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Projet – Egypopcult Project. Digital Humanities, Egyptology and Reception Studies in the University of Lisbon

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

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  • 1 We understand ‘egyptomania’ here in a broad sense, as a revival of the ancient Egyptian in contempo (...)

1For decades, within the vast bibliographical repertoire dedicated to ‘Egyptomania’, numerous monographs and scientific articles have compiled and analysed the most significant architectural, sculptural, pictorial, audiovisual and literary testimonies of this movement, mostly from a purely Western perspective.1 By way of example, these works abound with mentions of buildings such as the Cinéma Le Louxor in Paris (1920) or Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles (1922), as well as Egyptianized funerary monuments in cemeteries all over Europe. The influence on nineteenth-century painting and their particular vision of ancient Egypt, largely made ‘exemplary’ by the canvases of Jean-Louis Gérome and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, among others, are also the subject of much comment. Meanwhile, in the field of popular culture, there are also frequent academic studies of some of the most representative works of Egyptomania in Victorian and Edwardian British literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or the great cinematic blockbusters of classical Hollywood from the 1950s onwards. From this scholarly reflection on the revival of the ancient Egyptian in contemporary times, however, the numerous cultural products from geographical areas such as Asia, Africa or Latin America are often excluded. Moreover, there is little mention in academic research of works of popular culture from the last 50 years, as well as the testimonies provided by TV series, video and analogue games, comic books and others.

2To remedy these limitations and systematize the enormous number of sources available for the research on cultural reception of ancient Egypt, the Center for History of the University of Lisbon is hosting, from March 2023 and for part of 2024 the project, ‘Ich mache mir die (ägyptische) Welt, wie sie mir Gefällt’. Current Conceptions and Ideas on Egyptology and Popular Culture abbreviated to Egypopcult. This initiative is pioneering as it is the first academic research project on contemporary popular culture and Egyptology to be funded by a public institution worldwide, in this case the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture.

3The very premise of Egypopcult as an academic project that also includes the general public–which consumes the products of popular culture and to a large extent determines the precise fashions and trends in this respect–justifies the configuration of a broad team that takes into account the plurality of approaches to the documentation analysed. Thus, the members and collaborators of the project include Egyptologists, historians of the classical world, specialists in film analysis, literature, cultural studies, art historians, philologists, museologists… but also popular culture enthusiasts (readers, spectators, and players). Equally original is the inclusion in this team not only of those who analyse and consume popular culture, be they scholars or amateurs, but also of those in charge of producing it, i.e. the creators, such as cartoonists or writers.

4The outputs of the project are based on the collaborative dialogue between the different members and collaborators of the team. Firstly, since the beginning of 2023, Egypopcult has set up a worldwide network of researchers and enthusiasts of Egyptianized popular culture. In this way, it promotes the holding of scientific events in different countries, mainly in the form of conferences and seminars, in online and hybrid mode. These activities also include interventions in educational programs in different universities, with the aim of integrating popular culture in the field of university teaching. In terms of dissemination to the general public, this is mainly developed through the dissemination of content on the project’s website (under construction), on social networks (Instagram, Facebook, X), the creation of content through videos on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram or participation in radio interviews and newspapers in different countries.2

5Secondly, the website of the Egypopcult project will include a database on ancient Egypt in popular culture, focusing on six specific areas: films, TV series, literature, comic books, video and analogue games. In this database, scholars seeking sources for their ongoing academic research, as well as amateurs and the general public, will find a vast compilation of works in which the different members of the Egypopcult project team and network describe and analyse the narratives or simple Egyptian motifs embedded in their plots.

6The chronological scope of the products included in our database is clearly delimited to avoid repeating the same items already included in other academic initiatives related to Egyptomania, past and ongoing. Thus, we will focus on works from the fields listed between the mid-19th century and the present day, i.e. almost two centuries of Egyptianized popular culture.

