Inaugural lectures (ILs) are often overlooked as academic ephemera, but I believe that they can be used as a powerful historiographical tool, locating the public presentation of academic output with its social and institutional setting. My broader research uses them as a lens through which to examine the development and contingencies of British Egyptology, its self-positioning, and its perception and positioning by others, from the subject’s formal inception into British academia (1892) to the present day. In this paper the focus has, however, been narrowed to the Egyptology inaugural lectures (EILs) given by T.E. Peet (1882–1934) (Figure 1), the second Brunner Professor of Egyptology at Liverpool University (1920–1933), and the second reader / professor designate of Egyptology at Oxford (1933–1934) and W.B. Emery (1903–1971) (Figure 2), the fourth Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL (1951–1970).

Figure 1 

T.E. Peet. Copyright: Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.

Figure 2 

W.B. Emery. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library (Glanville Papers Box 14).

These two examples have been chosen not only because this is the first case of a teacher/pupil giving EILs in my corpus, but also they are the two closest examples between Egypt gaining nominal independence from Britain in 1922 and full independence in 1952. Emery’s in particular was undertaken after the point at which most critical studies end, during what Hassan (2007: 209–233) reflects was a crucial period in British Egyptology. However, before turning to these case studies, given the unusual primary data source, it is first valuable to outline the rationale and a few of the methodological considerations underpinning this research.

Rationale for the Study

Sheppard (2013: xii), in what is one of the most recent biographies in Egyptology, contends that the ‘history of the institutionalization of the science of Egyptology still needs to be written’, whilst Ambridge (2010: 32), in her study examining Breasted and the writing of Ancient Egyptian history in early twentieth century America, asserts that the story of Egyptology should be a study ‘more firmly rooted in both intellectual and social history’. Steering away from presentist arguments pertaining to removing biases of the past, Carruthers (2015) perhaps provides the best arguments as to why the institutionalisation of the subject should be explored. Carruthers (2015: 4–5) draws attention, for example, to the limitations of one of the few histories of Egyptology that extend into the second half of the twentieth century, the biography of Labib Habachi (Kamil 2007). As he observes, there is little engagement in how and why Egyptology is constructed and thus it appears ‘naturalised as an adjunct to the main biographical thrust’ of a narrative, sitting as ‘a pure but vague ideal’ (Carruthers 2015: 4) rather than a dynamic, time-dependent one ‘grounded in various overlapping discourses, practices and interests’ (Carruthers 2015: 8).

This situation implicitly calls for a middle ground of historiography – somewhere between the history of ideas and the histories of people and institutions. This is particularly relevant in subjects involving material culture as Moser (2006), for example, has shown powerfully in her book covering the changing nature of display in the Egyptian Sculpture room at the British Museum. The history of Egyptology concerns the site-specific interplay between objects, peoples and institutions.

Here the history of science, embracing for example geographies and sociologies of knowledge, provides edification. Its emphasis on the locales of knowledge production and social contingency in understanding how scientific knowledge is produced and contested offers insight, particularly given it also focuses on case studies and thick description techniques (Shapin 1995: 304–305) invoking a range of methodologies. Shapin and Schaffer (2011), for example, use extensive archival research to explore how Boyle’s theories became scientific orthodoxy over Hooke. Latour and Woolgar (1986) use ethnography to examine how knowledge is actively socially produced in laboratories, Livingstone (2003) explores geographical spaces to demonstrate that the location of scientific practice is important, and Pickering (1995) using a combination of historicism and sociology examines (amongst other aspects) how quarks became socially established as fact through what he rather evocatively calls the ‘mangle of practice’.

Another issue in a study encompassing such a middle ground of historiography is how to maintain focus; and this is where EILs come in. I believe they have value as they mark an unusual event where a dominant individual can publically review the state of a subject and outline their aspirations to its various stakeholders. Thus EILs have been chosen as expressions of paradigms (Clarke 1972: 1–10; Kuhn 2012: 23–25), or heuristic devices (Bruce and Yearley [eds.] 2006: 135; 143), with which to structure this enquiry. EILs also offered interest as they have not been critically examined before as a corpus, and their presence or absence, and shifting written record, allows one to explore some of the issues of changing communication in a subject that has, at times, had a conflicted relationship with its popular appeal (Rice and MacDonald 2009).

Methodological Considerations

Important issues arise from generalising from any infrequent series of uncontested events, and more narrowly ILs constitute a problematic source, as in the only study I have found to engage critically with ILs, they represent a ‘privileged discourse that is both internally constrained by its genre and externally limited by its institutional setting’ (Tilley 2004: 61).

