University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Bringing ancient grains to life: Tutankhamen, Egyptomania and modernist enchantment in interwar Britain

Bringing ancient grains to life: Tutankhamen, Egyptomania and modernist enchantment in interwar Britain

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This paper examines the phenomena of ‘Egyptomania’ in interwar Britain and its broader cultural significance. Drawing upon contemporary news releases, photographic reproductions of Egyptian artefacts, tomb replicas, museum records, material culture, and enchanted stories like the ‘Curse of the Mummy’, I argue that 1920s Egyptomania – which coalesced around the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 – does not merely manifest in an art deco fascination with the Orient, but produced an alternate ‘enchanted’ reality wherein Britons could experience an elision or collapse of time, softening the boundaries between past and present. The contested nature of Tut’s discovery meant that his artefacts could not leave Egypt, prompting the creation of a ‘virtual archive’ and artefactual reproduction that re-interpreted Egyptian remains on modern(ist) British terms. I suggest that a feeling or belief in such a permeable temporality was central to the proliferation and contemporary understanding of images, objects and ideas related to ancient Egypt during this period.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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