Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Robert Vitalis


Empire of Dust tells the intertwined story of Egypt and Egyptian archaeology in the nineteenth century, showing, for the first time, exactly how the history of Egyptian archaeology fits into a grand narrative about the making of modern Egypt. From the institutional reforms of the Mehmet Ali era, it follows the emergence and building of archaeological institutions based on those reforms in the second half of the century, with a particular focus on the creation of the Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte and its activities in rural Egypt. It shows that—along with better-known features of dynastic state-building in this period, such as the growth of the Egyptian army, agricultural intensification, cotton production, and trade monopolies—the state’s appropriation and material possession of the sites of antiquity were part and parcel of its modern dynastic formation. It proposes a novel mechanism through which Mehmet Ali and his successors conceptually reactivated the grandeur, wealth, and power of the ancient Egyptian kings through their reclamation of Egyptian antiquities land. In the context of this dynastic state-building process, it also details the indigenous modes of production, in particular the institution of the Egyptian reis, or labor foreman, which made possible the production of archaeological knowledge in nineteenth-century Egypt. It describes in detail the work of the Service des Antiquités as well as foreign institutions and archaeologists in the field, during the second half of the nineteenth century, paying close attention to the evolution of archaeological labor, season by season. This study demonstrates that, i) European colonialism was a weaker force in Egypt’s archaeological economy than is generally assumed, ii) the dynastic Egyptian state was a much more powerful economic, social, and cultural force in the history of Egyptology and archaeology than is generally recognized, and iii) the archaeological labor system that supported the creation of new knowledge about ancient Egypt was neither a colonial construction nor an alternative, indigenous way of knowing. It was, rather, a structure internal to the social dynamics of nineteenth-century Egypt, which inextricably linked low-cost labor and complex, large-scale excavation in the production of archaeological knowledge.


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