Ancient Egypt and Public History: Connections? By Callie Lopeman

13 Mar

For most people, including many historians, ancient history is an irrelevant time so far in the past that it is no longer important for the people of today; interesting to watch a few History Channel shows on but not anything that actually matters.

The Sphinx, Photo by Callie Lopeman

However, I firmly believe that there is so much that can be learned and taught from ancient history. Upon closer examination, it is easy to see that ancient civilizations are the window to the actual development of society and the cultural roots of the human race.

In the beginning, the entire population of an area would have been consumed with farming as the necessary component to survival. Then, as farming methods became more effective, there would have been extra food, meaning that everyone no longer had to farm to survive. Because of this, some people would have become more important and some societal stratification began to occur. During this early time, the roots of traditions and rituals that are later vital to the culture can already be seen developing. Then, as time and the society advance, these rituals also grow and shape the foundations of the belief, moral and political systems of that civilization.

Deir el Bahri, Photo by Callie Lopeman

By looking at ancient civilizations as a connecting tool between the prehistoric and our own society, it is possible to see humanity’s progression from simple farmers to a diverse and complex society which, in many cases, has directly influenced our own culture. It is this ability to actually watch the cultural growth of humanity and the later interconnections in ancient civilizations through trade and military force is what has long interested me in history.

So, what does all of this have to do with public history? How do ancient trade routes and farming techniques matter to the relatively new field of public history? First of all, because ancient civilizations WERE ancient and therefore thousands of years ago, there is really only one good way to learn anything about them: archaeology. This involves excavating sites to reveal the ancient structures there and collecting artifacts to learn more about the culture. These artifacts are the greatest connection between ancient civilizations and public history because the artifacts go from the archaeological site to a museum. The museum then puts them on display to educate the public on the civilization from whence they came.

Karnak Temple, Photo by Callie Lopeman

Another way that ancient civilizations have become connected to public history is that when these archaeological sites and artifacts are found, books are then published to inform the public of the findings.

Okay, the importance of ancient civilizations and their relevance to public history has now been established, but why do I care? First, I care because this is what fascinates me. It always has and probably always will. The ancient past is still filled with holes, mysteries that only discovery in the field can solve. Although much of the past is lost forever, it is some of these holes that I hope to fill. While I plan to get my PhD in Egyptology, the time that I plan to study is the Roman occupation of Egypt. This is an area that has largely been ignored by scholars in the past, so I hope to be able to shed more light on an otherwise fairly uninvestigated time in ancient history.

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Posted by on March 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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