Ancient Artifacts, Modern Power: W.K. Simpson, the Yale Peabody Museum, and the Use of Archaeology as Foreign Relations, 1950–75

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 4:30 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Alicia Cunningham-Bryant, Temple University
The current pervasive western fascination with ancient Egypt is something fifty years in the making, the result of a purposefully designed, marketed, and mythologized PR campaign begun by the Egyptian government in 1955 that sought to support the creation of an infrastructure for the newly liberated United Arab Republic. While the instigating factor may have been the Aswan High Dam, the result of Egyptian, UNESCO and foreign cooperation, was an established and propagated international curiosity which continues to make tourism central for the economy of the Republic of Egypt.

            In keeping with the Eisenhower doctrine and the concepts of economic and cultural suasion, from 1952 to 1975 the United States government sought to combat communism in the Middle East by fostering ties with the United Arab Republic via the UNESCO Nubian Salvage Campaign and the organization and funding of the first two Tutankhamun exhibits. While later descriptions, biographies, and books on American involvement in the UNESCO campaign focus on the centrality of ancient Egypt to the intellectual heritage of humankind and the friendship between Egypt and the United States, evaluation of correspondence between the two countries demonstrates a consciously subtle implementation of American foreign policy. The policy, rather than being made public, was purposefully re-branded in order to make Egypt the benefactor and friend of the United States, therefore encouraging U.S. economic support of the Republic.

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