Reinventing the Society: exploring, recording and sharing knowledge

What does the EES do?

Our mission statement can be found on the home page of the Society’s website and reads as follows:

“Since its founding in 1882 the Egypt Exploration Society’s mission has been to explore ancient Egyptian sites and monuments, to create a lasting record of the remains, to generate enthusiasm for, and increase knowledge and understanding of, Egypt’s past and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting its heritage.”

We should also remind ourselves of the objects of the Society as they are set down in the Memorandum of Association. This document governs what the Society does and cannot be changed without the approval of the UK Charity Commission. According to the Commission’s website, “’Objects’ is the term we use to describe and identify the purpose for which your charity has been set up. They do not say what it will do on a daily basis. If the objects clause allows your organisation to do something which the law does not recognise as charitable, or the wording used is unclear, your organisation is not considered to be a charity”

“The Charities Act 2011 defines a charitable purpose, explicitly, as one that falls within the following list (see here) of thirteen descriptions of purposes and is for the public benefit.” In the Society’s case its objects fall under the headings ‘The advancement of education’ and ‘The advancement of the arts, culture, heritage or science’.

Those objects are:

“(A) to advance the education of the public with reference to Ancient and Medieval Egypt and countries in the same region; and

(B) to promote art, culture and heritage by raising the knowledge, awareness and understanding of the language, history, arts, culture, religion and all other matters relating to Ancient and Medieval Egypt and countries in the same region.”

Interestingly, the preservation of sites and monuments is not explicitly mentioned, although ‘the advancement of environmental protection or improvement’ is recognized as a charitable purpose and provides for the establishment of “bodies set up for … the preservation of … historic buildings in general” (see here). In any case, to my mind, the preservation of Egypt’s ancient sites and monuments, is, ultimately, the reason why the EES exists. Every part of our very diverse programme of activities ultimately feeds into this aim albeit some more directly than others.

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Some might be undertaken with other, secondary aims in mind such as promotion, fundraising, or encouraging people to become members but as I have attempted to show in the diagram above everything in some way is a response to the threat that the physical remains of Egypt’s past stand to be lost along with the knowledge they provide if efforts are not made to ensure they survive. This of course was what spurred Amelia Edwards into founding the Society in the first place and her rationale for doing so remains as relevant today.

I have been thinking about this a lot in the last few months as my colleagues and I have recently agreed a series of strategic priorities for the next three years. Now is the right time to be doing this for several reasons:

First of all, following the Organisational Review, the new staff team has been in place for over a year now and has had a chance to get to grips with the day-to-day business of running the Society, and can now turn its attentions to longer-term, strategic issues, making the changes that will ensure the Society can continue to flourish for many years to come.

Secondly, we are changing the way in which we fund archaeological fieldwork in Egypt. During the last couple of years we have been asking ourselves some fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of what we are doing in Egypt, and how we can continue to maximize impact with what little resources we have available. I will talk about this in more detail very shortly…

Thirdly we have recently been able to offer, in open competition, a series of opportunities to archaeologists and Egyptologists, particularly those of the younger generation and/or those in Egypt. These include the long-established Centenary Awards – financial support for small research projects – , places on English-language courses through the British Council in Cairo, and scholarships for Egyptian researchers to visit the UK. In the last couple of years we have received over 400 applications for these opportunities; going through them was a lot of work but it has given us a wonderful opportunity to get to know many more of the most promising and talented people in our field than we would have done otherwise. Part of the benefit of this has been that it has shown us a little of what people are doing in terms of research, or their day-to-day work, for example at the Ministry of Antiquities; moreover, it has shown us what could be achieved, with a little support, for example from a research grant, or a scholarship.

This has set my mind racing: having ‘met’, whether in person or on paper only, so many of the next generation of archaeologists and Egyptologists, I have a much better idea of where the challenges and opportunities are and this is crucial from the EES’ point of view because it is helping shape my thoughts on how we should steer what we are doing in order to maximize the impact and benefits of what we can do in partnership with these people and others like them.

Over the course of two further posts (one written one to come), I want to explain how all this rethinking is going to shape the Society’s activities in terms of the two main ways in which we are helping to safeguard Egypt’s heritage for the future: 1) fieldwork in Egypt and 2) gathering and sharing archaeological information.

Stay tuned…

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