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Cultural and Racial Anthropology in Stone

Jan 01, 2019 — Mar 31, 2022

Photographic recording of ancient Egyptian representations of humans and the ethnohistorical cartography of the ancient world in the 19th and early 20th century

The planned research will investigate the production, circulation and interpretation history of photographs of ancient representations of humans in ancient studies and life sciences scholarship of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and will inquire into the epistemic function of the photographs. Assuming that the physical appearance of the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean region and the Middle East could be directly derived from the monuments of Ancient Egypt, archaeologists and anthropologists produced cartographies of ethnic and racial history, associating the ancient representations of humans with modern populations. The research will focus on the self-evidence of the photographs in this context, or rather, the creation of self-evidence using photographs.

Two photographic archaeological expeditions, separated by a period of about 25 years, provide both point of departure and fulcrum for the analysis: the 1886/87 research voyage by the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie Racial Photographs from the Egyptian Monuments and the 1912/13 Expedition nach Ägypten zur Erforschung der Darstellungen der Fremdvölker organised by Eduard Meyer, the German ancient historian. Whereas earlier copies and photographs of ancient human representations had not been made specifically for the purpose of identifying peoples or anthropological interpretation, these two expeditions did set out to serve just those purposes. A dense description of the two expeditions that relates them to the technological and methodological advances and ideological beliefs that made them possible will enable the contexts of the production and use of individual photographs to be traced from the time the photographs were taken through to their circulation in publications of the late 19th and early 20th century.

To permit an understanding of the epistemic assumptions that underlay these expeditions, the research will place the images’ claims to self-evidence in a broader history-of-knowledge context, reconstructing the history, from the early 19th century onwards, of the racial anthropological reading of relevant objects. The visual positivism on which the interpretations are based will require particular attention in this context, as will the typological function ascribed to the ancient human representations. It will also be necessary to consider the emerging doubts about the racial anthropological reading: after all, the images of ancient depictions of human beings were no longer able to developing unqualified self-evidence in certain contexts in the early 20th century.

Institution: Intitute of Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Projekt Directors: PD Dr. Felix Wiedemann; Prof. Dr. Eva-Cancik-Kirschbaum 
Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Duration: 01.01.2019 - 31.12.2021