Open Access: an early guide to hieroglyphics

Open Access: an early guide to hieroglyphics

October 30, 2018 | ITHAKA | NEWS
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James Winthrop. Egyptian hieroglyphics, from public monuments extracted from Denon. Late 18th or early 19th century. Image and data courtesy Allegheny College Library Special Collections.

The Allegheny College Egyptian Hieroglyphics collection features every page of a single manuscript in the James Winthrop Collection. The collection includes approximately 3,000 titles from the libraries of Winthrop and his father, John Winthrop, who was Hollis Professor of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics at Harvard. This particular manuscript is in the public domain, and Allegheny has shared this digital reproduction as a Public Collection in Artstor so that anyone can view and download the images.

Winthrop became friends with Allegheny College’s founder, Timothy Alden, as a student at Harvard and while he served as the librarian for the Massachusetts Historical Society. Winthrop bequeathed his library to Allegheny in 1822 in lieu of funds as a way of supporting the institution his friend founded. The library included mostly books for the sciences, history, languages, antiquities, and philosophy – reflecting Winthrop’s personal interests and areas of expertise. Among the bequests was this manuscript written and illustrated in his own hand.

To create this manuscript, Winthrop painstakingly transcribed Egyptian hieroglyphics from the work of Vivant Denon, a French archaeologist who was attached to Napoleon’s army when it invaded Egypt in 1799. During their short occupation of the region, Denon and others copied hieroglyphics from monuments and artifacts, eventually publishing their findings and piquing Europeans’ interest in Egyptology. Denon served as the first Director of the Louvre museum and his two-volume work, Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte (“Journey in Lower and Upper Egypt”) is considered the foundation of modern Egyptology.

Allegheny College digitized this manuscript as part of a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

You can browse the collection here.

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