Displaying Egypt

Visitors in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, British Museum

Annual Egyptological Colloquium 2018
British Museum, London, 19-20 July 2018

The British Museum has displayed Egyptian objects since 1759, from a variety of typological, thematic and chronological perspectives. The current galleries reflect approaches from 1979 (the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery) to 2014 (Early Egypt). Temporary exhibitions, starting with the first UK blockbuster, Tutankhamun (1972), have allowed more experimental, nuanced and/or focused presentations, but also displays that diverge from the typically separate treatment of pharaonic, “Coptic” and “Islamic” Egypt, such as Faith after the Pharaohs (2014-15).

We are now considering how Egypt will be displayed in the next generation of British Museum galleries, prompting this colloquium that aims to gather those researching how Egypt – of all periods – has been represented and interpreted for audiences through displays across the world, both in museums and beyond.

The representations of Egypt in public displays have, to varying degrees, reflected collecting/acquisition histories, disciplinary/institutional distinctions, historical/political/social contexts, aesthetic/design trends, economic drivers and audience expectations. Such displays have in turn helped inform and shape perceptions of Egypt past and present. Despite the growing focus on histories of Egyptology, and the study of Egypt and its heritage within the context of colonial and post-colonial histories, the subject of Displaying Egypt remains one rich with potential for further discussion and research.

Papers addressing the following questions are sought, using appropriate examples and case studies.

  • • How have displays of artefacts and human remains shaped perceptions and conceptions of Egyptian history and culture for different audiences?
  • • How have collecting and acquisition histories informed displays? Conversely, in what way have display requirements/desires shaped acquisition policies?
  • • To what extent have displays reflected and shaped research on Egypt? How have these displays echoed or informed debates on polychromy in past cultures? Furthermore, how has the non-display/storage of certain artefacts influenced research on, and perceptions of, Egypt?
  • • How have distinctive settings – national, local, institutional – shaped displays of Egypt? For what aims were such displays created?
  • • How have various contexts – such as colonialism/postcolonialism, or social, visual and design trends – influenced displays?
  • • How has display of material culture within Egypt changed over time, and how have foreign displays of Egypt been perceived within Egypt?
  • • How do displays of Egypt relate to, or diverge from, approaches to other cultures/regions?

The colloquium will not focus solely on pharaonic Egypt, and contributions relating to displays of more recent material are encouraged. Papers that integrate art, photography, film, theatre, music, architecture and other media displayed in public spaces are also welcome, and it is hoped that presenters might include (but not be limited to) Egyptologists, curators and other museum staff, historians, museologists, designers and artists.

This call seeks submissions for papers (in English, 25min) that consider the above themes. Submissions will be assessed by a colloquium committee (listed to right). Confirmed speakers will be asked to pre-circulate papers amongst speakers and respondents in advance of the colloquium.

In addition to papers, we also welcome submissions for posters on the same themes, or that present new/planned display projects, approaches and exhibitions relating to Egypt that would complement the presentations and discussions. The programme will include time dedicated to the presentation and discussion of these posters. A keynote lecture will take place on the evening of 19 July.

This open call will close on 30 November 2017. Submissions should be emailed to Ms. Eirini Koutsouroupa (ekoutsouroupa@britishmuseum.org), with name, institutional affiliation, title, an abstract of 100 words and one image. Applicants will be informed of the outcome in early 2018. Travel bursaries will be available to support some participants’ attendance. It is intended that the colloquium will result in a publication.

Dense display of faience objects in the ‘Fifth Egyptian Room’ at the British Museum, around 1922. Photographic print in album, AES Ar.707

Sunlight streaming into the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery at the British Museum, around 1920. Photograph by C.F. Hogkins (?). Framed photographic print, AES Ar.2073.

Colloquium committee

  • Neal Spencer
    Keeper of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum
  • William Carruthers
    Postdoctoral Fellow, German Historical Institute, London
  • Stephanie Moser
    Professor of Archaeology, University of Southampton
  • Alice Stevenson
    Senior Lecturer in Museum Studies, University College London
  • John Taylor
    Assistant Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum
  • Patricia Usick
    Visiting Academic, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum