Team EES

Gathering information and communicating it effectively is the very essence of what the EES does, and several of my previous posts have dealt with the ways in which we communicate with our various audiences (see e.g. ‘A new home(s)’). Ensuring that internal communication at the Society is as effective as possible is another priority of mine and will, I’m sure, be essential if we are to achieve our aims.

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The current EES staff team, L-R: Roo Mitcheson, Faten Saleh, Jo Kyffin, Patricia Spencer, me, Alice Williams and Rob Tamplin.

Opinions differ

As many of you will already know the Society has been undergoing a period of transition in the last few years. This has on occasion led to some very interesting, you might even say ‘robust’(!), discussions. These were necessary: in the weeks and months following the withdrawal of the British Academy grant we were forced to ask some very hard questions of the organisation: How can we continue to fund what we do? If we can’t continue in the same way how might we adapt? What opportunities does this offer for us to refine what we do for the 21st century?

Often we were forced to make some very difficult choices: should we do X or would it be better for us to do Y? As you might expect those of us who were involved didn’t always see eye to eye on all the issues. Asking these questions meant teasing out what the EES meant to all of us: What does the Society do? What is it for? What could, and indeed should, it be doing in future? Surprisingly perhaps, the answers were not always the same, even among those who had worked together at the Society on the Board, or the staff, or for our field teams. People held different views and often perhaps were not aware that theirs was not the only view. 

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‘Opinions differ amongst the staff!’: A frame from the 1930s Amarna film (see here) showing a staged argument between the team members – L-R: Stephen Sherman, John Pendlebury, H W Fairman, Ralph Lavers and Hilary Waddington. Perhaps some things never change!

With hindsight the lines of communication between all the many people involved were perhaps not always as good as they might have been. We have tried very hard to improve this in the last couple of years and in the last few months in particular. I want to ensure that everyone involved in the organisation is aware of what we are doing now and what our ideas are for the next few years. By ‘everyone’ I mean all those with a stake in the organisation: our members and other friends and supporters, and everyone working for us, on the Board, the staff – in London and Cairo – our field teams and the many others who are involved in research projects that are now at the post fieldwork stage. By continuing to improve communications we hope to ensure that everyone has the opportunity play a role in driving the organisation forward and to sign up to what we are trying to achieve, fully aware of what that is.

We have made good progress towards this in the last couple of months, with a series of carefully planned initiatives.

A visit to Egypt

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Jeff Spencer showing me the excavations at Kom el Daba.

First was my visit to our field teams in March which I wrote about in an earlier post (‘8 Days in Egypt’). While getting to know the teams a bit better I was pleased to see so much so much mixing of expertise from one team to the next: Angus Graham visited Jo Rowland at Quesna for a few days to help with the analysis of some drill core samples (see ‘Stuck in the Mud!’); Reis Omar Farouk lent his archaeological and logistical expertise to both Angus and Jo’s teams this Spring; geologist Ben Pennington transferred from Angus’ team at the end of their season to work with Penny Wilson; and of course Penny, and Jeff and Pat Spencer are long term collaborators on the Society’s Delta Survey, the umbrella under which they are working at their respective sites, and all enjoyed a very productive day field walking at Nashwein this year (see here). I hope that this mixing is helping the emphasise that every member or every one of our field teams is part of the one institution – the EES – and working towards a set of common goals, albeit through different projects, with their own distinct aims.

Field walking at Nashwein. L-R: Penny Wilson, Patricia and Jeff Spencer.

A gathering in London

Secondly, at the beginning of this month (June) we gathered the Field Directors together for a meeting at Doughty Mews and took the opportunity to ask them to present the results of their most recent work to a small group of our most generous supporters, and also, the following day, to the Trustees. I have made every effort to ensure that the latter are as well informed of what the organisation is doing as possible; it’s easy to take this for granted but the Trustees are all very busy people with numerous other commitments, and only meet six times a year. There has been a presumption in the past that Trustees will keep abreast of things by all the normal channels – EA, the Newsletter, our website etc. – but in practice this hasn’t always been possible and in any case there is, of course, a great deal to be gained from face-to-face contact.

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EES staff, Trustees and Field Directors outside the London offices on Doughty Mews.

A visit from Egypt

Thirdly, as promised in my earlier post, the Society’s Cairo representative, Faten Saleh, was invited to London for a few days to meet the team in London, to get a better idea of what goes on at Doughty Mews, to discuss improving coordination of activities in London and Cairo, and to attend what turned out to be a very busy and well-received study day on the ‘Grand Designs’ of Amenhotep III, and the launch of Geoffrey Martin’s new volume, The Tomb of Maya and Meryt I. Those members who attended the study day certainly seemed to appreciate having Faten with them: she received a spontaneous round of applause when I pointed her out at the start of the event, and many took the opportunity to introduce themselves to her during the course of the day. We on the staff all enjoyed having Faten with us enormously and I hope that when she returned to Cairo last weekend she had not only gained a broader perspective on the activities of the organisation, but felt more a part of a team.

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Faten Saleh chats to a member at the launch of Maya and Meryt I.

A team of 200

The study day was a particularly satisfying occasion for us: that we had put together a popular event was clear from the number of tickets sold (approximately 200). Our study days are our best attended events and provide a wonderful opportunity for us to enjoy more face-to-face contact, particularly with the membership. I also felt we had been particularly successful this time in providing a platform for EES research (Angus Graham’s Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Project), and using the other speakers to put that work into a wider context so that the value of the EES contribution to understanding a particular aspect of ancient Egyptian history – the monuments of Amenhotep III in this case – was clear, at the same time providing a well-rounded and appealing day of talks overall.  

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The reception after the ‘Grand Designs’ study day. Photo courtesy of Aidan and Dyan Dodson.

I also took the opportunity at this event to invite not just the Field Director, Angus Graham, but also several members of his team, of whom Morag Hunter, Sarah Jones, Aurelia Masson and Marie Millet were able to join us. I wanted to show them how their efforts in the field fit into the wider work of the Society, to bring them closer to the members, staff and others more involved in the UK end of things, and to emphasise their role as part of the wider EES team.

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Angus Graham, Aurélia Masson and Marie Millet (both behind the lady with the grey bag) in discussion with members after the study day. Photo courtesy of Aidan and Dyan Dodson.

The more we can we can gather people together in the ways that we have in the last few weeks the more effectively we will engender the idea that we are all a part of something, with a shared vision and aims in common, and ensure that everyone feels involved. I want everyone to feel that they are part of a team, to understand what the team is trying to do and what their own role is within that.

Bringing everyone together over the last few weeks has been a very rewarding experience. There is a very positive feel about the Society at the moment which seems to be shared by our members, staff, Trustees and field teams, and I like to think that the feeling of being part of a team is something to do with that.

If you’re not yet part of the team why not come and join us?

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EES staff, Trustees and Field Directors share a joke with the cameraman (me!).

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Who Was Who in Egyptology

The fourth edition of Who Was Who in Egyptology, the first new edition of this important work since 1995, is now in press and will be available by the end of June. 

The front cover of the new, fourth edition of Who Was Who in Egyptology

The Editor, Dr Morris Bierbrier, has become a fixture at Doughty Mews over the last couple of years, adding a vast amount of new information, many entirely new entries, and significantly more photographs. The new volume is exactly 600 pages long – a substantial increase on the last edition. Having been responsible for the production editing (and hence the volume’s appearance a little later than originally planned – see below) I am absolutely delighted that Morris’ efforts are finally coming to fruition, and had a bit of fun producing the short film below in celebration.

Short film including a time-lapse portrait of the Editor, Dr Morris Bierbrier, at work during the preparation of the new edition and a selection of the newly added photos.

A great asset

Who Was Who is a great asset of the Society’s: it is the definitive reference tool for the study of the history of Egyptology and confirms the Society’s position as one of the leaders of the field. I tried to capture its importance in the blurb for the back cover:

“The civilization of ancient Egypt has been a source of fascination for explorers and scholars for centuries, and has occupied a special place in the imagination of the public ever since early travellers’ descriptions and illustrations of the strange culture of temples, tombs and hieroglyphs began to circulate around the world. Egyptology in the Twenty-first century is a multi-disciplinary science practiced by specialists across the globe. The story of its development from a hobby for the educated and wealthy to a highly formalized academic discipline provides the key to understanding how and why we know what we know about ancient Egypt. The endeavours, achievements, talents and failings of the main practitioners, and the social, political and economic circumstances in which they lived and worked have all shaped our understanding of Egypt’s past. This biographical dictionary tells the story of the most important contributors and will be an indispensable reference tool for scholars and enthusiasts alike.”

When I first proposed the new edition to the board of Trustees in 2008 we were trying to reduce costs in all areas in response to the withdrawal of the British Academy grant (see below). The Board agreed to go ahead however on the basis that print costs would be recovered through sales, which we felt were likely to be good – as I hope turns out to be the case! – and that production costs would be minimal, as I would scan all the images and set the volume to page myself in my spare time. This is the kind of thing I enjoy doing(!) and the scanning and consequent creation of a digital archive of Egyptologists’ portraits was very much in-line with our existing digitisation work, and potentially of great use. The only downside to this arrangement was that, in the event, it was difficult for me to find as much spare time as I had hoped I would to do all this (perhaps predictably). This has led to the volume appearing later than I had originally hoped (see this announcement from 2008) but I like to think it will be well worth the wait nonetheless!

I have also tried, in the Foreword, to put the new edition into context alongside a series of other history of Egyptology-related initiatives we have undertaken at the EES in the last few years, and to explain what this has all been for. This is the kind of thing I want to use this blog for and so, as promised in my last post, I have decided to reproduce a version of the Foreword here. So, let me tell you a story…

The EES and the History of Egyptology

In late 2008, when it first decided to publish a fourth edition of Who Was Who in Egyptology, the Egypt Exploration Society was undergoing a series of changes brought about initially by the withdrawal of British Academy funding, but also by a new Charities Act – the law governing the way that charities such as the EES operate – and a need for modernisation in general. This was the latest chapter in the history of the EES, which in 2012 celebrates its 130th anniversary. The Society, and those associated with it, has in that time made an enormous contribution to Egyptology. It has a glorious history of its own and it is appropriate therefore that the EES should be the publisher of Who Was Who, the definitive reference tool for anyone studying, or interested in, the people who have shaped our subject.

Some of the great figures to have been associated with the EES, L-R: the Society’s founder, Amelia Edwards and archaeologists, Flinders Petrie, Howard Carter and John Pendlebury

Two of the most important of the Society’s assets have been given much attention as a result of the recent changes, and are well represented in this book: The Lucy Gura Archive (and not least the photographs it contains) and the Society’s own rich history of contribution to Egyptology and archaeology in Egypt. The recognition of the importance of these assets was a significant step, offering the Society the opportunity to capitalise on the growing popularity of the history of the subject, and thereby to engage with new audiences, engender a spirit of pride in the institution’s history among members, and raise awareness of its most significant achievements.

Back to Basics

The Academy’s abandonment of the model by which the EES and other organisations like it could apply for a ‘block grant’ to support its research activities caused the Society to think hard about what it wanted to do and how it could find the funds to achieve its aims. In many ways, this meant re-focussing on the fundraising and public engagement to which Amelia Edwards had devoted so much of her energies, and without which the Society could never have been created. In 2008 the Society ran a campaign inviting members to provide the necessary financial support for a series of small-scale, sharply focussed research endeavours, fittingly named the ‘Amelia Edwards Projects’. Initially, this was an experiment: we wanted to know whether our already very generous members would be able and willing to provide us with additional funds, and also what kinds of projects they might be prepared to support.

