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The enduring impact of Egypt on Western culture

The material and intellectual presence of Egypt is at the heart of Western culture, religion, and art from Antiquity to the present. In his book ‘Beyond Egyptomania. Objects, style and agency’, archaeologist Miguel John Versluys not only presents the Nachleben of Egypt as a major constituent of (European) cultural history - from the Iron Age until the present - but also shows how objects are central to the reception of Antiquity. ‘I worked on this book for about a decade.’

A radically object-oriented perspective

This carefully constructed edited volume aims to provide a long term and interdisciplinary perspective on Egypt and its mnemohistory, taking theories on objects and their agency as its main point of departure. 

The central questions the book addresses are why, from the first millennium BC onwards, things and concepts Egyptian are to be found in such a great variety of places throughout European history and how we can account for their enduring impact over time. By taking a radically object-oriented perspective on this question, this book is also a major contribution to current debates on the agency of artefacts across archaeology, anthropology and art history. 

Expert meetings

Professor Miguel John Versluys: ‘I worked on this book for about a decade, so I am very happy and proud that the volume is finally there. It is the result of an expert meeting held at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, in January 2016, that I organised together with Professor Caroline van Eck (then Leiden, now Cambridge) and Professor Pieter ter Keurs in the framework of the Material Agency Forum (MAF): an interdisciplinary podium for the study of material agency at the intersection of the disciplines of Art History, Archaeology and Anthropology, which the three of us initiated in 2014 and that was generously supported by the Leiden University Profile Area Global Interactions (LGI). 

The Leiden meeting in 2016 was the outcome of a long process of preparation though, initiated by an explorative workshop, prudently entitled Beyond Egyptomania?, which I organised together with the Royal Netherlands Institute (KNIR) in the city of Rome back in 2012. The “survival” of ancient Egyptian cultural forms beyond the realms of the Nile is a huge topic in terms of both chronology and subject matter. The Leiden symposium brought together, for the very first time, specialists from all these different periods and domains for discussion. All papers have been substantially revised after the Leiden meeting with the idea that, although dealing with different periods and different objects and subjects, they are in fact all in dialogue with one another.

This coherence is also made explicit by the contributions of in total four discussants, amongst which Archaeology professor David Fontijn and the new Leiden professor of Art History Stijn Bussels. Their critical evaluation, from different disciplinary perspectives, of the attempt in (material) mnemohistory that this book represents, I consider to be an enormous asset to the volume and the debate as a whole. The book is dedicated to the German cultural-historian Jan Assmann and will be presented to him, in Münich, later this year.’

More information

The volume was published in the prestigious series Studien aus dem Warburg-Haus. See the website of the publisher.

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