Each is governed by the genre itself, the institutional agenda and by the specific research interests of the individual in question. Various tensions therefore emerge in the interpretation of these events: the ancestral links of the Chair suggest the event needs to be understood within its place as part of a series, but the content reflects an individual’s research interests, so they perhaps should be understood as an accumulation of discontinuous events. Equally, the speaker is not a free agent constrained, for example, through speaking from a particular institutional site as well as more personal issues such as the speaker’s view of public speaking. Furthermore, the composition of the audience suggests that the content should be broad enough for non-specialists but equally viewed with a possibility of publication (this last point is included, for example, within the guidelines to ILs for newly appointed professors by UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences [Quirke 2016]).

Therefore an array of methodological approaches can be taken in examining EILs (Figure 3). For instance as an academic performance they could be analysed using theatrical understandings, (Peters 2011; Ladnar 2013: 22–56). Equally, they follow a tri-partite transition rite structure both in process and content which suggests anthropological readings such as van Gennep (1909), or they could be considered within Bhabha’s (1994) post-colonial notion of hybridity and third space, as negotiating a position between the academic and public divide, or as a boundary object as invoked by Gieryn (1983) navigating between these two worlds.

Figure 3 

Methodological Approaches to EILs.

Since EILs are a constrained form of public discourse, it is perhaps natural to start with Foucault, who remains one of the main sources of theoretical insight into the analysis of discourse (Keller 2013: 8–10; 42–55). This appears particularly apposite given Foucault’s emphasis on its circumscribed nature. Indeed Tilley (2004: 42–46) takes the Order of Discourse (Foucault 1970) as his starting point for his discussion of the Disney Chair ILs (in a moment of circularity Order of Discourse originated as Foucault’s IL at the Collège de France in 1970). However, here the focus is not on the nature of power and knowledge per se but using EILs to explore the trajectory of the subject. Therefore The Archaeology of Knowledge (Foucault 1972) is perhaps more relevant as the starting point, with its understanding of discourse as a fixed object or ‘monument’, interest in the place of the statement, its location within its ‘scheme’ and the disciplinary boundaries that dictate what can and cannot be said (for instance Foucault 1972: 28; 104). A Foucauldian approach would go beyond the text to explore the contingencies of what is said, and not said, and therefore begin to draw out the value of an EIL as a heuristic tool.

However, their publication often in what Harte (1971: vii) terms a ‘rather fugitive form’ (or not at all), and evidence from archival searches, underline their liminal nature. Searches across eight different institutional sites have highlighted the same problems in recovering these events as are experienced for any record of performance in archaeological material, with only eighteen direct references to EILs to date.

In terms of the two EILs that form the basis of this paper, evidence as to the audience reception of the events, for example, is at present limited to two reviews of the posthumously published version of Peet’s (1934a) EIL (Roeder 1934; CdÉ 1935) and one of the printed form of Emery’s EIL (Wainwright 1953). Furthermore, we have no understanding as to what visual aids may have been used (see the section on Emery’s EIL for further discussion of this aspect). Whilst a guest list of the tea party preceding Emery’s EIL has been located (which includes some 260 individuals spread across various Egyptological, museological and UCL concerns [Gue 1951]) research to date has been unable to locate any guest list for Peet’s EIL.

More broadly, the lack of critical engagement with the content of EILs in correspondence alludes to the danger of over-valorising these events (and understanding them as hegemonic regimes). Returning to Figure 3, as a personal transition rite EILs can be viewed as (auto)biographical and therefore Foucault’s (1972: 23–33) rejection of the oeuvre may also not be helpful here. The site specific ‘hows and whys’ of everyday practice (highlighted in sociologies of knowledge literature) that are overlooked by Foucault (Holstein and Gubrium 2011: 348), situate these events, as do their institutional contexts as suggested by both the geographies of knowledge, and the narrative analysis advocated by Silverman (2011). On a wider level I would also suggest that one needs to be mindful of the shifting pedagogic and national structures that make Foucauldian changes in episteme possible (see e.g. Hoskin 1993: 277–281).

Therefore, unlike a Foucauldian discourse analysis, I believe an examination of not only the content, but all of the contexts of each event are important. Here, for the purposes of clarity, I will focus on two contextual elements in addition to the content of the EILs themselves. First, I will explore the nature of authority and status of both Peet and Emery, to examine how these two individuals came to be speaking at these institutional sites, as in some aspects their initial entry into the subject was similar. I will then turn to each EIL, examining what content has been privileged within the body of the text, before assessing some aspects of the context of this content. Here I am mindful of Colla’s (2007: 16) assertion that ‘it matters that the practice of Egyptological inquiry has rested as much on political and legal arrangements (and experimentation based on local knowledge) as it has on scientific methods’, and will therefore concentrate my discussion here on the shifting modern British / Egyptian context of these remarks.