An Oral History of Egyptology

Kenneth Kitchen during the interview for the Oral History of Egyptology Project

In addition to two traditional field research projects, members were invited to support a new ‘Oral History of Egyptology’ project. The proposal was to conduct interviews with senior Egyptologists in the U.K., recording their memories of life and work in Egypt, of the social, political and economic conditions which have shaped that work, and of colleagues, including, in some cases, some of the great figures who appear in this book. Fortunately, and most encouragingly, the project received the required support and, since 2008, conversations have been recorded with Kenneth Kitchen, H. S. Smith, Eric Uphill, Jessie Aldred (wife of the late Cyril Aldred) and Robert Anderson. A series of interviews conducted by Rosalind Janssen in the 1990s have also been converted to digital format and the entire collection now forms a part of a digital archive. Excerpts from the interviews have been made available online (see here and below) and it is hoped that the project will continue for many years to come.

Cataloguing and Re-housing the Lucy Gura Archive

Following the successful launch of the ‘Oral History’ and other ‘Amelia Edwards Projects’, and encouraged by the tremendous response to the 2008 campaign, it was decided that a second fundraising campaign, in 2009, should focus on a single objective: the ambitious programme of digitising and re-housing the material in the Lucy Gura Archive. 

Opening slide from a presentation used to promote the 2009-10 fundraising campaign

The Archive was named after the late Lucy Gura, an enthusiastic EES member who died before her time, in recognition of a very generous donation made by her family which was used to begin the digitisation. In 2007 approximately 15,000 glass negatives taken in the field by the Society’s excavators between 1883 and the outbreak of World War II, were scanned, creating a back-up, and immediately making the collection more accessible to staff and researchers. Since then many of these photographs have appeared in the Society’s print publications and online, and staff can deal with researchers’ image requests far more quickly than previously. The purchase of a high quality photo scanner in 2008 allowed the digitisation to continue, smaller groups of material being selected according to researchers’ needs.

The Society’s scanning equipment and an image from the tomb of Maya & Meryt which was digitised in preparation for final publication of the decoration in this beautiful monument.

A commitment for the long term

The campaign in 2009 represented a commitment on the Society’s part to ensuring the long-term preservation of the original material. The money raised was initially used to pay for the compilation by Alice Williams of a catalogue of the material, which has allowed the collection to be searched more easily.

Alice Williams inspecting the unpublished manuscript for The Cemeteries of Armant II during the cataloguing of the collection

The records created will in due course be combined with existing indices of correspondence and photographs, and also the ‘distribution lists’ which record the objects excavated by the Society and divided to it by the Egyptian Antiquities Service for circulation to museums around the world. The Society’s intention is to make the catalogue and indices available online so that the entire collection can be searched remotely. Importantly, the catalogue has also provided a clearer idea of the scale of the task and a start has now been made on re-housing the most vulnerable parts of the collection. In 2011 a room, which had been Professor Ricardo Caminos’ kitchen while he still lived at no. 4 Doughty Mews, was refurbished, and work began on the thousands of photographs taken during the Society’s 1920s and 1930s work at Amarna and in the temple of Sety I at Abydos. Specialist conservators and students were brought in to undertake the work, re-packing the glass negatives in acid-free paper envelopes to be placed in sturdy, conservation-standard boxes (see more here). It is hoped that this will provide a model, demonstrating what can be achieved and helping the Society to raise further funds for this kind of work in future.

Sam Taylor and Charlotte Anstis at work re-packing glass negatives in the Lucy Gura Archive

All this work has, unsurprisingly, brought many interesting things to light, and resulted in the publication of a series of short articles, particularly online and in the recently revived EES Newsletter. These form a valuable complement to the entries in Who Was Who. One particularly interesting group of material is the film footage shot by John Pendlebury and co. at Amarna over the course of several seasons in the early 1930s. This material has also now been digitized and a series of excerpts made available online (here and below), including some which show the people involved in the work, several of whom, including Pendlebury, Mary Chubb, H. W. Fairman, Ralph Lavers, and Hilary Waddington, are included in the new edition.

Dr Bierbrier’s work in producing this volume is part of the Society’s wider efforts to study and raise awareness of the history of Egyptology, and in part a reflection of its own contribution to, and place within, the subject. We hope the much-expanded fourth edition of Who Was Who will consolidate its status as a fitting tribute to the collective achievements of those who have striven to improve understanding of Egypt’s history, and an indispensable resource for anyone studying it.