Egypt Returns to College Limelight As Professors Open New Research Center
Harvard returned to Egypt this week in the form of an American Research Center for archeology students and scholars.
William S. Smith '28, lecturer on Fine Arts, arrived in Cairo to begin work as director of the center which was founded two years ago by a group of Harvard archeologists with over 100 other scholars as sponsors.
The last University expedition left Egypt in 1946, when the Harvard camp--located behind the Great Pyramid of Giza, just eight miles from Cairo--was turned over to the Egyptian government. From 1902 to 1946 the camp was a site of important excavations around the pyramids.
The new project is similar to the American schools of study already established in Rome and Athens. From the beginning the American Research Center in Egypt was a Harvard program with its headquarters in Fogg Museum. Overseer Edward W. Forbes '95, the former director of Fogg, is president.
Smith will serve as a "middle man" or "clearing house" to aid archeologists--or students in other fields--who come to Egypt for the first time.
The expedition is partially financed by Smith's Fulbright grant to do research on the art of the Middle Kingdom--about 2,000 to 1,800 B. C. Last year at Harvard he gave the first course on Egyptian art in any American college.
From 1929 to 1939 Smith served off and on as an assistant to George A. Reisner '89, director of the Harvard camp. Reisner published three books on the Nile River civilizations, and Smith is carrying on the work. Sometime in 1952, the University Press will publish Smith's latest book on Queen Hetep-Hores, who was the mother of the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid.
The extensive Reisner camp included one or two American assistants and 15 to 20 natives who acted as house servants, guards, and even photographers. Sometimes Reisner hired up to 300 men when excavations were under way.
Both World Wars came close to the camp. Although in 1914 200,000 Turks were mobilized on the border of Egypt against the 3,000 English troops, Reisner "backed the British and sat tight." Australian soldiers encamped a mile north of the Harvard camp, and by January 1915 "the region was filled with troops."
In the Crossfire
During World War II the Germans came close to the camp, but never actually reached it. At the battle of El Alamein in 1942, the whole area was mined, and fortifications were set up. A year later Roosevelt and Churchill met at Menah House, a near-by hotel.
Scientists acclaimed Reisner as the "foremost explorer in the archeological field." He inaugurated a new era in scientific research with the publication of the techniques of his excavations. The days of "treasure hunting" by private fortune seekers had ended.
The College never contributed financially to the expedition, but merely gave Reisner leaves of absence. Under the agreement the University Press published the results of Reisner's research, while the Boston Museum of Fine Arts financed the trips and got the works of art.
Reisner first went to Egypt in 1897 as a commission from the Egyptian government. From then on his visits to Harvard were few and far between; "his courses were always announced, but seldom given."
On his death in 1942, the excavator left his entire library to Widener. When the librarians opened the cases that had come from Egypt, they found not erudite works on Egyptology, but a vast collection of detective stories.
Smith tells the tale of the late George Bernard Shaw visiting Reisner. For once Shaw's humor seemed to fall, "he seemed rather small himself when he tried to littling the pyramids."
The new center will carry on the Reisner tradition of the Harvard camp which Smith described as "a hospitable meeting place for all who had an interest in Egypt, ancient or modern."