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Exploring Egypt Seminar: Histories and Historiographies

Le mardi 16 avril 2024 à 18h00 (heure du Caire), NVIC géolocalisation NVIC

Was Egyptology Colonial?
State, Labor, and Antiquities Management in Nineteenth-century Egypt

Wendy Doyon

Partenaire(s) de l’Ifao : DAIK

Langue : anglais.

The 5th session of the seminar series 'Exploring Egypt: Histories and Historiographies', a joint initiative of the Ifao & the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo (DAIK) organized by Fatma Keshk & Malak Labib, will be hosted by the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC) in Zamalek and features Wendy Doyon, historian of modern Egypt and Egyptology, postdoctoral fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt. The session will be held on Tuesday April 16th at 6 p.m. at the NVIC in Zamalek. It is open to the public in the limit of available places.

This is an in person event, but registration for a zoom link is possible at this link


Despite two hundred years of academic separation, the history of Egyptology and the history of modern Egypt are two halves of the same story. My work addresses the peculiar “gap” between, on the one hand, an Ottoman-Egyptian history of the Mehmed Ali dynasty and Egypt’s modernization, and on the other hand, a Western-European history of the French invasion, British colonialism, and the history of Egyptology. Both these narratives largely skip over and ignore the role of antiquity in Egyptian state-building, and vice versa, for most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this talk, I will discuss the birth of the Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte in relation to the institution-building and antiquities policy of the Egyptian state under khedival rule, a story which, in turn, lays the foundation for a deep history of archaeological labor and antiquities land management in rural Egypt. In the absence of a state archive for the Service des Antiquités, we must look to other sources to investigate how Egypt’s system of archaeological research and administration developed under the khedives. My research bridges this historiographical gap through the construction of an “alternative” Egyptian archive, recreated from the interconnected—though physically separated—parts of archaeological archives in many countries and languages, which span a century of excavations in Egypt and Sudan between 1850 and 1950. Reflecting on Egyptology’s archival turn, I suggest avenues for rethinking the historiographical regimes of imperial, colonial, and national narratives. By exploring archaeological archives in new ways, for example, my findings challenge the dominant postcolonial paradigm in which Egyptology and Egyptian archaeology are thought to have originated solely under French and British control and show that Egyptology was not the monolithic colonial enterprise it is often assumed to have been.

1613Wendy Doyon is an historian of modern Egypt and Egyptology, specializing in the history of archaeological labor and economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. After completing her BA in Linguistics and Anthropology and MA in Museology at the University of Washington, she received her PhD in History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021, with a dissertation entitled Empire of Dust: Egyptian Archaeology and Archaeological Labor in Nineteenth-century Egypt. Her work is the first to examine the development of archaeology and antiquities management in relation to the history of Egyptian state and society under the Mehmed Ali dynasty. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt, where she is writing a book (or two) based on her doctoral research. She is an expert on the history of the ruyasa-archaeological foremen from Quft and co-directs the Arabic Excavation Archive from Quft, a research project based at Harvard University ( She has written many research articles on the history of Egyptian archaeology and is a member of the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU excavations at Abydos and the social media director of Abydos Archaeology (
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Exploring Egypt Seminar: Histories and Historiographies

A joint collaboration between the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (ifao) & the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo (DAIK), this seminar series aims, broadly speaking, to discuss different aspects related to the production of historical knowledge on Egypt. Speakers are invited to reflect on the different ways of writing, narrating and thinking about Egypt’s history at different periods, as well as on the actors, contexts, and power relations involved in the production of historical narratives. By adopting an interdisciplinary perspective, the seminar series seeks to bring into conversation fields which have traditionally been examined separately, such as the history of Egyptology, the study of modern Egyptian historiography, and the history of heritage and preservation.

In addition, while the seminar series seeks to shed a critical light on the formation of specific disciplinary fields and traditions, it also moves beyond an exclusive focus on professional history writing, in order to explore the various institutions, genres, and channels, through which historical narratives have been produced and disseminated.  Among the themes that will be discussed, for instance, are the different “histories” of Egyptology, archaeology or Arabic and Islamic studies, academic versus “popular” representations of history, and heritage preservation as a site of production of historical narratives.

Exploring Egypt: Histories and Historiographies Seminar is organised by Fatma Keshk, Postdoctoral fellow at DAIK & Ifao and Malak Labib, scientific member of the Ifao.