History is always subjective. When we interpret an object and seek to tell its stories it is shaped by our view of the world, our lived experience and often tinted by prevailing views at that moment in time. The fascination with, and mythologising of, Egyptology became popular as the British Empire expanded. Wealthy, usually White, male European archaeologists excavated, and sometimes robbed ancient tombs and returned their finds to England.
Many expedition leaders exploited Egyptian workers during the archaeological digs, and bought and sold objects gained through unethical means, or financed their digs using wealth generated by the British Empire. Museums across Britain contain artefacts obtained during this time, and it is often difficult to ascertain the exact circumstances these objects came into a museum’s collection, further complicating the story.
The objects in this learning resource are all from people’s graves. They can tell us a lot about how people in ancient Egypt lived, what they believed and what they thought was important. The original owners never anticipated we would be looking at them now, making assumptions about their lives and telling stories about them in a country thousands of miles away, and a time period thousands of years in the future. This resource and others focusing on ancient Egypt, aim to try and hear their voices through the objects they left behind, rather than continue to perpetuate the myths surrounding ancient Egypt.
- To find all the learning resources on this theme, type ‘Egypt’ into the search bar.
Aspects to Consider
When introducing the topic to your pupils, you might like to consider:
- Centring Egypt as an African civilisation.
- Where is it in relation to the rest of Africa, rather than just Europe?
- How does this change the framing of the topic?
- What does this mean for the pupils in your class?
- Placing Egypt as a country today in relation to its history – not all Egyptian history happened 3000 years ago!
- How does this shift pupils’ perspectives about other people in the world?
- Does this make the topic more relevant, active and live, rather than passive and ‘in the past’?
- Viewing ancient Egyptian people not just through their death and funerary rites (which adds to the mythologising of the past), but as living humans through their daily life and objects, which our sister resource, 'Ancient Egypt, Objects from Daily Life' can help with.
- Asking challenging questions of the class – should we return objects to their country of origin if we can't be certain they were collected ethically?
- What are the arguments either way?