Authority and Status

Both Peet’s and Emery’s careers can be divided into three phases (Table 1). Both appear to have had similar backgrounds, growing up and going to school in Liverpool, and both stimulated their interest in archaeology through attending lectures at Liverpool Institute of Archaeology as schoolboys (Anon n.d.; Smith 1971: 190).

T.E. Peet (1882–1934) W.B. Emery (1903–1971)

1901–1905 Oxford University, Classics and Mathematics 1921–3 Liverpool Institute of Archaeology, Assistant Secretary, and pupil of T.E. Peet
1906 Craven Fellow
1906–1914 Excavation 1923–1939 Excavation

1906–09 Italian Prehistory, Malta, Thessaly 1923–9 EES/ Mond Amarna, Tomb of Ramose, Armant
1909 Garstang, Abydos; Newberry, Delta 1929–39 Egyptian Gov. Excavations, Nubia, Saqqara
1909–13 EEF, Abydos
1913–28 Lecturer, University of Manchester
1915–1919 War Service 1939–1951 War Service/ Officialdom/ Excavation

1916–17 Salonika (Thessaloniki) 1939–45 British Military Intelligence Cairo
1918–19 Western Front 1945–6 Egyptian Gov. Excavations, Saqqara
1946–51 Attaché/ First Secretary British Embassy, Cairo
1920–1934 Academia 1951–1970 Academia/ Excavation

1920–33 Brunner Professor of Egyptology, Liverpool University 1951–70 Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology, UCL
1920–1 EES Excavation, Amarna 1953–6 EES Excavation, North Saqqara
1923–34 Editor of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA) 1954–5 Norton Lecturer, Archaeological Institute of America
1933–4 Reader (professor designate) 1957–60 EES Excavations, Buhen, Nubia
Egyptology, Oxford University 1960–4 UNESCO salvage campaign, Buhen, Qasr Ibrim
1964–71 EES Excavation, North Saqqara

Table 1

Career Outlines of T.E. Peet and W.B. Emery.

Neither man had an independent source of income (Peet 1920a; Emery 1946). Thus they needed their chosen profession to generate an income to support them, unlike some others in the subject, the most relevant here being Sir Alan Gardiner (Figure 4, see Faulkner 1964). Gardiner emerges as a key figure in the subject’s invisible college, being highly influential in, and financially supportive of, many Egyptologists’ career paths—including Peet—and backing the appointment of Emery at UCL (Gardiner 1951). Gardiner’s career also disrupts a linear narrative of the subject as moving from dilettantism to professionalism, as he never sought paid employment, apart from a brief lectureship at Manchester from 1912–1914, which he did not enjoy (Gardiner 1962: 28).

Figure 4 

Sir Alan Gardiner (1879–1963). Copyright: Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.

Another similarity between Peet and Emery is that letters of introduction appear to have been important to both early in their Egyptological careers. Peet’s mother appears to have had some family connections, writing to Sir John (presumably Brunner, the benefactor of the Liverpool Egyptology Chair [Bierbrier 2012: 86]) introducing her son as the Craven Fellow at Oxford, about to publish on Italian Prehistory, with knowledge of the Professors at Liverpool (Figure 5).

Figure 5 

A Page of Salome Peet’s Letter of Introduction to ‘Sir John’. Copyright: Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.

Emery’s father’s introduction to Peet, then Liverpool Professor, in 1921 is more humble. He describes his eighteen-year old son as an apprentice engineer with a passion for Egyptology who has taken ‘every opportunity he could get of attending your lectures’ (Carruthers 2009a: 6).

However, the precise mechanisms behind their accumulation of authority and status to reach the Egyptological elite were different. By the time of Emery Snr.’s letter, Peet was a renowned, largely self-trained philologist albeit with a Classics degree from Oxford (Gardiner 1934: 67) whereas archival letters throughout Emery’s career (for instance Glanville 1945; Gardiner 1951) refer to Emery’s lack of philological skill at a point when research (e.g. Foreign Office n.d.; Gardiner 1950) suggests academic posts in Britain were becoming increasingly philologically biased. Emery’s skills as a draftsman learnt as an engineering apprentice may have initially offset perceived philological weaknesses, although ultimately this became a weakness as well as strength, not adequately reflecting the messy realities of context (Kemp 1967; Tyson Smith 2010: 170).

From Peet’s 1909 engagement with the Egypt Exploration Fund (renamed the Egypt Exploration Society, EES, in 1919) until his final excavation with them in 1921 he became a stalwart of their lecture lists; as editor of their journal, the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA), he regularly wrote reviews to build up the EES library. By the time of his appointment at Oxford at the age of 51 he had published over 180 articles, reviews, excavation records and books (Uphill 1979).

Although initially gaining experience in Egyptology through excavation, throughout his tenure at Liverpool, Peet became increasingly philologically focused, maintaining that he had always intended to give up excavating by the age of 40 (Peet 1920b). Indeed, he rejected the advances made by UCL on Petrie’s retirement as he considered the London post too centered on archaeology (Peet 1932a; 1932b), despite the Chair’s name being the Edwards Chair of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology.

