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Title: Egyptomania  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Art repatriation, Cultural history of the United States, Hibernophile, Hispanophile, Armenophile
Collection: Ancient Egypt in the Western Imagination, Cultural History of the United States
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


"Evolution of Civilization" a portion of the mural by Edwin Blashfield (1895) above the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. The image suggests a special relationship between Egypt as the first and America as the latest "civilization."[1]

Egyptomania was the renewed interest of Europeans in ancient Egypt during the nineteenth century as a result of Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign (1798–1801) and, in particular, as a result of the extensive scientific study of ancient Egyptian remains and culture inspired by this campaign. In addition to its aesthetic impact on literature, art and architecture, it also played a role in the discussion about race, gender and national identity. Egyptomania is of particular importance to American culture because of the way in which the example of ancient Egypt served to create a sense of independent nationhood during the nineteenth century.[2] However, Egypt has had a significant impact on the cultural imagination of all Western Cultures.[3]


  • Culture 1
  • Science 2
  • Race and national identity 3
  • Notes and references 4
  • References and further reading 5
  • External links 6


The famous Obelisk (Washington Monument) in Washington, D.C.
Since the early nineteenth century, the fascination with ancient Egypt seems to have affected every field of American culture. Some of the most important areas of culture influenced by Egyptomania are literature, architecture, art, film, politics and religion. There were two important waves of Egyptomania in the nineteenth century, especially in arts and design, which were both caused by publications about Egypt that became very popular:[4] Vivant Denon, Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypt (1802), and the Institute of Egypt's Description de l'Egypte (1809). Because of these publications, people became more and more interested in Egyptian culture and everything related to it. Ancient Egyptian images and representations were integrated into a wide variety of cultural sectors. They influenced the fine arts not just in the United States, but throughout the western world. Examples of this are the pyramid of glass and steel in front of the Louvre or Verdi's famous Aida.
British caricature (1806)

Egyptian images and symbols also served for more trivial purposes, such as dessert services, furniture, decoration, commercial kitsch or even advertising.[4] There were parties and public events that had Egypt as a motto, where people wore special costumes. In general, people were fascinated by everything that had the label Egypt attached to it. And even today, this kind of fascination for Egypt and all things Egyptian still exists. Many different exhibitions about Egyptian culture in museums all over the world demonstrate people's continued interest in it.[5]

The Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a contemporary example for the enduring impact of Egyptian imagery.

Fascinated by Egyptian culture, American literature, visual art and architecture absorbed what was becoming general knowledge about ancient Egyptian culture, making use of this knowledge in the contemporary debate about national identity, race, and slavery. Certain characteristic elements of Egyptian culture became particularly symbolically charged. The

  •, a website devoted to covering all aspects of "Egyptomania" from both a scholarly and a popular perspective. Includes Bibliographies.
  • [1], a website devoted to covering all aspects of "Egyptomania"
  • American Egyptomania, a scholarly website maintained at George Mason University, under the guidance of Scott Trafton, the author of Egypt Land (2004). Focuses on expressions of Egyptomania in the United States starting in the early nineteenth century and includes excerpts from original documents.
  • Underwood & Underwood Egypt Stereoviews, a digital library collection maintained by the American University in Cairo Rare Books and Special Collections Library. The collection highlights Egyptomania in the late nineteenth century.

External links

  • Ater, Renee. "Making History: Meta Warrick Fuller's 'Ethiopia". American Art 17.3 (2003): 12-31.
  • Brier, Bob. Egyptomania. Brookville, NY: Hillwood Art Museum, 1992. ISBN 0-933699-26-3 (exhibition catalog)
  • Curl, James Stevens. Egyptomania: The Egyptian Revival, A Recurring Theme in the History of Taste. Manchester University Press, 1994. Manchester, UK; New York: Manchester University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-7190-4126-0
  • Draper, Theodore. The Rediscovery of Black Nationalism. New York: Viking Press, 1970. ISBN 0-670-59114-9
  • Gillman, Susan. "Pauline Hopkins and the Occult: African-American Revisions of Nineteenth-Century Sciences" In: American Literary History, Vol 8, No.1, spring 1996, pp. 57–82
  • Glaude, Eddie S. Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early Nineteenth-Century Black America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. ISBN 0-226-29819-1
  • Gruesser, John Cullen. Black on Black: Twentieth-Century African American Writing About Africa. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. ISBN 0-8131-2163-9
  • Humbert, Jean-Marcel, et al. Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art, 1730-1930. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1994. ISBN 0-88884-636-3 (Exhibition catalog: Paris, Musée Du Louvre, 20 January-18 April 1994; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 17 June-18 September 1994; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 16 October 1994-29 January 1995)
  • Howe, Stephen. Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes. London ; New York: Verso, 1998. ISBN 1-85984-873-7
  • Nelson, Dana D. National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men. Duke University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8223-2149-1
  • Perniola, Mario, Enigmas. The Egyptian Moment in Society and Art, translated by Christopher Woodall, preface to the English Edition by the author, London-New York, Verso, 1995.
  • Schueller, Malini Johar. U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. ISBN 0-472-10885-9
  • Trafton, Scott Driskell. Egypt Land: Race and Nineteenth-Century American Egyptomania. New Americanists. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8223-3362-7
  • Wallace, Maurice O. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775-1995. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8223-2854-2
  • Whitehouse, Helen. Review Article: "Egyptomanias"' In: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol 101, No.1, Jan 1997, pp. 158–161.

