Institute boosts Egypt program

Yale’s Egyptology program may not yet have a large presence on campus, but it will soon have a home overseas as construction continues on the Yale Institute in Egypt.

Construction of the many components of the institute ­— which will be spread across various sites west of the Nile River — began last year and is now picking up pace. Egyptologist John Darnell said living spaces, storage work spaces and expedition headquarters to be used during fieldwork will be built in the western desert region of Egypt by the end of this academic year. He said the institute also hopes to soon open offices in Cairo and Luxor. The other major component of the program’s growth will be the expansion of the institute’s Web site to include scholarly accounts of fieldwork in Egypt, Darnell said.

Darnell, who is the chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, said the increased infrastructure will make it easier for students to travel to Egypt to participate in expeditions, which he said are extremely important for anyone who wants to study and work in Egyptology.

“There are simply some things that you cannot easily learn in a classroom that are learnable very quickly when you’re actually out in the field,” he said. “I see this for Egyptology students as a necessary part of their education.”

One of the reasons for creating a spread-out institute was to allow professors to collaborate with each other more closely in their research, Darnell said, particularly because almost all of the work has the same regional focus. But he said because Yale scholars are spread around the western desert, there is no need for a “gigantic single structure” in any particular location in Egypt.

Lauren Lippiello GRD ’11 said having field houses in which to stay while doing research in Egypt will allow students and professors to reside in Egypt for a longer period of time and to accomplish more work. Currently, researchers have to live in hotels, she said, which consume a large chunk of their project budgets.

She said she hopes these amenities will increase the number of undergraduates who can participate in research trips to Egypt.

“I think that public outreach is a very big part of being in academics, and by allowing undergraduates to go, we’ll have a great environment for them to become interested in Egyptology,” she said.

Yale currently has four graduate students and about the same number of undergraduates in the Egyptology program.

David Klotz ’03 GRD ’08 said Darnell has been active in encouraging undergraduates with an interest in Egyptology to apply to the graduate program at Yale. In the past eight years, the program has taken off in terms of the number of students, resources, activities and research interests, Klotz said.

Darnell brought his two projects — the Theben Desert Roads Survey and the Toshka Desert Survey — to Yale when he came to the University from the University of Chicago in 1998. He said there is a tremendous amount of material to study in what he calls the “desert hinterland,” and the resources provided by the new institute will allow for much easier access to these remote locations. This will make the work of the expeditions run more smoothly, facilitate greater student participation and assist cooperation with other universities and interdisciplinary collaborators, he said.

“By setting up this Yale institute, basically what we have is an infrastructure in Egypt at various places where we need them for our work,” he said.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said Yale has a long history of work in Egypt.

“I’ve become familiar with the history of Egyptology at Yale, and it is a glorious history and one that is well embodied by Professor Darnell’s current research,” he said. “It’s hard not to be fascinated by the riddles that he’s able to solve through studying ‘desert graffiti’ and other signs of these ancient civilizations.”

Much of the funding for the department’s expansion programs comes from the William K. and Marilyn M. Simpson Endowment for Egyptology, founded by former Yale professor William Kelly Simpson.

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