MCN 2: Electric Boogaloo


Hey all!

I know I said before that I was going to start updating more frequently, and I do still plan to, starting next week (giving myself a hard deadline here), but it’s been a difficult year for me – not the least of which because I’ve been without a computer, and I’ve been working a lot (including starting a new part-time job as a studio assistant for an artist friend based here in Boston!)

That said – it was MCN again this past week, and in Pittsburgh to boot! I had a great week, visiting several museums and networking with plenty of people in the museum field. The conference was invigorating – I feel truly motivated for the first time in a while and I hope to carry that through, first through here on my blog but also in other aspects as well.

One of the most interesting experiences of the week was the networking event at the Andy Warhol Museum. The museum itself is designed for the visitor to start at the top floor, at the beginning of his life, and then follow it down each floor to his death (on the third floor) and the response to his legacy in the remaining two. However, I was not aware of this myself and so went up the opposite direction, up the stairs. It made for a surprising inversion of the content – the colleague I was with and I commented on that as we walked through, initially through our mutual confusion and later as we began to realize the mistake we had made.  Also, the couch and silver balloon installations were super-neat.

Conference networking can take many forms…

– with Megan Brett

Additionally, a colleague I met at the conference and I decided to trek out to The Mattress Factory (which, despite its name, is not in fact a mattress factory, but rather a contemporary art museum which prides itself on working with artists to create site-specific art installations).  The artwork was fascinating…and not just a little bit creepy, as the below photos from the secondary buildings’ intallations demonstrate.  From imposing structures impossibly built inside rooms, to intricately laid-out facades of tiny scenes haphazardly placed for one to navigate through – and even to barren rooms with a lone chair facing a recurring screen of a dying plant, all serving to make one re-evaluate what they’re seeing, what they’re hearing, and even what is real:

Not to be outdone, the main building also offered its fair share of uncomfortable moments, as indicated by “It’s All About ME, Not You” – a permanent exhibition by Greer Lankton on sex, sexuality, violence, and addiction.

The show itself, which is autobiographical in nature, was initially exhibited in 1996.  Alas, Lankton died on the opening night, so her family donated the work to the museum in her name to have it displayed in perpetuity.  The work itself, as the above photo illustrates, is not for the faint of heart.  Even in this glimpse one sees the individual laid in her bed, a veritable mountain of pill bottles strewn around her; a victim of self-medication gone too far perhaps?  Additional symbols of female suffering abound as well; paraplegic women bleeding from their torsos, anorexic sufferers, and also a series of Christian symbolism – perhaps a reference to her self-condemnation?

Of course, this past week wasn’t all about museum visits and drinking with colleagues; I also got to listen to some great speech sessions throughout the week.  One in particular of note was a panel headlined by a colleague and friend of mine from the Peabody Essex Museum, Ed Rodley, who had a lot to say on exhibit development and innovation – namely, that we just don’t innovate enough.  Innovation, he argues, is more than tweaking the status quo, but rather engaging the material and, even more so, the process at every stage of development.  Transition is a series of questions following a trial-by-error methodology where we iterate, then adjust based on results, and iterate again.  Nothing, he argues, is ever complete, and we should be aware of that.


More so than that, innovation is also about questioning one’s mindset: if we always start from the same point of addressing a problem, then we are only ever going to get the same result, so we need to change the mindset.  Our brains like patterns, and in fact we go out of our way to make them, even when they don’t really exist.  But if we change our initial input, then that small change (or innovation) can lead us down a completely different path.  Put another way (as Mark Rosewater of Magic: the Gathering is found of saying): “Limitations breed creativity.”  By giving ourselves a rule that we must adhere to, we force our brains to change the outcome, giving us a fresh new perspective to work from.  Of course, as one of Ed’s co-panelists pointed out, we don’t want to continually be completely transforming every element of everything all the time – there’s a point where ‘transformative’ becomes ‘disruptive turbulence.’  The goal is to work on knowing when to throw the baby out, and when to simply change the temperature, so to speak.

And with that, I must bid you all adieu.  As I said at the beginning, though, I do promise to update more regularly, probably on Sundays or Mondays, based on when I can expect to have downtime on the computer at work, but we shall see.

So, until next week, bye!




Live @MCN!

I know it has been a long while since I’ve posted anything on this site, but I’ve been dealing with a lot of life stuff (moving, transitioning into a new job, etc) and I’ve also been struggling with what I want this blog to be. I am still struggling with that, but I hope to start making consistent content again in the near future.

All the housekeeping aside though, I have exciting news! I was chosen as a volunteer for this year’s MCN conference in New Orleans! This is my first time attending the conference, and I’m super-excited!

For those unaware, MCN (Museum Computer Network) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping museums and other cultural organizations navigate the complex and ever-changing digital world.

This moves beyond “this is how to use twitter and wordpress to market your institution,” by the way. Rather, the goal is to help museums adjust to the digital world on a more basic institutional level. Things like how to adapt and adopt policies for the digital age. It’s one thing to get the newest digital collections interface for your collection, but another entirely to figure out which one works specifically for your needs. similarly with evaluation and marketing – how best can you reach your audience? And how can you best reach rhose who aren’t traditional members of your audience?

