Tea with the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt and the Modern Imagination

On 23 and 24 September, we held a conference at the University of Birmingham entitled ‘Tea with the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt and the Modern Imagination’.

This event, generously supported by the Past & Present Society, the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures, the British Association for Victorian Studies, the British Association for Romantic Studies, and the English Department at the University of Birmingham, sought to interrogate the ‘waves’ of Egyptomania stimulated since Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, which saw the history and iconography of ancient Egyptian civilisation drawn upon for all varieties of purposes

The conference itself was opened by Chris Naunton, whose keynote paper ‘The Popular vs. the Scientific in Egyptology’ emphasised the importance of popularisers over the course of the development of the Egyptological discipline, largely held to have begun at the outset of the nineteenth century. Naunton focused in particular on the founding and development of the Egypt Exploration Society (originally titled the Egypt Exploration Fund), and its work up until the present day, as well as its priorities for research (and these priorities’ relationship with funding bodies and the general public).Particularly intriguing was Naunton’s discussion of the Amarna excavations which had been filmed by John Pendlebury; this footage not only recorded the dig, but featured scenes of the Egyptologists involved in games, showcasing the work and play that was taking place in Egypt at the time.