Monks, Mummies, and Men of Letters: Exploring Egypt in the Age of Enlightenment
a lecture by Professor Jennifer Westerfeld (University of Louisville)
How and why did Egyptology, the academic study of ancient Egypt, first develop, and who were the first Egyptologists? Discussions of Egyptology’s roots in the Renaissance and early modern periods often highlight the work of linguists, who sought to decipher the mysteries of Egyptian hieroglyphs, and that of the archaeologists, geographers, and other scholars who famously traveled with Napoleon during his invasion of Egypt in 1798. Less well-known is the work of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century travelers and explorers whose efforts to map the historical topography of Egypt laid much of the groundwork for the scholars of the Napoleonic expedition and for the subsequent nineteenth-century flourishing of Egyptian archaeology. A key figure in this early modern exploratory activity was the French Jesuit missionary Claude Sicard, who is significant for being the first European explorer to correctly identify numerous important sites, including the ancient cities of Thebes and Abydos. This talk situates Sicard and his colleagues within the larger history of Egyptian exploration during the Age of Enlightenment, offering a window into an era when monks and missionaries might also be men of letters, working to advance European knowledge of all aspects of Egyptian history and society, both ancient and contemporary.
About the speaker: Jennifer Westerfeld is Associate Professor of History at the University of Louisville and the president of the Kentucky Society of the AIA. Her research deals with the cultural and religious history of Roman Egypt and with the history of Egyptology as a field of study.