Instead Peet (1932a) viewed Oxford, with the subject’s locus within what was then called the Oriental Languages and Literature faculty, as ideal for his philological studies and one of the broader issues that my fuller study examines is whether the subject had to divide—as it did in Oxford with philology and Liverpool with archaeology—for professionalization to occur. However, Peet (1930a; 1930b) viewed the stipend at Oxford as unacceptable. It was only when this was more than doubled by contributions from Queen’s College, the locus of the Chair, and anonymously by Sir Alan Gardiner, (Gardiner 1933; Shearer 1950) that he accepted the post in 1933.

In contrast, Emery had twenty-seven published items (Uphill 1972) by the time of his appointment at UCL (at 48, a very similar age to Peet’s appointment at Oxford) and throughout his life Emery apparently dreaded public speaking (Smith 1971: 198). To date I have found only two public lectures prior to his appointment at UCL, in Liverpool in 1925 (Carruthers 2009a: 27) and the EES in 1928 (EES n.d.).

Although not originally of the establishment Emery became part of the establishment through Egyptology and the network of relationships he developed in this sphere (Carruthers 2009b: 7–14). Emery’s authority and status was built up both through patronage by Sir Robert Mond, a wealthy industrialist who funded excavations in Egypt and the EES from 1902 to his death in 1938 (Newberry 1938), and Emery’s success in navigating the colonialist world.

This was not only in terms of colonialist excavation practices that were to dominate his career, but also in other spheres of colonialism. For example, Emery received an MBE (military) in 1943 whilst undertaking his war service in Egypt (Gazette 1943) and by 1945 he was Director of Military Intelligence in Cairo (Smith 1971: 194). Indeed, his brief return to North Saqqara and Egyptology in 1945–6 (Table 1) was in part driven by British Embassy concerns in a decolonising Egypt (see the discussion of Emery’s EIL, below), and notes held in UCL Records suggest that by 1951 he was head of MI5 in Cairo (Pye 1951). How this affected his knowledge production practices, in particular his maintenance of colonialist archaeological practices in a post-colonial Egypt (see Hassan 2007: 214; 221–222), is intriguing. Following the Egyptian revolution, and his appointment to UCL, Emery resumed his excavations North Saqqara (after a five year break), this time as Field Director for the EES on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service in January 1953 (Faulkner 1953: 1) and continued to excavate in North Saqqara until the 1956 Suez Crisis (Table 1). However, archival correspondence suggests that Glanville was instrumental in the negotiations over this Saqqara concession (Glanville 1953) and research has yet to yield any reference made by Emery as to the political environment in which his work took place.

As with Peet, financial resources were a perceived problem for Emery during his career: he wrote to Gardiner (Emery 1946) explaining his decision to give up Egyptology (after his brief return over 1945–6) in these terms. He also provided a view as to what a university post would mean for him: which was the authority and stability to carry on his excavation work. Five years later when Emery was to return to Egyptology, UCL (1951a) records concerning suitable candidates for the Edwards Chair acknowledge his distinctive contribution in this respect, but they also reflect concerns as to his lack of teaching experience.

This return was triggered by the death of the incumbent professor in Oxford, Battiscombe Gunn in 1950, and the relocation of Černý, Emery’s predecessor at UCL, to Oxford in 1951, some eighteen years after Peet had taken up his post there as professor designate in 1933. Having returned full circle to Peet, examining how each man came to be speaking at the institutional sites in question, I will now turn to the content and context of the EILs themselves, beginning with Peet’s EIL in Oxford in 1934.

T.E. Peet: The Present Position of Egyptological Studies, Oxford, 17th January 1934

Two letters held at the Griffith Institute in Oxford (Hall 1920a; 1920b) suggest that Peet gave an EIL at Liverpool in 1920, when Newberry resigned his Chair in Peet’s favour (Newberry 1919). This would be extremely interesting in the year after the Egyptian revolution. However, extensive searches including three sets of family archives are yet to provide further information. The focus in this paper is therefore on Peet’s EIL given in Oxford in 1934 (Figure 6), although unfortunately the opportunity and financial stability this post provided for Peet was never fulfilled as a result of his unexpected death just over five weeks after giving the EIL.

Figure 6 

A Page of T.E. Peet’s 1934 EIL with Editing Marks for Posthumous Publication. Copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.

Egyptology had been formalized in Oxford with F. Ll. Griffith’s appointment, initially as a two-term reader, in 1901 (Glanville 1947: 5) within the Faculty of Oriental Languages (Stevenson 2015: 24). Here, as Stevenson (2015: 19–33) has discussed, despite the subject’s locus within Oriental Languages, Griffith’s wide-ranging EIL embraces the subject as a ‘prolific branch of anthropology’ whereas Peet’s narrower view of the subject in 1934 (in the renamed Faculty of Oriental Languages and Literature [Millea 2015]) can be viewed in the context of defining fieldwork techniques between archaeology and anthropology over this thirty-three year period.

However, there is a further thread in that Griffith’s EIL could be read as a foundation event for a new subject at Oxford which is therefore likely to be programmatic and broad ranging, facing few restrictions in work in Egypt. In contrast, Peet’s EIL as the second reader and professor designate, could be seen as a natural narrowing of the agenda to specifics as the subject matured in its institutional location (see below).

Archival research also indicates the reality of Griffith’s wide reaching programme at Oxford may not have matched his EIL’s aspirations, as there appear to have been very few pupils (Griffith 1928; Stevenson 2015: 24), and his main focus was on Demotic and Meroitic textual research, relying on A.M. Blackman (see Bierbrier 2012: 62–3) for teaching support (e.g. Griffith 1909; Gardiner 1950). Two letters written by Peet (1933; 1934b) to Gardiner (the latter on the day of Peet’s EIL, one of the few direct references to EILs in the archives) describes the circumstances of Oxford Egyptology as Peet found it on his arrival. He records, for example, no pupils, no lecture slides, and a library largely confined to Griffith’s personal one, which had been transported on his retirement to Griffith’s home, some 7km from the Ashmolean Museum (the locus of the Egyptian artefacts used for teaching (Stevenson 2015: 24) and of Griffith’s [1901] EIL).

Peet’s EIL appears as a classic of the genre at this point in time: opening with a discussion of the genre itself before posing three questions: ‘How much have we learnt about the ancient Egyptians? What are the things which we would like, but have so far failed, to learn? And lastly, how many of these are we likely to learn in the future’ (Peet 1934a: 3). Although not straying to near disciplines, through a wide ranging review of the subject (citing, for example, 32 different individuals) the lecture implicitly provides answers to these questions and thus generates a disciplinary programme, whilst also asserting the authority of the institution by drawing on the contribution of Oxford individuals to Egyptology.

It draws from Peet’s extant research and two lecture series (albeit unreferenced as such) in particular: the Schweich lectures in 1929 (Peet 1931a), covering the literatures of Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia; and the Rylands lecture in 1931 (Peet 1931b) focusing on Egyptian mathematics. He asserts, for example, that Egypt did have a ‘true literature’, with the fault lying with ‘us translators’ and their ‘dull and unintelligible’ translations (Peet 1934a: 15–16) in interesting contrast to Griffith’s (1901: 5; 19) view in his EIL as the scarcity of ‘literary art’ and lack of ‘any intricacy of expression’. Peet also warns us that we should not judge Egyptian mathematics from a presentist stance (Peet 1934a: 19–20), albeit in this case without reference to those developing similar lines of enquiry (unlike Peet 1931b: 440–1).

Here I want to focus on two statements made within the body of the text and explore their context in more depth. The first is this statement: ‘we are not likely to learn very much more Egyptian history from excavation in Egypt itself’ (Peet 1934a: 8). This appears to be a curious statement for someone whose entry point into Egyptology was through excavation (Table 1). However, this statement needs to be viewed carefully not only in terms of Peet’s increasingly philological focus and tacit premise that the historical outline of Ancient Egypt was already known (e.g. Peet 1934a: 8–9), but also within the context of changing antiquities provision and political sentiment in Egypt. In 1919, the year of the Egyptian revolution, the process of granting the Amarna concession, which was the locus of Peet’s last excavation in 1920–1 (Gardiner 1934: 70) can be understood in terms of the European landscape in the aftermath of the First World War. It was granted by Lacau, then French Director General of the Antiquities Service, to the EES, fuelled by anti-German feeling (Savoy [ed.] 2011), albeit complicated by the 1904 Entente Cordiale between the British and French (Desplat 2014). However, by 1922 Britain had unilaterally declared partial Egyptian independence (Marsot 2007: 98), formally terminating the British Protectorate, and events surrounding the 1924 dispute and temporary closure of the Tutankhamun tomb (see Reid 2015: 66–74) meant that Britain became more aware of Egypt’s growing nationalism (for example The Times 1924a; 1924b).

Furthermore, the discovery of the Tutankhamun tomb led to proposed changes in the antiquities law (Drower 1995: 355–6) suggesting that future object divisions would be more strictly controlled than they had been in the past. Whilst this new law was never ratified, excavators’ presumed entitlement to 50% of finds ended (Reid 2015: 291). With Lacau exercising stringent control over the distribution of finds, the funding mechanism for British excavations through the provision of artefacts to western museums was disrupted (Drower 1995: 363).

