Despite ideals of scientific and scholarly objectivity, both Egyptologists and non-specialists have often projected their own racial anxieties onto ancient Egypt. Recurrent attempts to prove that the ancient Egyptians were white or black, for example, reveal more about modern societies than about ancient Egypt. Donald Reid will discuss the history of how such debates have played out among Western and modern Egyptian scholars, artists, and writers, and how interpretations of ancient Egypt are intertwined with personal values.
Related exhibition at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East: From the Nile to the Euphrates: Creating the Harvard Semitic Museum
Race, Representation, and Museums Lecture Series
Donald Reid, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Georgia State University; Affiliate Professor, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, University of Washington
Presented on 4/6/2017 by Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and Harvard Semitic Museum in collaboration with the Departments of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
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."
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.
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.