7In the design of the database, which uses a Wordpress content management system, we wanted to prioritize simple and intuitive engagement by users. We also sought to establish a fluid navigation between the different constituent parts of the database, with various search tools: by titles, by authors and by combining the tags that define each work. In the latter case, for example, the academic user or simple spectator/reader/player can access in a single search all the works whose protagonist is Cleopatra VII (Tag 1), in American cinema (Tag 2), from the ’30s and ’60s of the 20th century (Tag 3), in a total of 11 films. Furthermore, in the description and analysis of the Egyptomania present in each work in the database, interaction between the users and the writers of the texts (members and collaborators of the project) is sought through both the exchange of comments that enrich the texts and the application of various gamification strategies, mainly based on rating the texts using a scale of points or stars that express the degree of satisfaction of the user.

8Thirdly, the Egypopcult project published a monograph containing the research results of most of the scientific members and other invited authors: How Pharaoh Became Media Stars. Ancient Egypt and Popular Culture (December 2023), published by Archaeopress Oxford. The monograph is structured in five parts: the first is devoted to concepts and perspectives on popular culture and ancient Egypt; the second deals with literature, focusing on the works of authors such as Terry Pratchett, Pauline Gedge and Marie Corelli; the third is mainly devoted to the seventh art, with analyses of Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1997), Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), and the more recent Gods of Egypt (Alex Proyas, 2016) and Immortel (ad vitam) (Enki Bilal, 2004); the internet and social networks are addressed in the next two parts, with studies on Assassin’s Creed Origins and World of Darkness, as well as an analysis of the Egyptomania disseminated through the TikTok network; the last section includes the testimony of a fiction author, Jesús Cañadas, who explains some of the influences that popular culture has brought to the creative process of his novel El ojo de Nefertiti (The Eye of Nefertiti, 2018).

9Finally, Egypopcult is organizing an international conference on popular culture and Antiquity that will take place at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lisbon from 24 to 26 January 2024. This event will present the works in progress of many researchers in different disciplines, who will come together for three days, turning the University of Lisbon into a place for debate and learning about the various themes included in the vision of Antiquity offered by contemporary popular culture. A tutorial session is also scheduled, during which BA, MA or PhD students will be able to receive methodological and content guidance from a committee of experts. It will be possible to attend the conference both in person and via zoom3.

10In short, the period of application of the Egypopcult project will help to test the validity of this type of subject matter in academic research centred on Egyptology. While in the case of other disciplines, this relationship between popular culture and history has been academically accepted for several decades, as in the case of the classical world and the Middle Ages, in Egyptology this type of study is still considered of little relevance. We hope that projects such as Egypopcult and others that will come to light in the coming years will change this, in our opinion, mistaken perception and take advantage of the enormous potential of a field that has so far been scarcely addressed.

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Notes

1 We understand ‘egyptomania’ here in a broad sense, as a revival of the ancient Egyptian in contemporary arts and cultural manifestations. The designation itself is undergoing a thorough revision. In this respect, see mainly Versluys M.J. (ed.) 2020, Beyond Egyptomania. Objects, Style and Agency, Berlin–Boston.

2 The various platforms on which content is made available are listed here: https://linktr.ee/egypopcultlisboa [accessed in December 2023].

3 Program: https://chul.letras.ulisboa.pt/eventos-detalhe.php?p=1013.

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Abraham I. Fernández Pichel, « Projet – Egypopcult Project. Digital Humanities, Egyptology and Reception Studies in the University of Lisbon »Frontière·s [En ligne], 9 | 2023, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2023, consulté le 21 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/frontieres/2011 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/frontieres.2011

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Auteur

Abraham I. Fernández Pichel

Postdoctoral researcher, Faculty member, Centro de História, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Lisboa

This work is financed by national funds through FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P, in the scope of the project FCT 2022.07095.PTDC. DOI: http://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.54499/2022.07095.PTDC

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