References and further reading

  1. ^ cf. Trafton 2004, 2.
  2. ^ cf. esp. Trafton 2004.
  3. ^ For a chronological overview of the impact of Egypt on the Western imagination since ancient Greece see Egypt in the Western imagination.
  4. ^ a b cf. Whitehouse
  5. ^ A prominent example, which also reflected upon the cultural meaning of this fascination, is the exhibition "Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art, 1730-1930" (Paris, Musée Du Louvre, 20 January – 18 April 1994; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 17 June – 18 September 1994; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 16 October 1994 – 29 January 1995). The exhibition catalog was published by The National Gallery of Canada in 1994 (Humbert et al.).
  6. ^ Trafton 2004:121-164
  7. ^ cf. Trafton 2004:124-126
  8. ^ cf. Trafton 2004:132-140
  9. ^ cf. Trafton 2004:126-129
  10. ^ a b cf. Nelson 1998
  11. ^ a b Ater, 2003.
  12. ^ cf. Nelson 1998.
  13. ^ For example, Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele's Race: The Reality of Human Differences (2004), a recent attempt to add academic credibility to the popular — but scientifically discredited — notion that "race" constitutes an essential rather than a culturally constructed human difference, uses Egypt in a similar way.

Notes and references

Going back to ancient Greek and Roman descriptions of Egyptians, Afrocentrist thinkers in the nineteenth century insisted that the Egyptians were black Africans, making it possible to provide an ancient and noble lineage that countered the degrading images proliferated by racist science and pro-slavery polemic. Prominent contributors to this debate include David Walker, James McCune Smith, Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois. Identifying with the enslaved Hebrews, African Americans had long used the biblical Exodus narrative to encode their right and desire for freedom, as the well-known spiritual "Go down, Moses" still testifies. David Walker's Appeal (1829) places this biblical story of liberation in tension with the assertion that the Pharaohs were black as well. The prominent black abolitionists James McCune Smith and Frederick Douglass countered white ethnography directly, as for example in Douglass' "Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered" (1854), drawing from findings of earlier European ethnologists such as James Prichard. At the turn of the 20th century, W. E. B. Du Bois shaped the concept of race and identity in yet another way by writing about the "double consciousness" of Africans in the "Diaspora", meaning the descendants of the slaves in the United States. This concept led to the twentieth century Black nationalist movements.

Scientists, historians and anatomists argue whether the Egyptians were white, black or hybrid (mixture of both). The argument draws on aspects such as wall paintings or the physique of mummies. [11] Historians have put forward three main hypotheses which clearly contradict each other.[13] that still rages today.controversy (1854), the culmination of American School racial thinking, contains a major chapter on the racial characteristics of the ancient Egyptians, starting a Types of Mankind [10]Egypt occupies a special location in-between historical and geographic regions: According to
Illustration from Types of Mankind, which shows a copy of an Egyptian wall painting used to show that there were different 'types' (or 'species') of humans as far back as ancient Egypt. Types uses this as support for its theory of polygenesis.

Race and national identity

[10] Another rather strange chapter of nineteenth century science that is relevant with regard to Egyptomania is

In the early nineteenth century natural science based on

Mummy of Ramesses II


(1998). U.S. Orientalism (2004) and M. J. Schueller’s Egypt Land) and its sequels demonstrate that ancient Egypt and the discovery of its secrets is still a powerful point of reference for contemporary western cultures. Important scholarly texts about this phenomenon in American culture include Scott Trafton’s 1932 Boris Karloff film (1999) (itself a remake of a The Mummy) in Washington, D.C. Movies such as Washington Monument (Obelisk in the United States. Well-known Egyptian images, forms and symbols were integrated in the contemporary style. This influence can best be seen in the architecture of cemeteries and prisons. Other examples of this influence are the Gold Pyramid House in Illinois or the famous neoclassicism, an important expression of Egyptian Revival. The impact of ancient Egyptian culture in architecture is called the Nathaniel Hawthorne by The Marble Faun or [9]Louisa May Alcott "Lost In A Pyramid Or The Mummy’s curse" by [8],E. A. Poe and deciphering, and the pyramid as maze and tomb are other examples of how ancient Egypt has been productive in the West, and specifically in the United States since the nineteenth century. Well-known literary works that make use of these symbolic references to Egypt include "Some Words With a Mummy" by hieroglyphic writing, Cleopatra The figure of [7]

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