Indeed, where artefacts are discussed in Peet’s EIL, their scientific value is highlighted, which, when read in the light of the changing antiquities provision, and events surrounding the 1924 Tutankhamun tomb dispute, could be seen as an attempt to return the moral authority to the West as the locus of ‘modern science’. Furthermore, as Gange (2013: 326) has pointed out, archaeologists who previously had to whip up public interest in Egyptology, post-Tutankhamun were now trying to control it. Thus, in Peet’s EIL boundary creation is also occurring. Against the vocabulary of the Tutankhamun discovery in the Press—e.g. ‘delightful’, ‘mystery’ and ‘surprises’ in one article from The Times (1924c), written eleven days before the closure of the tomb—in Peet’s EIL the artefact is classed as a scientific object and he makes comments such as:

‘… the moment we pass beyond such purely archaeological subjects as the mere classification and description of what may be called pots and pans, the work is philological and the philologist alone is equipped for it. It is the teacher’s solemn duty to impress that on all who would enter the subject’ (Peet 1934a: 11).

Here, in this second statement, specialist knowledge–philology–is being used to sort out those who are on the inside professional circle and those on the outside. Egyptology in this EIL is not the world of tomb excavation and exotic artefacts familiar to the public; instead it is the detailed work in the ‘science of philology’, requiring years of study and training. Indeed, the second highest frequency word in this lecture is the word ‘work’.

W.B. Emery: Saqqara and the Dynastic Race, UCL, 28th February 1952

However, despite Peet’s view of excavation in Egypt, nearly twenty years later, and two weeks before Emery’s EIL, Momigliano, the new professor of Ancient History at UCL, gave his IL in which he suggested ‘[o]riental history is still at that happy stage in which the almost vertiginous increase of evidence lends plausibility to the convention that thinking is the work of supererogation for the historian’ (Momigliano 1952: 16). Its specific relevance here is that, at the time, a BA in Ancient History was one of two entry points (UCL 1951b: 40) into Egyptology at UCL (the other entry point being a BA in Anthropology). It is worth observing here that, as with Oxford at the time of Peet’s EIL, UCL did not have an Institute of Archaeology; Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology was founded in 1962 (Oxford 2016), whereas the Institute of Archaeology in London (although founded in 1937) did not become part of UCL until 1986 (UCL 2016).

Initial reading across that problematic academic boundary between ancient history and archaeology, (see for example Sauer [ed.] 2004), to Emery’s EIL Saqqara and the Dynastic Race would appear to give Momigliano nothing to shake his view. The EIL is a bounded architectural description of Early Dynastic tombs, linked to Petrie’s by then discredited theories of Dynastic Race (e.g. Petrie 1939).

Emery starts his EIL by asking the question:

‘[T]he … question facing the Egyptologist is the existence of what Petrie called the Dynastic Race. Was the Pharaonic civilization the outcome of a sudden step forward in the predynastic culture of the indigenes, or was it due to a different race whose arrival changed the whole cultural trend of the Nile valley?’ (1952: 3)

He then establishes his unique authority as the person ‘instructed by the Director General of the Service of Antiquities’ first to re-clear Firth’s earlier work at the Early Dynastic necropolis at North Saqqara then to ‘clear the whole area’ (Emery 1952: 3–4). However, as the only contemporary review I can locate (Wainwright 1953: 126) comments, the body of the EIL does little to address the initial question, as it is devoted to a dry, largely architectural, description of Early Dynasty mastabas.

Despite the visual nature of Emery’s topic, his published EIL includes no plans of the tombs themselves, or understanding as to topography of the site, or reference to his pertinent Antiquities Service publications (Emery 1938; 1939; 1949). This is interesting given, as mentioned above, Emery in part built up his status through his skills as a draughtsman.

Yet we do not know whether slides were used. For example, a draft of his predecessor Černý’s EIL contains references to ‘pictures’ (Černý n.d.) but no illustrations made it into the printed version of this EIL, also undertaken at UCL, perhaps related to the economics of publishing in a post-war Britain. Equally it may be relevant that Emery’s EIL was undertaken less than two weeks after George VI’s funeral. During the time from his death to his funeral cinemas, theatres and sporting fixtures were curtailed (The Times 1952a; 1952b). These issues make it difficult to know what the audience was looking at, limiting our understanding of the reception of the event.

Following architectural descriptions of five mastabas (Table 2, below), and brief reference to ‘the mass of population’, (Emery 1952: 11), he concludes the lecture with his understanding of the institutional focus and goal in the form of his research agenda: ‘The problem of the origin of Egypt’s dynastic civilization still remains unsolved … and it is to this problem that our Department of Egyptology will devote itself in the immediate future’ (Emery 1952: 12).

Mastaba Page Excavation date Publication

Hesy (S2405) 3, 5 Mariette, Quibell 1911–1912 Mariette 1889: 80–82; Quibell 1913
Hemaka (S3035). This was excavated in Emery’s first season at Saqqara 4, 7, 8, 10 Firth 1931/Emery 1936 Emery 1938
S3503 (only two mastabas excavated by Emery in 1946, other S3500 below) 4 Emery 1946/1953 Emery 1954
S3500 7 Quibell 1912/Emery 1946 Emery 1958
S3477 (locus of funerary feast referenced p.9 although not referenced by name here) 9 Emery 1939 Emery 1962

Table 2

Mastabas Discussed in Emery’s EIL.

The premise of the lecture is that the excavation of monumental tombs, using evidence for Egyptian state notions of the correlation of power, wealth, and tomb size in later periods to identify these as royal tombs (Tyson Smith 2010: 165–166), will lead to an understanding as to the Predynastic and Early Dynastic period based on diffusionary theories of cultural change, that is, the idea that foreign incursion was responsible for the innovations that led to the creation of the Egyptian state.

However, rather than focusing on a critique of Emery’s adherence to the Dynastic Race theories per se, which Carruthers (2009c) asserts is partly responsible for Emery’s ‘lapse in status’ since his death—although the limits of Emery’s archaeological practice also have to be considered—here I want to examine why Emery may have chosen to frame this lecture within these terms as this is the first place he enunciates this theory in print. It is important to remember Emery was academic neither by inclination nor training, and perhaps his institutionalisation drove him to search for theoretical engagement in a way he had not been required to in the past. Here Petrie’s shadow may have been long. Hilda Petrie, who appears on the guest list for the tea party preceding Emery’s EIL (Gue 1951), had suggested in 1951 that UCL should celebrate the centenary of Petrie’s birth in 1953 (Janssen 1992: 64), the plans for which were already underway by the time of Emery’s EIL (UCL 1951c). This celebration took the form of an exhibition, tea party, lecture and dinner, and associated publicity (Janssen 1992: 64–69). Interestingly for my research, this lecture was the occasion on which Glanville, the second holder of the Edward’s Chair, gave what was termed his EIL (Evans 1952). It appears that he had not given an EIL on his succession to the Edwards Chair in 1933 due to sensitivities surrounding the contingency of the conversion of his readership into a professorship upon Margaret Murray’s retirement (UCL 1933).

UCL archives also suggest that Murray was a staunch supporter of Emery, lobbying the Provost for his employment (Murray 1948). She had published The Splendour that Was Egypt invoking the Dynastic Race theory in 1949, and in all likelihood was also present at Emery’s EIL. Emery’s move to UCL triggered return visits to her alma mater (which she had avoided during Černý’s tenure [Drower 2006: 131]) and she, like Hilda Petrie, was on the guest list for the tea party preceding Emery’s EIL (Gue 1951).

It is also worth remembering the eugenics legacy at UCL beyond Petrie (see for instance Silberman 1999; Sheppard 2010; Challis 2013). In searching for the locus of Emery’s EIL, it became apparent that the Eugenics Theatre had been used for his predecessor Černý’s EIL (Janssen 1992: 58). It was still called this in 1961 (Genetical Society 1962) and I suspect its name was only changed when the Eugenics Chair was renamed the Galton Chair of Human Genetics in 1963 (Wellcome Library 2016). Whilst not acting as an apologist for the Dynastic Race Theory, Emery’s invocation could therefore be viewed within Pickering’s (1995) understanding of theory adoption as a bridging activity. Emery was conscious of his lack of academic qualifications, and he could have been drawing on established routines associated with his field of material culture (Predynastic and Early Dynastic tombs) at the relevant institution (UCL), and thus stabilizing his role (excavator) within the achievements of past associations (Petrie). Indeed, the Petriean model was implemented by Emery throughout his career. Excavation was given priority, with knowledge assumed to flow from excavation site to UCL, privileging architecture and typography. Interests being furthered were primarily those of British Egyptology in that Emery trained British archaeologists to work in or for British institutions. UCL in turn benefitted from the status associated with Emery’s high profile excavations (Smith 1971: 198–199), which in the selection of Emery by UCL appears to have outweighed considerations as to the need to engage with near disciplines such as ancient history and classics (UCL 1951a).

