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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The lady and the looking glass: Margaret Murray's life in archaeology
by Sheppard, Kathleen L., Ph.D., The University of Oklahoma, 2010, 304; 3409383
Abstract (Summary)

Margaret Murray (1863-1963) was one of the first female professional Egyptologists in Britain, although her career has received little attention historically and she has been seen mainly in the shadow of Sir William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), who was her teacher and mentor. In Murray's case, this oversight has obscured the significance of her career in terms of her fieldwork, the students she trained, her administration of the pioneering Egyptology department at University College London (UCL), as well as in her work outside of that institution and her published works. This dissertation is an investigation into Murray's long career in Egyptian archaeology, which spanned seventy years.

Murray's two excavation seasons in 1902-03 at Abydos and 1903-04 in Saqqara produced two site reports: The Osirieon at Abydos (1904) and Saqqara Mastabas (1905). Her work in the field serves to demonstrate that it was not only the heroic male field archaeologist who did important excavation work, but that women were also crucial to finding new sites and publishing their work to inform scholars about previously unknown cultural and material history. Both the Osirieon and Saqqara became leading examples in how to structure site reports for scholarly investigations. Due to heavy teaching and administrative duties at UCL from 1905, Murray was no longer able to excavate in the winters in Egypt. However, later on in her career, Murray excavated in the summers in Malta, Minorca and Southern England for Cambridge University. This (lack of) field activity is indicative of the expectations UCL had of her and subsequent responsibilities she took on. Murray's situation was not unique in this sense, and her particular roles will be discussed in further detail within the more general framework of the duties of women within university departments in the early-twentieth-century.

Without her tireless administrative work at UCL, the Egyptology department would not have been able to operate, since other departmental archaeologists like Petrie were in the field from October through April each year. Although the students that passed through the department at that time are known to historians as "Petrie's pups”, they were in fact Murray's students in the classroom, where she prepared them for the fieldwork on which they were about to embark. Within the rigorous system organized by Murray, students attended lectures and took exams on Egyptian language, art, history, religion, culture, anthropology, field methods, and more. For more than twenty-five years, she was the main administrator of the two-year training program and the primary instructor of nine of the thirteen classes required by the department. In the context of her work at UCL, I question why she has not received more attention in the historiography of the department and archaeology in general. Murray's work at UCL as an instructor, although crucial to students' success in the field, did not take place in the field, which was part of the male domain and thus deemed worthy of recognition. Murray's work instead took place in the classroom—part of the female domain—and has been downgraded in significance, historically. This dissertation highlights Murray's roles and shows that they were as important as the fieldwork male archaeologists were doing.

Early in her career she worked briefly at the University of Manchester, where in 1908 she was the first woman to lead a public mummy unwrapping. Her interdisciplinary techniques used in the unwrapping and the report that came from it—The Tomb of the Two Brothers (1910)—have influenced Egyptian scholars up to the present day. The conclusions drawn from the experiment revealed new information about a relatively unknown period in Egyptian history—the Middle Kingdom—as well as demonstrated to the public that Egyptology is scientific and authoritative. Furthermore, the public display of a scientific investigation established Murray's scientific authority. She was therefore able to instruct and influence the way the public and the academy thought about and approached subsequent mummy studies.

Finally, throughout her career, Murray maintained a steady output of original research and scholarship. In order to demonstrate Murray's legacy of teaching, I focus in particular on four works aimed specifically at the general reader: Ancient Egyptian Legends (1913), Egyptian Sculpture (1930), Egyptian Temples (1931), and Ancient Egyptian Religious Poetry (1949). Examined as a group as well as individually, these books serve to demonstrate that Murray believed it manifestly important to aim scholarly books at the general public who wished to know more about mysterious Egypt. Indeed, many of the books that Murray wrote leaned slightly toward the public interest even while they were directed at scholars. Murray believed that the history of Egypt was the history of man, and to teach this was a great responsibility. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Pandora, Katherine
Commitee: Hale, Piers, Holguin, Sandie, Moon, Suzanne, Snell, Daniel
School: The University of Oklahoma
Department: Department of History of Science
School Location: United States -- Oklahoma
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Biographies, Archaeology, Education history, Science history
Keywords: Britain, Early 20th century, Egyptology, Murray, Margaret, University College London, Women in science
Publication Number: 3409383
ISBN: 978-1-124-06843-5
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