Our world is getting ever-more complex. Just twenty years ago, mobile phones were huge, bulky, and cost thousands of dollars, and the internet barely existed outside of the military and university systems. Now, ‘smartphones’ with more computing power than we sent humans to the moon with are nigh-ubiquitous, and the internet has evolved into a tremendous platform for independent knowledge generation and sharing. Google now exists as the prime information-checking source, replacinf encyclopedias and dictionaries. All of this change is an extreme amount of development for that short of an amount of time, and there is no sign of digital development slowing down any time soon. This is why MCN is so important, and I couldn’t be more honoured to attend.

My Entire Thesis and ARCE

I know that this has been a long time in coming, but I’ve decided that instead of posting portions of my thesis at a time, to instead post its entirety on a separate page for you all to peruse at your leisure.  Please check it out here!


In other news, the semester is drawing to a close here at Tufts University, complete with a lot of work to finish in the next few days.  However, I am happy to announce that a few weeks ago, I was able to attend the annual ARCE conference in Portland, OR!  There were so many great talks – indeed, too many to keep straight in my head, let alone see!  I also had the happy opportunity to meet several major figures in the Egyptological world, including James Hoch, who literally wrote the book on Egyptian grammar! (his book formed the basis of my grammatical understanding of Three Wonders, and as such is cited therein) It was a great shame, however, that I was unable to see my advisor from Beloit, who could not make it, nor could I introduce myself to Harold Hays, who as I mentioned before passed away this past year.

Nonetheless, ARCE was a great experience, and I can’t wait until Houston in 2015!


Calling for advice

As many of my personal friends know, I am a bit of a nerd. Specifically,  I love playing the card game “Magic: the Gathering.” Currently, I have amassed a small collection, as well as several decks. I find deck-building to be almost as much fun as playing – kind of like when I design an exhibit. Indeed, these decks could even be considered “exhibits” of my collection – the pieces currently on “display” (i.e. being used).

To make this analogy even more literal, I have decided to embark on a new project – inventorying my collection and inputting them into a museum database. Unfortunately, I cannot afford the databases that are most widely used by museums: Emu, re:Discovery, PastPerfect, etc. Also, I am already well-versed in PastPerfect and have had some experience with the other 2 listed here. Instead, I am interested in trying my hand at some of the free systems out there. A simple google search uncovers a long list, which is where my need for advice comes in: is there a particular free database that is gaining traction? One that I should absolutely learn? Please comment here or message me through my contact form with suggestions!


Submitted my First Abstract

I have just submitted my first abstract to an academic annual meeting conference. This particular academic organization is ARCE: The American Research Center in Egypt.  I got my abstract in just under the deadline, and of course I do not expect it to be accepted.  However, my goal is to get my name out as an individual interested in pursuing this career, and possibly making professional connections.  As such, I do plan on attending the actual conference in any case, which is in Portland, OR on April 4-6, 2014.  This is the abstract that I just submitted for approval:

Considering Gender and Religious Accessibility:

Gendered Stratification in Achieving Religious Absolution

In her essay “An Archaeology of Social Relations in an Egyptian Village” (1998), Lynn Meskell considers gender relations through the delineation of space in the domestic sphere.  Specifically drawing upon the excavated evidence of Bruyère at Deir el Medina, she organizes Egyptian domestic life based on the use of ritualistic iconography in combination with stereotypical machinations of gender, such as workmen’s tools and cooking supplies. By drawing on this iconography, she advances a notion of Bruyère’s lit clos (Meskell 223) as the main representation of middle-aged women at the site.

Yet, the presence of only fertility deities in this context suggests at a larger construction of society –namely, that of gender relations in a religious context. For example, Ramesside coffins depict a masculinization of the deceased woman, in order for her to become one with Osiris and thereby be resurrected in the afterlife.  Similarly, female Pharaohs generally undertook a masculinizing process to assert their own dominance.  Moreover, gendered space is illustrated through isolated represenations of the divine; namely, distinctions between fertility deities, such as Bes, and more stately gods, like Amun-Re.  Finally, gender relations are exemplified in couple burials and artistic iconography, wherein women are ordinarily depicted as subservient to their male relatives and husbands.  Therefore, religious absolution could only be accessed by women through a male interlocutor, a gendered imbalance indicative of the stratification of the society.


Undergraduate Thesis IV and the Passing of Harold Hayes

I have sad news to tell my readers.

Very recently, my undergraduate thesis advisor emailed to inform me that Harold Hayes, Lecturer of Egyptology at Leiden University, passed away on November 20, 2013, as a result of heart failure from a recurring illness.  Thee following is his obituary:

Harold Hayes was a good friend of my advisor, and his paper The Historicity of Papyrus Westcar served as the crux of my undergraduate honours thesis argument, of which I enumerated in Section IV, below.  He was a brilliant man, and I should have liked to meet him.  Rest in peace, