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Harvard To Acquire First Egyptology Professor in Decades

By James K. McAuley and Julia L. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

After years dedicated to shedding light on the work of the late Harvard Egyptology Professor George A. Reisner, Class of 1889, Peter D. Manuelian ’81 will become the first egyptology professor at Harvard since his predecessor’s death 68 years ago.

Manuelian, currently an egyptology lecturer at Tufts, will be the first person to fill the Philip J. King Professorship, which was established in the fall of 2006 to support the study of ancient civilizations.

The professorship’s search committee specifically sought an egyptology scholar to fill the position, according to Classics Professor Christopher P. Jones, who headed the search.

Ancient Egypt is an important academic area due to its ties to Biblical, Mediterranean, and particularly African histories, Jones said.

“It is very important that Africa should be a part of what everyone thinks about the modern world,” Jones said. “And Egypt is a major African civilization—probably the best known.”

Though Harvard offers the occasional course related to ancient Egyptian history, it has not had an egyptology professor since 1942, when Reisner died during an excavation in Giza, Egypt.

Reisner, one of the foremost authorities on ancient Egypt, left much work unpublished when he died.

As the director of the Giza Archives Project at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston—a Web-based initiative that aims to “assemble and link” the world’s archaeological information on the Egyptian Pyramids—Manuelian has worked to publish Reisner’s findings from the period between 1910 and 1940.

Manuelian, who hopes to engage students in the project, wrote in an e-mailed statement that he is “very excited” about the potential synergy between Harvard and the MFA—“with Giza work progressing on both sides of the Charles River (and eventually along the Nile!).”

“Harvard has a spectacular legacy of archaeological fieldwork in Egypt from the first half of the twentieth century,” Manuelian said. “I am very excited that the University has chosen to revive its commitment to the study of ancient Egypt.”

Archaeology concentrator Jordan E. Osborn ’12, currently taking a course on hieroglyphics, said she eagerly awaits the opportunity to take more classes about ancient Egypt.

“Egyptology is the epitome of archaeology,” Osborn said. “It is central to the development of [archaeology] as a science.”

—Staff writer James K. McAuley can be reached at

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at

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Humanities Division