When most of us think of social networking, we think of connecting digitally with others through sites like Facebook, TikTok, or Twitter. A new book by Dr. Kathleen Sheppard, associate professor of history at Missouri University of Science and Technology, discusses a different kind of social network — a physical network of archaeologists, Egyptologists, tourists, and other travelers drawn to Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th century.
in the Tea on the Terrace: Hotels and Egyptologists’ Social Networks, 1885-1925, Sheppard examines how “small, short-lived communities” arose among travelers to Egypt while exploration of the pyramids and ruins was at its height. For archaeologists, Egyptologists, tourists, and other travelers of the era, the European-style hotels of Alexandria, Cairo, and Luxor served as meeting points after long days at excavation sites. These travelers met informally in hotel dining rooms and ballrooms to share knowledge, discuss ideas, and even find work at an archaeological dig. Sheppard says these social interactions formed an overlooked but integral part of the process of spreading the knowledge unearthed by archaeologists and their teams.
“Egyptian hotels represent an important site for the creation of archaeological knowledge and the networks necessary for that knowledge,” credits Sheppard in the introduction Tea on the terrace. The book, published by Manchester University Press, will be out on Tuesday 2nd August.
“The work that Egyptologists have done in the social spaces of hotels reveals more about how scientific inquiry is conducted in the field: it was never just about the trowel, the artifacts, or the subsequent reports,” writes Sheppard, who is also the proprietor the Lawrence O Scholarship from the Christensen Foundation at Missouri S&T. “Egyptology is social; Participation is decided in the spaces where power is exercised.”
The title of the book refers to a ritual shared by these hotel residents. “Egyptologists and archaeologists met on terraces for tea, in ballrooms for dances, in dining rooms for meals, and in their private quarters to discuss scientific matters,” writes Sheppard. “In doing so, they have turned hotels into scientific institutions.”
in the Tea on the terraceSheppard takes readers on a journey up the Nile, from the city of Alexandria on Egypt’s north coast – the starting point for most travelers – to Cairo and Luxor, home of the famous archaeological sites.
In Cairo, archaeologists and tourists of that time ventured to the pyramid complex of Giza or to the ancient cities of Memphis and Heliopolis. In Luxor – once the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes – visitors crossed the Nile to explore the temples and tombs of the Theban Necropolis, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. In 1922, Egyptologist Howard Carter found King Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Sheppard draws on a wide range of archival materials, including the journals and diaries of archaeologists, Egyptologists, and other travelers, to illustrate how their hotel encounters influenced their research, led to long-lasting friendships, and provided job opportunities for some. For example, an aspiring Egyptologist, E. Harold Jones, who had traveled from England in hopes that the arid climate would cure his tuberculosis, “utilized the wide network of Egyptologists staying in hotels throughout Luxor and Cairo to establish a finding a new job,” Sheppard writes.
Sheppard’s book contains numerous vignettes about the famous and less famous characters who appeared in Egypt during those 40 years. “I’m a biographer at heart,” she says, “so I wanted to tell their stories.”
Many of the characters are familiar to those familiar with Egyptology. These include Carter, who found King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and James Henry Breasted, who was “a wet Ph.D.” — and the first American to earn a Ph.D. in Egyptology – when he first traveled to Egypt in the late 18th century but by the time he returned to assist Carter in the 1920s was a leading Egyptologist.
Sheppard also addresses the most overlooked role of women in the discipline. For example, Emma Andrews, partner and life companion of the self-taught and patron Theodore Davis, was just as wealthy as the millionaire Davis and financed excavations alone.
“If a man had done that, it wouldn’t have been surprising,” says Sheppard. “But having a woman pay for the excavation was unexpected. The roles of women in the field at that time were often the same as those of men. We just haven’t heard anything about it.”
The 40-year period from 1885 to 1925 represents the peak of exploration of Egyptian ruins and a growing interest among archaeological tourists, Sheppard says. The era coincided with the British conquest of Egypt in 1882 and the country’s subsequent occupation as a British protectorate until 1922, although British presence in Egypt continued into the 1950s.
The timing of Sheppard’s book coincides with many important anniversaries linked to Egyptian history: Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb 100 years ago, the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Egyptian Exploration Society, the 140th anniversary of the British bombing of Alexandria, and the 200th anniversary of the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Sheppard began teaching at Missouri S&T in the fall of 2011 after two years teaching at the American University in Cairo, where she first became interested in the relationship between hotels and archaeologists. But her interest in Egyptology began much earlier.
“When I was 9 years old, my father showed me a 1979 issue of National Geographic that had King Tutankhamen’s mask on the cover,” she says. “I was more interested in Howard Carter and what he did” than in the young king. “But when I looked at this magazine, I also asked myself, ‘Where are the girls?'”
Sheppard’s previous books include The Life of Margaret Alice Murray: A Woman’s Work in Archaeologyreleased in 2013, and My Dear Miss Ransom: Letters between Caroline Ransom Williams and James Henry Breastedpublished in 2018.
Sheppard earned her Ph.D. and Master of Arts in History of Science from the University of Oklahoma. She also has a Master of Arts in Egyptian Archeology from University College, London and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology from Truman State University.
In addition to Egyptology, Sheppard also researches women in the history of science. This fall she will teach Medieval and Early Modern History of Science at Missouri S&T.
About the Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university with over 7,200 students. Part of the University of Missouri’s four-campus system and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri, S&T offers 101 majors in 40 majors and is ranked among the top 10 universities in the nation for return on investment, according to Business Insider. S&T is also home to the Kummer Institute, made possible by a $300 million donation from Fred and June Kummer. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.