Université de Strasbourg

Inaugural lecture Marc Bloch Chair - From sandy Bahariya to the gilded court of Thebes: an interdisciplinary pathway in Egyptology

June 1, 2023
From 15:30 until 16:30
Salle de conférence, MISHA, Strasbourg

By Frédéric Colin, USIAS Marc Bloch Chair 2022-2024

With an introduction by David Le Breton, USIAS Chair of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds


An Egyptologist is traditionally thought of as a specialist in the ancient history of a chrono-cultural area defined by linguistic and cultural criteria: the Nile Valley and the bordering regions that were home to populations whose writing and language were documented for over 3,000 years, from the third millennium BC to the first millennium AD.

In theory, Egyptology is a synthetic discipline, involving archaeology (studying objects and structures discovered on excavation sites), philology (editing ancient texts), history (combining archaeological and textual sources to answer historical questions) and other fields from social sciences and humanities that can shed light on the dynamics of societies. 

Archeology dig

In reality, researchers and institutions tend to specialise in one of these sub-fields. From an epistemological point of view, this specialisation is a spontaneous phenomenon that may be required to advance increasingly sophisticated knowledge. However, it also generates reassuring internal and external disciplinary boundaries, which owe more to contingent traditions of teaching than to the objective needs of advancing knowledge. The lecture will include several examples to illustrate the value of scientific wandering that often overpasses artificial borders, provided that one dares to take a temporarily naive look at a well-known problem, which can generate unexpected creativity.

The lecture will emphasize the usefulness of developing first-hand experimental techniques and skills to which we do not always pay the greatest attention in the humanities because of an affinity for theory and idea-driven knowledge. From this perspective, testing and improving archaeological applications of digital photogrammetry in the Egyptian collection of the University of Strasbourg and on the excavation site of the Assasif proved fundamental to be able to capitalise on an important chance discovery in 2018, 2019 and 2021. The photogrammetric method that was systematically used to document the excavation, both for the stratigraphy and for the objects, provided valid support for the contextual interpretation of the finding. 

Without this flexible, accurate and rapid tool, the highly unstructured context from which the five 3,500-year-old sarcophagi came would have made real-time data recording and post-excavation interpretation extremely difficult. This method has also allowed the rigorous recording of a “crime scene” that attests to acts of vandalism against funerary monuments in Pharaonic antiquity, of which modern and recent examples in the context of the antiquities market are much better known.

Frédéric ColinThis address is the inaugural lecture of the Marc Bloch Chair of USIAS. It is intended for a broad audience, who will be invited to learn about the subject from a pioneering researcher working at the spearhead of research. The lecture will be held in French.

The lecture is the second part of a larger event, which starts with the inaugural lecture of the Paul Ehrlich Chair The brain on opiates by neurobiologist Brigitte Kieffer - see the full programme of the afternoon.


The Marc Bloch Chair in the social sciences and humanities was created in 2022, as one of three temporary chair positions with a duration of two years, for Strasbourg-based researchers who have made an exceptional contribution to their field. The Chair is named in honour of Marc Bloch (1886-1944), a French historian who was a professor of medieval history at the University of Strasbourg from 1921-1936. Co-founder of the historical journal “Annales”, he was known for his work on comparative and economic history, and his interest in interdisciplinarity.

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