CfP: “Pyramids and Progress.” Perspectives on the Entanglement of Imperialisms and Early Egyptology (1800–1950)

Call for Papers
Subject Fields:
Archaeology, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Humanities, Middle East History / Studies

Team Pyramids & Progress proudly presents its symposium Pyramids and Progress.” Perspectives on the Entanglement of Imperialisms and Early Egyptology (1800–1950), which will take place in Brussels, Belgium from 8-10 November 2021. We invite you to consider contributing to this symposium, and to circulate this information to others who might be interested in contributing as well. Abstracts of papers or posters can be sent in until 1 March 2021 to The definitive list of speakers will be decided upon before the end of March.

Confirmed keynote speakers of our symposium are:

  • prof. em. Donald Malcolm Reid, author of Whose Pharaohs?  Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I. (2003) and Contesting antiquity in Egypt. Archaeologies, museums, and the struggle for identities from World War I to Nasser (2015).
  • prof. Hana Navrátilová, co-editor of Towards a History of Egyptology: Proceedings of the Egyptological Section of the 8th ESHS Conference in London, (2018) and co-author with Ernst Czerny, “Austria”, A History of World Egyptology (2021), and with Adéla Jůnová Macková, “Czechoslovakia“, A History of World Egyptology (2021).
  • dr. Floris Solleveld, author of The Transformation of the Humanities. Ideals and Practices of Scholarship between Enlightenment and Romanticism, 1750-1850 (2018) and Lepsius as a Linguist: Fieldwork, Philology, Phonetics, and the ‘Hamitic Hypothesis (2020).

Call for Papers

The emergence of the discipline of Egyptology, traditionally set in 1822 when Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone, is intrinsically linked with nineteenth century imperialist endeavours culminating in the formal British protectorate of Egypt. This foreign dominance only came to an end after the 1952 revolution. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone was itself the result of the Napoleonic campaign to Egypt, which effectively reflects the confrontation between French, British, and Ottoman imperialist aspirations.

The role of imperialistic competition in the development of Egyptology as a discipline is still poorly understood. At the same time, while many modern historians working on global imperialisms have a keen interest in Egypt, Egyptology is hardly prominent in their work. However, the degree to which imperialistic strive went hand in hand with an interest in and exploitation of the pharaonic past, is reflected in books like John Ward’s Pyramids and Progress (London, 1900), which deals with how the generosity of the British empire restored Egypt to the glory of its pharaonic past by technological innovation.

At a time when the European and American elites surrounded themselves with Empire style furniture, collected Egyptian antiquities, or travelled to Egypt to admire its monuments, a natural interest emerged in fostering political, diplomatic and commercial involvement in the land on the Nile. The imperialist competition between Britain, France, and Germany expressed itself, among other things, in the creation of colossal museum collections and of the first academic chairs in Egyptology. This tendency was by no means an exclusively Western phenomenon: the Ottoman pashas and khedives also aspired to create a national museum collection and to protect Egypt’s heritage. Later the grandeur of ancient Egypt also became a point of inspiration for Egyptian nationalists. It is pre-eminently a period of political transformations, with both vanishing empires (Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire) and emerging ones (USA). Smaller nations played their own role on this big international stage, such as Belgium with its expansionist policies which led to a proportionally strong foot on the ground in Egypt during the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

Imperialism in this period is an ambiguous and dynamic concept that manifested itself in many ways: from formal and informal imperialisms with military, political and diplomatic components to various kinds of commercial and industrial expansion. The ways in which imperialistic aspirations expressed by both western powers (Europe and USA) and empires in the eastern Mediterranean (Ottoman Empire and Egypt) were entangled with the scholarly ambitions of intellectuals interested in ancient Egypt form the topic of this symposium to be held in Brussels, Belgium, on 8–10 November 2021 (the Palace of the Academies and the Royal Museums of Art and History).

Four angles will be used to focus on the debate: structures, actors, networks and discourses.

Structures include government agencies, the diplomatic corps, banks, commerce and industry, political organisations, scientific institutes and museums. The interaction between the Ottoman Porte and the Egyptian viceroys representing him on the one hand, and western stakeholders on the other is of paramount importance. Exchanges, mutual reinforcements, but also tensions and conflicts within and between structures are relevant issues.

Individual actors functioned within this framework, but also helped to shape it, and in many cases they exerted their influence in different domains. An example is Lord Cromer, the British Consul-General under whose tenure the first Aswan dam was built, but who also was among the founding fathers of the Archaeological Survey of Nubia, which aimed to document the threatened monuments in that part of the Nile Valley.

To understand the functioning of these structures and actors, and the networks in which they operated, it is vital to study the discourse of the time. Here, political, economic, religious, and scholarly discourses are deeply intertwined. For instance, the positivist emphasis on ‘progress’ could express itself in terms of economic, technological, and moral development, but also in terms of an expected evolution of human culture.

This symposium on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs aims to cast wide open the discussion between modern historians and Egyptologists, and to take stock of two centuries of political, economic, and scientific entanglement in Egypt. It is organised by the EOS project ‘Pyramids and Progress: Belgian Expansionism and the Making of Egyptology 1830–1952’, a collaboration between egyptologists and historians of KU Leuven, UGent, ULB, the Royal Museum of Mariemont, and the Royal Museums of Arts and History (

We sincerely hope that the symposium can be held on location in the Palace of the Academies in Brussels, with a live audience. However, in case the COVID-19 crisis renders this impossible, we will organise an online alternative.

Twitter: @Egyptology_PP and #pyramidsprogress2021

If you have any remarks or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Contact Info:

Twitter: @Egyptology_PP and #pyramidsprogress2021