The Western perception of ancient Egypt: the discovery, spectacle and exposition of King Tutankhamun

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Authors
Bell, Tonisha S.
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Price, Jay M., 1969-
Issue Date
2017-12
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Thesis
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Since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, Western nations such as France, Britain, and the United States have displayed Egyptian antiquities as an exotic spectacle, creating the image of ancient Egypt that is known today. Orientalist attitudes shaped exhibitions and museum displays that portrayed ancient Egypt as a place of gilded, strange trinkets, while monuments such as obelisks were taken as trophies and mummies were treated as objects rather than human remains. Even the field of Egyptology emerged outside of Egypt from the creation of Western scholars who thought that they not only understood Egypt on a deeper level than the Egyptians themselves but also assumed that they could preserve the antiquities better. The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun offered a chance to rethink this Orientalist image. However, from the first newspaper headlines in the 1920s to the first traveling exhibitions of some of the artifacts, the tomb of King Tut continued to be presented in Orientalist terms. While Egyptology became more sensitive and thoughtful about ancient Egypt, the general public continued to see ancient Egypt as a land of exotic, strange objects and odd burial practices. These issues were most apparent in the Tutankhamun traveling exhibition that showed in a handful of major museums in the United States. The tours began to bring large public audiences into the museum scene that had once was seen as something that only appealed to an elite crowd of enthusiasts. These tours set new standards for the treatment of the Egyptian antiquities as well as the limiting view of an Egypt to a tiny span of interesting or glamorous years as opposed to its actual long three-thousand-year history. The methods of displaying Egypt under the aesthetic approach, seemed to have been the successful model for an Egyptian exhibit, but also set standards that later exhibitions struggled to achieve.

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Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of History
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Wichita State University
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