Vanessa Davies: Egyptology's Diverse History—African American Voices

Friday, February 21, 2020

6:30 p.m.—Pre-lecture Reception ($5.00 per person)

7:00 p.m.—Lecture (free) 

Abstract— The university discipline of Egyptology in the US has a strikingly diverse history, a fact not widely known among Egyptologists. The way that Egyptology’s history is currently transmitted, we encounter only the usual names: Sir John Gardner Wilkinson and George Rawlinson as early historians, Flinders Petrie who introduced scientific method into archaeology, and James Henry Breasted and George Reisner, the first professors of Egyptology in American universities. What has been overlooked in those studies is the engagement of black intellectuals in North America with the university discipline of Egyptology.

  Masthead art, 1911–1914, of The CRISIS Magazine, the official publication of the NAACP

Prior to 1900, intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass and David Walker argued against racist, exclusionary views and used ancient Egyptian and Nubian cultures to argue for the humanity of black people at a time when others argued that Africa and people of African descent had no history. When the young university discipline of Egyptology began to gain traction in the US, it provided additional evidence of the history of Africa.

This talk will bring to light three sets of conversations that took place between 1900 and 1915, the period when Egyptology was just being established in the United States as part of the university curriculum. The conversations involve white Egyptologists who held university posts and black scholars and writers: Pauline Hopkins, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey. To counter the use of history to dehumanize black people, Hopkins, Du Bois, and the Garveys turned to Egyptology, marshaling scholarly evidence of the glorious past of the Nile River Valley to construct an African history that would inspire black people in the Americas to understand their existence as valuable.


505 East Braddock Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314

(across the street from the Braddock Road station on Metro’s blue and yellow lines)


Venue sponsored by Maria and Richard Calderon in association with

 Hands Along the Nile Development Services Inc. (HANDS)



During the pre-lecture reception, there will be a raffle for Egyptian-themed items such as books, journals, and jewelry. ARCE-DC members receive a free raffle ticket for each one they buy.


Meet-the-Speaker and Networking Dinner—

After the lecture, join ARCE-DC members and guests for a dinner with the speaker. We will meet at Lena's Wood-Fired Pizza & Tapjust a couple blocks away. Each attendee pays for his or her own dinner and contributes an extra $5.00 to defray the cost of the speaker's meal.  Please RSVP at



Vanessa Davies is the Associate Director of Institutional Grants at Bryn Mawr College. She is writing a book on conversations in the early 20th century between scholars of African descent and white archaeologists and epigraphers. Her recent book, Peace in Ancient Egypt (Harvard Egyptological Series, 2018), focuses on the dynamic ways that text and art communicate societal norms. She is the principal investigator on a project to publish material from George Reisner’s excavations at Naga ed-Deir and developed and co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Egyptian Epigraphy and Palaeography (OUP, in press). She received her PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago.