Encountering Egyptian Mummies, 1753-1858
thesisposted on 05.03.2018, 13:29 by Angela Stienne
The Egyptian mummy poses something of a conundrum to researchers in museum studies. The mummy is familiar, and yet the history of its insertion into European culture and scientific Egyptology remains largely unmapped. In recent decades, human remains have entered conversations regarding their retention and display in museums. The Egyptian mummy had been largely ignored until, recently, several museums removed some specimens from display. The question remains: how can museums negotiate the Egyptian mummy, both object and human remains? This thesis examines the cultures of participation with Egyptian mummies in London and Paris between 1753 and 1858, with a view to understanding who collected and studied these objects, and what they meant to them. This research produces a cultural history which grounds stories of encounters and engagements with Egyptian mummies within their contemporary intellectual and cultural contexts. It contends that a cultural history of the Egyptian mummy is an ethical lens to look at the mummy as a category of object that poses a set of questions. This thesis argues that the Egyptian mummy was a multi-faceted object, embedded in cultural and intellectual debates, on collecting, the body, and race. This thesis re-evaluates physical interventions on mummies (including dissections and unrollings) and argues that these practices must be considered within their wider contexts. This thesis contributes a new lens to look at the Egyptian mummy in contexts, and in doing so, offers a new interpretation of the mummy as a cultural object. This historical research allows further reflection on the presence of human remains in museums, and contends that museums can only assess the value, responsibility, and ethics of their Egyptian human remains collections through an in-depth study of the history of modern engagements with the Egyptian mummy – as both object and human remains.