrie’s work
can also be seen in The Crisis. This is a mast
head of The Crisis that was adopted
in November 1911. So just when Petrie was
leaving England for Egypt only to be shortly interrupted
by the unexpected hernia operation, this
new visual element appeared on the front cover. It is clearly an
Egyptianizing image. And it’s based on the ancient
depiction of the winged sun disk which you
see at the bottom. This new masthead
substituted the sun disk with an image that would be
more meaningful to readers. The head of a king as
identified by the false beard and the headdress that he wears. And look, by focusing
on physical features in the same way that
Petrie did, this image assigns the King
a black identity. The closely drawn vertical lines
on the King’s face and neck give his skin a darker shade
than the surrounding images, like the feathers with
their internal white space. The Crisis was billed as the
record of the darker races and this king is clearly
of a darker race. There’s a lot going
on in this image that relates to the science and to
the history of Du Bois’s day. This new cover image reflected
the interest of Du Bois in the history of ancient
Egypt and ancient Nubia. As Wilson Jeremiah Moses
of Penn State put it, “Du Bois’s interest
in ancient Egypt stemmed from Du
Bois’s recognition that the ancient culture was
one of power and authority.” And that’s what we’re seeing
here, power and authority. Who embodies power
and authority? The King, and who is that King? The King is shown through
his physical features to be a black man. This image expressed
Du Bois’s view that these ancient
people of Egypt a Nubia were of African descent and
that people of African descent had a lineage of power. This image is representative
of Du Bois’s efforts to write histories of Africa,
to write histories about people, who at that time
in Du Bois’s day were being told that they
had no history, that Africa had no history. But there’s more. Even the type of
image chosen reflects Du Bois’s scientific training. In searching for a
masthead that would connect the ancient cultures
of Egypt and Nubia with people of African
descent in America, Du Bois didn’t pick a
romantic watercolor. He didn’t pick a photograph. Du Bois bolstered his image
of power and authority in the hands of an African
King by depicting it in a scientific drawing,
an epigraphic line drawing, one dark color
on a light background. This is a type of scientific
recording of ancient decoration that by 1911 had been practiced
for over a century by scholars and travelers who went up
and down the Nile recording the decoration in ancient
tombs and temples. And these scientific
epigraphic line drawings have a special place at
Harvard with Peter Manuealian, who is a pioneer in
Egyptology in the field of digital epigraphy. Besides operating
within the constraints of the scientific
world of their day, there was something else that
Du Bois and Petrie shared and it was central to both
of their personalities. They were activists. In the tradition of
his German professors who sought to address the social
problems of their communities, Du Bois used his
scientific training to address the problems of
race relations in the US. Petrie used the
scientific method that he devised to
address problems with the archaeological
practice of his day. In a piece he wrote on
the ethics of archeology, Petrie catalogued
behaviors that he described as a crime, a failing,
and an inexcusable malpractice. And these included
not making maps while excavating and not
publishing one’s fieldwork. He railed against damage that
was being done to the decorated wall scenes, sites that were
just dug up and not properly conserved, artifacts that
were left to decay in museums without being preserved,
and museum displays that were not properly
organized and not labeled. He argued the
government should enact laws to protect the
integrity of sites and to deter the illicit
theft and sale of antiquities. But within this
ethical framework Petrie nowhere
mentioned the rights of archaeological laborers. In his zeal to protect
the ancient past of Egypt, he neglected the very workers
who aided him in his work. Petrie’s activism for a
scientific archaeological method contrasted sharply
with Du Bois’s use of a scientific method to
be an activist for humans. That’s the
overarching difference that separates the world
views of Petrie and Du Bois, their focus– archeology in the
case of Petrie, other human beings in
the case of Du Bois. Their diverging
outlooks are clearly demonstrated when they speak
of the importance of history. For Petrie, the growing interest
in history and archeology, as distinguished from
treasure hunting, signaled that humans had reached
the pinnacle of development. In his formulation, humans
first showed an interest in each other, then an
interest in animals. And finally, by his
day he perceived that humans had
achieved the highest point, an interest in the past. Petrie was quite
complacent about the world as it was in his day. You can tell that he was
comfortable in his life. You can tell that he was a
member of the dominant culture group. He doesn’t express concerns
about anything related to the functioning
of the societies that he lived and worked in. His was an imperialistic
vision of history expressed in evolutionary terms. Du Bois’s attitude
towards history in these early decades
of the 20th century was quite different. He wrote the histories
of Africa and of people of African descent
with an urgency. Historiography was about
communicating knowledge, yes, but for Du Bois it was also
empowering, both personally, on a psycho-emotional
level, and politically. Dubois was fighting
against those who claimed that Africans had no history. In contradiction to
that theory, Du Bois wrote about Africa
as a locus from which many histories are launched. In the case of ancient Egypt,
he discussed its influence not as the usual Western
story of reception through ancient Greek
and Roman cultures, but rather the ancient
Egyptian people as connecting the people of
Asia and other people in Africa and Egypt as a connector
zone between those two areas. Du Bois’s innovative
perspective on ancient Egypt is analogous to Petrie’s
radically new consideration of the detritus of daily life. At a time when
archaeologists did not value the items of everyday
life, things like pottery and reed mats, Petrie
used them to construct new views of history,
something beyond and different from the histories
