The study of Egyptology at Harvard is built on the spectacular legacy of George Reisner (1867–1942) and the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition to Egypt and Sudan, as well as the establishment of the Harvard Semitic Museum in 1889. Thousands of objects from the HU–MFA Expedition, from 23 different archaeological sites spanning over forty years of excavations, are housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, and in the Museums of Cairo and Khartoum. Additional Egyptian collections are in the Harvard Semitic Museum and the Harvard Art Museums. The Library resources at Harvard in Egyptology and related fields are unparalleled.
Professor Peter Der Manuelian is the primary instructor, with occasional visiting scholars offering additional courses. He is also director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, and director of the Giza Project at Harvard. Students have the opportunity to contribute to both of these initiatives, working with objects, archives, online 3D modeling, and collections management systems.
There is an active lecture series with visiting Egyptologists speaking on campus, organized in coordination with the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture; many of these lectures are filmed and available online. And two different workshop series continue throughout the academic year: the “Methodologies in Egyptology and Mesopotamian Studies” (MEMS) and the “Harvard History and Archaeology of Ancient Near Eastern Societies” (HAANES).
The program has also initiated a new monograph series called Harvard Egyptological studies (HES).
Due to the small number of Egyptological faculty and relatively limited course offerings, most graduate students come to Harvard with considerable coursework in the field already completed, often with an MA or MPhil degree. It is rare that students are admitted directly from college with a BA degree.
The Egyptology program covers the Pharaonic era, with a particular but not exclusive focus on the Old Kingdom, New Kingdom, the Giza Necropolis, historical and biographical texts, history, archaeology, and epigraphy. With the basics covered, students are given considerable flexibility in crafting their own path. In addition to traditional Egyptology, the program aims to develop students professionally by welcoming new technological approaches to the field, particularly in the digital humanities, and in conjunction with Harvard’s Anthropology Department (Professor Manuelian holds a joint appointment in both NELC and Anthropology). This includes anthropological approaches, method and theory, archaeological sciences, and GIS. (Those focusing exclusively on archaeological fieldwork are encouraged to apply to the Anthropology Department’s archaeology PhD program, with a focus on Egyptology at the dissertation level.) Opportunities are available for comparative interdisciplinary approaches with other Harvard schools as well, such as the Harvard Divinity School, and the Departments of History, Classics, the History of Art and Architecture, and African and African American Studies.
Students may on occasion supplement Harvard’s Egyptological course offerings by cross-registering for courses at Brown University (Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, and the Joukowsky Institute). We have an exchange program with the American University in Cairo, and another one with Berlin allows that allows graduate students to spend one semester at any of the ancient world studies programs there, such as at the Freie Universität or the Humboldt Universität, as well as the chance to volunteer in the Berlin Ägyptisches Museum.
Courses on campus primarily cover:
Egyptian history/archaeology surveys
The Giza Pyramids
Students are also encouraged to explore neighboring disciplines in the Department such as Assyriology and the history and archaeology of the Levant. After the first two years of coursework, students are provided with paid teaching assistant positions in the third and fourth graduate years to give them valuable teaching experience.