Nachleben and the Cultural Memory of Ancient Egypt

Nachleben and the Cultural Memory of Ancient Egypt
7 December 2018, 8.30am - 8 December 2018, 6.45pm
Conference / Symposium
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB

Please note Friday's proceedings will now take place in Chancellor's Hall, Senate House. Saturday's proceeding will be held at the Warburg Institute.

Conference of Aegyptiaca, the Journal of the History of the Reception of Ancient Egypt, hosted by the Warburg Institute.

“Nachleben and the Cultural Memory of Ancient Egypt”

Warburg Institute, London, December 6 – 8, 2018

Confirmed participants in alphabetical order

1)       Aleida Assmann (Konstanz) – Ouroboros 2 - the circle as a concept of infinity

2)       Jan Assmann (Konstanz and Heidelberg) – Ouroboros 1 - its reception in German Enlightenment

3)       John Baines (Oxford) – discussant

4)       William Carruthers (London) – discussant

5) Edward Chaney (Southampton) – Shakespeare and Egypt: Catholics, Gypsies and Obelisks

6) Eleanor Dobson (Birmingham) – “[H]aunted” by Egypt: Mnemohistory and the Return of the Repressed

7) Florian Ebeling (Heidelberg) – Gadamer’s concept of Wirkungsgeschichte/Effective history 

8) Caroline van Eck (Cambridge) – Excavating in the Wanderstrassen der Kultur. Piranesi’s Candalebra and the material reception of antiquity

9) Mordechai Feingold (Los Angeles) – The afterlife of Egyptian history and myth in the historical thought of Isaac Newton

10) Thomas Gilbhard (Hamburg) – Some remarks on the Bibliothek Warburg and its concept of Kulturwissenschaft

11) Carlo Ginzburg (Los Angeles and Pisa) – Barrels and Wines, Old and New: Mnemohistory and Microhistory

12) Johannes Helmrath (Berlin) – Allelopoiese. Das Berliner Konzept “Transformationen der Antike”

13) Christian Loeben (Hannover) – Why Egypt reception(s)? - Dependencies on the cultural and temporal context and the medium

14) Stephanie Moser (Southampton) – discussant

15) Martin Mulsow (Erfurt and Gotha) – Mnemohistory and the Reconstruction of Real Transmission: A Double Helix?

16) Richard Parkinson (Oxford) – discussant

17) Ulrich Rehm (Bochum) – Disjunction instead of inversion - Erwin Panofsky’s concept of artistic reception in the early 1930s

18) Christina Riggs (Norwich) – The eyes of the Sheikh el-Beled: Mimesis, Memory, Amnesia

19) Joachim Schaper (Aberdeen) – “Out of the Iron Furnace”: Exodus, Eschatology, and the Reception History of Freedom20)Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann (Berlin) – Blumenbergs Rezeptionsmodelle und Athanasius Kirchers Glaubwürdigkeit. Ein Exempel

21)   Miguel John Versluys (Leiden) – The perpetual presence of Egypt: objects, style and agency

22)   Anja Wolkenhauer (Tübingen) – discussant

23)   Claudia Wedepohl (London) – Aby Warburg’s concept of “Nachleben” and its arrival in Britain


Friday, December 7, 2018

Chancellor's Hall, Senate House

08.30-09.00 Registration

09.00-09.30 Introduction by Florian Ebeling

09.30-10.20 Jan Assmann

10.20-11.10 Aleida Assmann

11.10-11.40 Refreshments

11.40-12.30 Carlo Ginzburg

12.30-13.20 Johannes Helmrath

13.20-14.20 Lunch

14.20-15.10 Edward Chaney

15.10-16.00 Christina Riggs

16.00-16.30 Refreshments

16.30-17.20 Eleanor Dobson

17.20-18.10 Miguel John Versluys

18.10-19.00 Results, questions and problems

19.00-20.45 Reception (drinks and finger food) at the Warburg Institute

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Lecture Room - Warburg Institute

08.30-09.00 Registration

09.00-09.50 Martin Mulsow

10.50-10.40 Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann

10.40-11.10 Refreshments

11.10-12.00 Christian Loeben

12.00-12.50 Mordechai Feingold

12.50-13.20 Lunch 

13.20-14.10 Caroline van Eck

14.10-15.00 Joachim Schaper

15.00-15.30 Refreshments

15.30-16.20 Ulrich Rehm

16.20-16.50 Thomas Gilbhard

16.50-17.20 Claudia Wedepohl

17.20-18.00 Open discussion: results, desiderata and prospect

Considerations and questions

The London meeting is intended to reflect on the current state of the research into the pre-Egyptological conceptualisation, visualisation and materialisation of pharaonic Egypt and to consider whether we can find common methodological bases for further research. Meeting at the Warburg-Institute, we will take up Aby Warburg’s ideas of the “Nachleben der Antike” and discuss in which ways “Cultural Memory” and “Mnemohistory”, as devised by Aleida and Jan Assmann, and “Microhistory” in the sense of Carlo Ginzburg, can help us understand our research as a part of the relevant discourses in “Kulturwissenschaft”.