that are recounted in the carved and painted
texts and art of the elite. Du Bois also constructed new
views of history, something different from the culturally
dominant, white historical perspective in the west. And where Petrie saw an interest
in the past as important for the lives of
the dead people who are studied because scholars
make them live again, Du Bois saw interest
in the past is important for living
people, knowledge of the history of people
of African descent, their contributions to world
culture, their stories, their sense of
longevity in the world. This would give people of
African descent in America a new perspective
on their lives. They could see that their
contemporary living conditions were just one way of
living and that there were other possibilities,
other lives that people of African descent had lived. Du Bois researched and wrote
new visions of African history to provide people
of African descent with hope for the present. Because the past had
potency in the present. The past gave authority,
purpose, and strength to those in the
present because it could give people
a new perspective on themselves and on the world. Du Bois was a proponent of a
liberal arts style of education because he knew that this was
an effective way of seeing life from perspectives
other than your own. Du Bois and others of his era
pushed for the recognition of the historical and
current contributions that people of
African descent made and were making in the world. Because people of
African descent were being pushed to the side. They were being marginalized
by some scientists, by some historians, and
by some Egyptologists. And so scholars like Du
Bois looked to Egyptology and to the leading
Egyptologists of their day to concur with some opinions
and to dissent from others. Scholars like Du
Bois fought back. They fought back against
claims that the people of African descent
had no history and that the history
of Egypt was not a part of African history but
was a part of white history. They fought back and they won. Those claims have been debunked. But more needs to be done. It’s vital that we
understand the complexity and the diversity of the
history of Egyptology as an academic discipline. We need to rediscover
and remember stories like the ones I’ve
talked about today we need to incorporate
those into our histories of Egyptology. Maghan Keita of Villanova
wrote about a kind of academic
gate-keeping or as he put it, who has the right, who
is privileged to participate in the construction of
both history and knowledge. I’m here to say that
it is imperative that when we think of the
history of Egyptology, when we think of people
like Flinders Petrie, and George Reisner of
Harvard, James Henry Breasted of the
University of Chicago, we should also include with
these individuals scholars like W.E.B. Du
Bois who challenged the dominant
discourse of their day and who provided correctives
to erroneous views that Egyptologists held. It took some time for their
alternative perspectives to be accepted
within Egyptology, but these are correctives
that are now taken seriously and that forever changed
the way that the history of ancient Egypt and
ancient Nubia is understood. As someone who studies ancient
Egyptian wall decoration, I understand and agree with
Petrie’s concerns regarding the preservation of
ancient monuments and the detailed
publication and presentation of that information
to the public. I’m also a huge proponent of a
liberal arts style of education and the tradition of the
arguments made by Du Bois. And I think here at
Harvard I probably don’t have to do much
convincing a view of the importance of a liberal
arts style of education. I’d like to use the
correspondence between Du Bois and Petrie as a way to
reiterate the importance of the humanities and to
stress how important it is to join humanistic and
scientific lines of inquiry in the way that the German
idea of wissenschaft encompasses all areas
of systematic research. Because one way to combat
irrational and fear based schemes that are
pretending to be science, that are masquerading as science,
and that show a lack of concern for other humans is to
marry scientific method and humanistic thought. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
recognized this years ago. He talked about it in
an article in 2007, which he may not even remember. But he was interviewed for
it in the Boston Globe. The article was about
scientists growing abilities to pinpoint physical
traits in the genetic code. Gates talked about
quote, “walking a fine line between
using biology and allowing it to be abused.” And in that situation
you had a lot of scientists who
were well-meaning in their intentions
and who were aware that their growing
body of knowledge could, if it lands in the
hands of misguided people, lead to some incredibly
wrong-headed, distasteful, and dangerous ideas. That’s the importance
of marrying scientific and
humanistic inquiry In these images we see
the passions of Petrie and of Du Bois we
see their activism for the causes
that inspired them. And we also see
the stark contrast between the focus
of their causes. On the right is Petrie,
nearly 70 years old, marching across the
desert long staff in hand, off to inspect
an archaeological site. And on the left is
Du Bois in a line of men dressed in suits
marching peacefully down Fifth Avenue in
Manhattan calling for an end to the deaths of people of
African descent by lynching. Du Bois advocated for
a focus on the good of our fellow human beings. He used scientific method to
address and devise answers to the social
problems of his day and he paired scientific
and humanistic inquiry. That is the lesson of his
correspondence with Petrie. Du Bois knew that understanding
people is hard work. He knew that it
requires training, a broadening of perspective,
learning other ways of viewing the world, and then learning
how to assess one’s own view in light of those views. When we make it a focus to train
people in humanistic inquiry and when we demand that
humanistic inquiry be paired with scientific and
technological inquiry, then we will be on the
road to making people in a Du Boisian tradition. That is the work of education. That is how we
defend against what the organizers of the
Universal Races Congress called faulty science
and the inertia of the uninformed human mind. That is how we
defend against fear. And that is how we
learn to develop what Du Bois called ideals,
broad and inspiring ends of living. Thank you.

