Almost every great figure in nineteenth-century Britain, from Thomas Carlyle to William Gladstone to Charles Darwin, read histories of ancient Egypt and argued about their content. Egypt became a focal point in disputes over the nature of human origins, the patterns underlying human history, the status and purpose of the Bible, and the cultural role of the classics. Egyptian archaeology ingrained its influence everywhere from the lecture halls of the ancient universities to the devotional aids of rural Sunday schools, and the plots of sensation fiction. Dialogues with the Dead shows, for the first time, how Egyptology's development over the century that followed the decipherment of the hieroglyphic script in 1822 can be understood only through its intimate entanglement with the historical, scientific, and religious contentions which defined the era.
David Gange is Lecturer in History at the University of Birmingham.