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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/ 2/2010

Harvard gets first Egyptologist in 68 years

By Valerie Strauss

This may not mean much to you, but to an amateur archaeologist such as myself, this news is somewhat shocking: Harvard University is only now getting the first Egyptology professor it has employed since the last person holding the job died -- 68 years ago.

The school’s student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, is reporting that Peter Der Manuelian, a lecturer in Egyptology at Tufts University, will take the job. He has spent years studying and trying to publicize the work of the last Harvard Egyptologist, Professor George A. Reisner, a graduate of the Class of 1889.

Reisner, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ancient Eygpt, died in 1942 when he was on an excavation in Giza, Egypt. Much of his work was left unpublished.

Manuelian is director of the Giza Archives Project at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, a Web-based effort to assemble all of the archaeological information available around the world about the Egyptian Pyramids.

Egyptology is the field that studies the 4,000-year-old civilization, starting with the Pre-Dynastic origins in about 3,400 B.C., and including the people, language, literature, history, religion, art, economics and architecture.

Certainly, we can’t expect any school to be great in every discipline, but I confess that I was surprised that the university considered the gold standard in American higher education hasn’t had a full Egyptology professor for decades.

The discipline has been in the center of the development of archaeology as a science, and Harvard prides itself on the study of history (which became its own department in 1839; for 200 years before that, history was taught through courses in classics, philosophy, politics and economics).

There are about 10 universities in the United States and Canada that have programs in Egyptology. The first one in the Western Hemisphere was at the University of Chicago, where it is the center of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations -- and still dominates the field.

Other schools that offer some undergraduate or graduate program in Egyptology include Yale University, Brown University, New York University, the universities of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, the University of Toronto, Emory University, the University of Michigan and the University of Memphis.

Well, Harvard, better late than never.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 2, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Higher Education, History  | Tags:  egyptology, harvard university, history  
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