October Lecture Series (Virtual)

Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Holy Land in Victorian Popular Culture
October 21st, 6:30 pm- 8:00 pm

Kevin McGeough, Professor
Board of Governor’s Research Chair in Archaeological Theory and Reception
Co-Editor, Alberta Archaeological Review 
Department of Geography & Environment (Archaeology)
University of Lethbridge

As European and North American archaeologists began exploring the Middle East in the Nineteenth Century, reports of their archaeological discoveries were widely reported in the periodical press, which itself had exploded with popularity as literacy became more widespread. Excitement over these discoveries was widespread and Egypt, the Holy Land, and Mesopotamia came to be invoked across Victorian culture. Architects and designers created new forms based on ancient models (beyond Greek and Roman styles that had long been typical). The world’s fairs and Crystal Palace juxtaposed ancient cultures with contemporary technology, helping to fit the Middle East into Victorian progress narratives. Traveling exhibits allowed people to not only see actual artifacts but engage with actors dressed up as biblical figures. Stage productions showcased ancient life in opera and theatre, where doomed romances played out amongst the ruins of Babylon. Novelists invented “mummy stories” and archaeological adventure stories that are still read today. Painters created visually realistic but highly imaginary renderings of antiquity. Secret societies saw themselves as connected to the ancient world and created new rituals based on their imaginings of ancient ones. Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Holy Land were invoked through these popular culture forms and others as means of thinking about a variety of issues that concerned the Victorians. The seeming faded glory of Egypt raised fears of the collapse of modern society. Uncertainties surrounding new technologies were eased by evidence that such changes have always been part of human life. Relationships with “others” in a newly globalizing society were mediated through consideration and contestations surrounding a shared world past. Throughout this talk, Dr. McGeough will explore how many of these issues were examined through the presentation of the ancient Middle East in popular culture. He will show how many of these genre forms for imagining the ancient world are still invoked in representations today and how Victorian issues still lurk beneath many of the ways we think about Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Holy Land.

Link to register with the Calgary Public Library https://calgarylibrary.ca/events-and-programs/programs/ancient-egypt-mesopotamia-and-the-holy-land-in-victorian-popular-culture/