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Creating Nubia: How Colonialism, Tourism, and Archaeology Made a Region, a Past, and a People

The lecture will be hosted on THURSDAY, 12 JANUARY 2023 AT 18:00 UTC+02

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—and on either side of Egypt’s 1922 ‘independence’—the building and heightening of the Aswan Dam under the oversight of British engineers (and sometimes Egyptian capital) radically altered the relationship of the region of Nubia to Egypt. Flooding Nubian settlements and causing the population to move their homes higher up the banks of the Nile, the dam’s increasingly high floodwaters constituted Nubia within imaginaries of (ancient) Egypt itself. Creating a land of picturesque ruin best viewed from the deck of a Nile steamer, the Aswan Dam not only made Nubia a region of touristic intervention, but also a landscape ripe for archaeological survey. This process, meanwhile, meant that Nubians themselves took on the form of the ethnographic ‘survival’: degenerate relics of a different time whose presence became at best secondary to relics themselves.

In this lecture, William Carruthers will illustrate how the imbrication of imperial engineering, national development, and archaeological survey created a region in which contemporary population became disaggregated from ancient past and touristic gaze shaped all in its image. As a result of that process, during the 1960s, archaeological and preservationist intervention again took place as construction of the Aswan High Dam began and Nubia flooded again: not only in newly independent Egypt, but also on the other side of the border in Sudan. Then, UNESCO promoted its ‘International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia’ as a universal good. It was a universal, however, that not only rested on earlier colonial intervention, but also made possible the elision of Nubians from the cross-border region forever.


The speaker

William Carruthers is Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Art History and World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia. He is the author of 'Flooded Pasts: UNESCO, Nubia, and the Recolonization of Archaeology' (Cornell University Press, 2022) and the editor of 'Histories of Egyptology: Interdisciplinary Measures' (Routledge, 2014). He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, and has held fellowships from, amongst others, the AHRC, Gerda Henkel Stiftung, and the Leverhulme Trust. 


The number of seats is limited. Our doors open at 5:30 and close at 6:15 or earlier in case the lecture room has reached its full capacity (out of safety considerations). 

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