We all have different experiences with the pre-Egyptological concept of Egypt, both in terms of subject matter and method. The one, however, I think, cannot be discussed reasonably without the other (“Gedanken ohne Inhalt sind leer, Anschauungen ohne Begriffe sind blind”). All of the presentations promise to offer important contributions to this topic, and the participants will enrich our discussion. We are certain to have an open and constructive conversation about the importance of the meaning of memory and reception of the past in general, and of ancient Egypt in particular, leading to an enhanced understanding of our culture.

When we deal with research into the pre-Egyptological conceptualisation of ancient Egypt we are faced with numerous approaches, as indicated by the various terms employed to connote these areas: The term Egyptomania, for example, popular for some time, has too often been used for case-studies without a robust cultural-historical contextualization. Even when it has been used to label some compelling studies, the term is now rarely used on the continent in the context of proper research. Conferences and upcoming books (including by participants of our conference) now overwhelmingly reject this concept. The scientifically more fruitful and comprehensive terms seem to be “memory” and “reception”, which offer at the same time completely different approaches. Within the English-speaking world, reception studies in the form of case studies seem to be predominant. They appear to focus on the epistemology in the history of science and sometimes consider the history of reception as a (pre-)history of Egyptology. On the continent, an approach focussed on the concept of “memory” is more dominant. It operates with the idea that cultural history can be described as a form of memory with different layers, overlapping one another and referring to each other.

Both concepts, “reception” and “memory” consider two different factors that are in fact part of an interplay: the individual in the very act of reception and the history as a factor with its own rights in the long term. On the one hand there is always an individual who has formed an image or concept of Egypt in text, image or object, although they have never acted in a context without preconditions; they are socialized and enculturated via and within history, they take traditional ideas and images which they transform, vary, affirm or negate. Moreover, the encounter with the past need not be intentional: history can haunt and persecute people, whether in repressed traumas or in unconsciously perpetuated longings; the past is not only a reservoir of facts that one uses ad libitum; rather, history has its own power and dynamism and humans shape history just as they are shaped by history.

Without the proper observation of the details, the constellations of communication, the intertextual dependencies and the social environment as well as the psychological conditions, reception studies are in danger of being superficial. Thus, a moderate constructivism that takes into account these structures dominates the research. Nevertheless, taking account of the importance of history, we also have to consider the transformations of the (understanding of) history and the self-reference of culture and history. To study the history of reception without considering the historicity (“Geschichtlichkeit” in philosophical terms) of every human being would be naïve.

Egypt is, like no other cultural reference, a concept that is written deep inside the self-conceptualisation of the West. The Graeco-Roman world and the Jewish and Christian authors of the Bible were faced with Egypt and formed their identity in terms of differentiation and identification with ancient Egypt. Egypt belongs to Europe in very different forms that were transmitted in fears und longings, in traumata and hopes of salvation. For the mnemohistory (or the reception) of Egypt this means tracing the diachronic continuities and discontinuities that overlap like excavation layers, like palimpsests or the levels of human experience.

With regard to scientific discourse, the history of the research of the reception of Egypt is also a history of missed opportunities. The many approaches to understanding the significance of Egypt in cultural history have not led to a research discourse. The eight volumes of the “Encounters with ancient Egypt” are a staggering assembly of brilliant case studies, but likewise they are a bunch of loosely connected papers. Especially under the term of Egyptomania, research has often taken place in isolation and in an atmosphere of self-sufficiency. Nevertheless there are numerous projects in which similar problems are already being addressed, such as the Bilderfahrzeuge-project or the Berlin “Sonderforschungsbereich Transformations of Antiquity” and numerous other discussions about methods in history, and their interplay with cultural studies and philosophy. Can research into the history of reception of ancient Egypt follow on from the results of these projects, and with what methodological premises do we do justice to our subject matter and at the same time connect to such discourses?

The Warburg Institute is the perfect place to enter into an open dialogue on whether and how research into the reception of pharaonic Egypt can be more than a collection of case studies by taking up the concept of memory; perhaps even a form of “Kulturwissenschaft” in the sense of Aby Warburg that can reflect on the importance of the past for our culture and our self-conceptualisation.

This conference is part of work in progress in which we are all participating. It has important forerunners in conferences in Wolfenbüttel, Leiden and Rome, for example, and it is the first of three conferences dedicated to the establishment of the Journal Aegyptiaca. In September 2019 this discussion will be continued at the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel.

Key questions we could refer to and discuss are:

- What are the implications when we talk about “reception”, “afterlife” or “mnemohistory”?
- Does the concept of “reception” encourage a naïve constructivist epistemology?
- Does the concept of “Nachleben” make history an intentional acting personification?
- Are there other approaches that can help in understanding the relevance of the past/ pharaonic Egypt?
- Which approaches focus more on the continuities in history, and which more on the discontinuities?
- Does it make any difference for the observation of continuity/discontinuity when we focus on text, image or object?
- Is there a pre-Egyptological discourse about ancient Egypt or is Egypt a topic/argument in different discourses?
- Does it make sense to speak about Egyptology before the 19th century?
- Can we identify any master-narratives or key topics?


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