Egyptology

by Robert K. Ritner                                                                                                                                                                                              Professor Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations & The Oriental Institute

The field of Egyptology covers languages and texts, political, social, economic and medical history, religion, archaeology, art and artifacts, from the Pre-Dynastic origins of Egyptian civilization (ca. 3400 BC) through the latest manifestations of the native culture predominant in Coptic Christianity (7th Century, with survivals to present) - a focal span of roughly 4 millennia.

At Chicago, Egyptology is at the heart of the Department of NELC, with our founder J. H. Breasted. The University of Chicago is the first home of the discipline in the Western hemisphere, and while there are now 10 universities in the US and Canada offering some manner of undergraduate or graduate programs in Egyptology (Yale, Brown, Penn, NYU, Univ. of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, Toronto, Emory, Memphis, and Michigan), The University of Chicago continues to dominate this speciality to the extent that virtually every professional Egyptologist in the Americas is either a graduate of Chicago, or the student of a Chicago graduate. The few exceptions are European scholars trained in England or Germany, but increasingly even European and Japanese Egyptologists are likely to have a Chicago connection. Publications and research tools provided by The University of Chicago continue to be fundamental for field research in every Egyptology program worldwide; examples include the completed Coffin Texts project, the ongoing Epigraphic Survey and Demotic Dictionary, and our innovative computer projects (Egyptian texts and language classes on line; an on line seminar regarding "Women in Ancient Egypt”; virtual museums for artifacts; the Directory of North American Egyptologists).

Instruction in Egyptology at The University of Chicago concentrates upon a thorough grounding in the skills necessary for understanding and interpreting the original data of this 4,000 year civilization: five languages phases -as discrete from one another as Old and Modern English (comprising Old Egyptian, Middle Egyptian, Late Egyptian, Demotic, and Coptic - with assorted dialects). Aside from linguistic and paleographical concerns, the student also examines a wide range of political, social, religious, economic, legal and medical documents from each of these phases. To these courses are added general historical surveys, and seminars on problems and methodology in Egyptian historiography. A critical component of this instruction has been the study of archaeology, art and architecture, giving a meaningful context to the theoretical discussions of texts and artifacts. Our art and archaeological component is offered by Nadine Moeller, who heads an ongoing excavation at the site of Edfu. Students who wish to concentrate specifically in Egyptian art and archaeology (as opposed to language) should note this in applications and review the guidelines for the Near Eastern Art and Archaeology program.

Egyptology at The University of Chicago has always engaged undergraduates and graduate students, majors, interested amateurs and returning scholars. For undergraduates, both a major and minor concentration are possible in Egyptology through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. All language instruction and history surveys are open to undergraduates. In rotation with other NELC selections, Egyptology regularly contributes to undergraduate Civ. sequences, offering, for example, “Women in Ancient Egypt” by Jan Johnson, and “Egyptian Religion and Magic” by myself.

Our current teaching faculty includes Jan Johnson, senior editor of the Chicago Demotic Dictionary and specialist in Egyptian philology, with further concentration in matters of gender studies as well as social and political history during the Persian and Ptolemaic Periods. The work of Brian Muhs focuses on economic and legal history for all periods of Ancient Egypt, with additional interest in ancient archives and the history of modern collections.  My own research extends beyond a concentration in Late Period languages (Late Egyptian, Demotic and Coptic) and history to diachronic studies of religious ritual, medicine, and most recently, native adaptation to multi-cultural influences during periods of foreign domination. A sample of issues examined by our faculty provides a window into the extraordinary interest and variety offered by Egyptology: the first condominium leases, prenuptial community property contracts entailing alimony, the first use of the pulse as a diagnostic criterion, the first ophthalmological exam with eyechart, the impact of dynastic squabbles upon construction projects, early evidence for banking and mythological influences upon Israel, Syria and Greece.

Chicago, Spring 2012

Course Requirements for the Ph.D. Program in Egyptology (PDF)

Egyptian Dissertation Guidelines (PDF)