Extending the notion of stabilisation further, when examining the people and structures surrounding this event, it becomes apparent that British Egyptology had been anything but stable at this juncture. Some of the issues included:

  • UCL was still recovering from war damage. The Egyptology collection, relocated outside London during the war, was still being unpacked in 1952 (Arkell 1961). The lack of this resource had been identified as limiting UCL’s scope to retain its unique capacity to teach archaeology in contrast to Liverpool and Oxford (Glanville 1946).
  • A lack of an available pool of ‘British’ Egyptologists. In a small discipline such as British Egyptology the early deaths of Allberry, Pendlebury, Shorter and Smither (see Glanville 1945; Bierbrier (ed.) 2012: 13–14; 421–422; 509; 518) during WW2 had substantially reduced the pool of available resources in post-war Britain.
  • A shift from the funding model of the EES away from one based on sponsorship of excavations by actors ranging in scale from national museums to private individuals, coupled with a reconfiguration of domestic regional museums to local interests. Funding was provided to the EES by British Government and subsequently British Academy grants from 1947 onward (Gardiner 1946: 1; Faulkner 1947: 1; Gardiner n.d.). These factors shifted the pre-war model based on the provision of artefacts to museums. For the EES it also eased the urgency in their public engagement programme, which had been primarily designed to gather funds for excavation (EES 1948).
  • A distinctly political stance by the British authorities as to the role of Egyptology in maintaining British interests in Egypt.

Picking up, as I did with Peet, on political aspects, Emery’s appointment at UCL coincides with a more overt interest by the British authorities in Egyptology’s ability to maintain national interests in a rapidly decolonizing Egypt. As part of these efforts, there were endeavours to establish a British Institute of Archaeology in Cairo. Lobbying appears to have begun in 1942, when Gardiner received tacit backing from the British Embassy (Gaslee 1942). A Memorandum was sent to the British Academy in 1943 (Kenyon 1943) and nascent discussions considered the possibility of taking over the closed German Institute in Cairo in 1944 (Smart 1944). In 1945 when the Embassy in Cairo suggested that Gardiner should investigate the workings of the Antiquities Service discreetly–perhaps in one final effort to disrupt the French monopoly of the headship of the Antiquities Service—they (Smart 1945) also asked for possible British names for two positions in the Cairo Museum and the Professorship at Cairo University. Gardiner turned this into another opportunity to lobby once more for a British Institute (Gardiner 1945). He surmised that there were few people he could suggest and the reason for the lack of trained Egyptologists was a direct result of Britain having no archaeological institute in Egypt. It was against this background that the Embassy also suggested that Emery should move back to Egyptology as part of these concerns about national interest (Carruthers 2009c) corresponding to his return to Egyptology over the period 1945–1946 (Table 1).

Although the campaign for a British Institute received both Foreign Office and Embassy support (Scrivener 1945; Smart, n.d.), by February 1951 the Treasury turned this application down (Gardiner n.d.) as a result of their concerns about the worsening international situation, and funding was set to the £4,500 pa already given to the EES through the British Academy. No wonder with the prospects of a British archaeology institute in Egypt finally closed, Gardiner (1951) would back Emery for the position at UCL given his excavation record and potential to train students, despite Gardiner’s views on the primacy of philology expressed in his considerations for Gunn’s replacement at Oxford a year previously: ‘contrary to what is often supposed, any competent hieroglyphic scholar cannot fail to have a wide, if not very detailed, knowledge of Egyptian archaeology’ (Gardiner 1950).

Decolonisation was coming to a head by the time Emery gave his EIL. Two weeks before this lecture various places associated with colonialist rule in Cairo were attacked (Kerboeuf 2005: 198–199), in what was called the Cairo Fire, in response to Britain’s increasingly aggressive stance. This included the Turf Club – of which Emery was a member – which was razed to the ground, shaking the world that Emery had been part of.

Perhaps it is therefore no wonder that Emery, a man who dreaded public speaking, under these personal and political constraints, invoked a falsely stabilized notion of the subject bounded by outmoded theories linking himself back to the heritage of the Chair. Embedded in colonialist practices, he was keen to return to North Saqqara, where his work did much to expand the corpus on the Memphite necropolis, and return to the activities that had generated the status to enable him to speak from this institutional site in the first place.


Here I have taken one small field of knowledge – Egyptology in Britain – and briefly assessed it at two points in time at two different institutions. Although one man was a pupil of the other, the differing manner of accumulation of authority and status, combined with various international, national and institutional constraints, meant they gave very different views of the subject. One engaged in boundary definition between amateurs and professionals, secure in his academic credentials; the other, not academic by nature, provided a personal research agenda, keen to return to the excavation work de-emphasised by his teacher some twenty years previously.

Their different perspectives draw to our attention that even small fields such as Egyptology are not monolithic and do not follow a whiggish progression. They are heterogeneous families of social, organizational and scientific practices packaged as programmes to take advantage of a distinct set of institutional and political conditions, and particular clientele, at a specific point in time. Whilst the heuristic anchor taken in this research risks distorting, or preventing wider coverage of the subject under study, here I have shown how statements, which at face value can be easily dismissed, present valuable opportunities for understanding the contingencies at any one point in time and can provide a more nuanced view as to the trajectory of a subject.