12 thoughts on “W. E. B. Du Bois, Education, and Archaeology in Egypt”

  1. Great presentation on a subject that unfortunately have not been presented in its true light, nor in its entirety.

  2. DuBois knowledge of the Africanity of the Remetch (Ancient Egyptians) most likely would have come from his relations with older black scholars such as Joel Agustus (JA) Rogers whose area of expertise was of the Africanness of the classical Nile Valley as well as race mixing in Europe and the Americas. Not to mention, Drusilla Dungee Houston who was influenced by both and took an African-centered look at Kushites. A better examination of DuBois black peers is needed for an accurate account of how these studies formulated to precede the current African-centered lens of Nile Valley Civilizations.

  3. History proves Europeans are not the right people to teach history. So much racism and bias.

  4. She sat down and wrote this BS. Showing sympathy to a racist man and racist Germany.

  5. Typical liberal historians deciding what history is based on consensus about what they feel should be right.

  6. Ok we get it… White People are racist… White data is racist… Any DNA data or mummy descriptions indicating European Origin is racist … White men should be quiet and sorry because of their Original Sin.

  7. Why were all scientific and intellectual progressions throughout history white Europeans up until the mid 1900’s?

  8. Egyptology for Europeans is much like Food Science and Technology for the rest of the world. I mean, if you are Europeans you might think, what is that food science and technology really supposed to mean, same think on egyptology for some non European people.

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