Guest Blog: Ancient Egypt at Harvard: A Professor’s View

Der Manuelian 

Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology 

Way back around the Third Dynasty, I was an undergraduate at Harvard. This was before cell phones, the Internet, electricity. Okay, we had electricity. But even in those days, I was obsessed with Egyptology, the study of the civilization of the pharaohs. I arm-twisted my professor, who seemed to know every ancient language ever devised by man, into creating a special concentration within the Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC). You see, Harvard had no formal Egyptology major. This was strange, because the University had made one of the greatest contributions to the field ever: the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, an archaeological dig that from 1905 to 1947 excavated no less than twenty-three different sites along the Nile, in both Egypt and Nubia (ancient Sudan). “Harvard Camp” was the name of the dig house, located just west of the famous Giza Pyramids, outside of modern Cairo. As a result, ancient masterpieces, statues and inscriptions, expedition archives, human skeletal remains, and objects of daily life started arriving in Boston, where they filled the galleries and storerooms at the Museum of Fine Arts, and at Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

After a seventy-year hiatus since those glory days, Harvard has once again taken up the cause of Egyptology, and I am pleased to be the first holder of the new Philip J. King Professorship of Egyptology, in both the NELC and Anthropology Departments. So once again there are courses in Egyptian hieroglyphs, archaeology seminars on selected Egyptian sites, and classes in ancient Egyptian literature in translation. One course that I greatly enjoy is the undergraduate introductory survey called “Pyramid Schemes: The Archaeological History of Ancient Egypt.” We explore the many millennia of ancient Egyptian civilization, tour the Pyramids and temples of Giza virtually in a special visualization room complete with 3D glasses, visit the outstanding Egyptian galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts, and create short iMovie videos on different ancient Egyptian research topics. This Gen Ed (General Education) course (Societies of the World 38) has a video “trailer;” just click this link http://www.generaleducation.fas.harvard…. if you want to check it out (President Faust makes a cameo appearance). Freshmen are most welcome.


We are looking forward to the growth of ancient Egyptian scholarship at Harvard. For example, the Giza Archives Project ( is a great way for students of all ages to get involved in a real-world archaeological technology project, and there may one day be new Egyptian fieldwork opportunities sponsored by the University. Believe it or not, the original HU–MFA Expedition left a lot of work unfinished, so come join us.

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1 comment

  1. Matt’s avatar

    The Giza Archives Project truly is a great opportunity for students.

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