Digging for Diversity in Egyptology: Assessing the “Lost” Arabic Diaries of the Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Excavations in Egypt and Sudan, 1913–1947

Peter Manuelian, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The field of Egyptology is at the forefront of the crisis in the humanities, facing challenges in relevance to current public and intellectual discourse, including contemporary racial and social justice movements. But 2022 presents a unique opportunity for reassessments since we mark both the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (1922) and the bicentenary of the decipherment of hieroglyphs (1822). We can now raise awareness about the role of Indigenous communities in Egyptian archaeology, thanks to the rediscovery of a unique collection of 74 Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts excavation diaries written in Arabic. These books were authored by a complex and, until now, poorly documented network of highly skilled archaeological excavators, employed by the HU-MFA expedition, from the town of Quft in southern Egypt, and therefore called “Quftis.” No other collection of known source material holds the same potential as the HU-MFA Arabic diaries for an effective intervention in the history of Egyptology, capable of realigning the discipline with issues of contemporary significance in academia and society. We hope to bring diverse colleagues together—from Egypt, Europe, and the US—in late spring or early summer 2023 to discuss and assess the best way forward to make these diaries accessible to the world community. Possible outcomes, with the eventual collaboration of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (which houses the diaries), include an interactive website loaded with annotation and social network analysis tools, scholarly and popular publications, and perhaps even a small exhibition.