About E. A. Wallis Budge

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The life of Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857-1934) is, before all else, a remarkable rags-to-riches story. Budge's life began as an illegitimate child born in poverty in rural Bodmin, Cornwall whose remarkable energy and determination allowed him overcame the virulent class prejudice of his day to become a prominent Egyptologist, traveler, Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum, and a popular speaker and raconteur in London society.

To read about Budge is to dive into the dramatic and vibrant history of his day. This is not just the life of an Egyptologist or a dry academic treatise, but a plunge into the cultural and social history of England in the Late Victorian and Edwardian age.

 

Budge's life was haunted by the ubiquitous class prejudice of his day, but he also lived in an age of reform and radical transformation in which many people saw a New Age on the horizon, whether through the lens of Spiritualism, mysticism, Marxism, imperialism, eugenics and Social Darwinism, a reformed Christianity, Eastern Religions, or the religion of the Ancient Near East. Budge's books on Ancient Egypt, such as The Mummy: A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology (1894), The Book of the Dead (1895), and First Steps in Egyptian (1895), were popular with many who were exploring the New Age and found in Budge a kindred spirit.

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Budge's reputation has been trampled upon by the Egyptology Establishment over the decades as they have used him as a scapegoat for all of the sins of traditional Egyptology. Worse yet, Budge has been scapegoated by the Petrie Claque, the cult of personality that has grown up around the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) which calls him the Father of Egyptology as a "science."  In a new Afterword, I examine both Petrie's dedication to the brutal Social Darwinism of Eugenics and to far-right, anti-democratic, ideologies. I demonstrate that Petrie's politics pervades his published works, his archaeological practice, his personal life, and his theories about Ancient Egypt. The notion that Petrie's work was "scientific" is something that the Petrie Claque asserts with great confidence; one wonders if they have read his works as carefully as they should have...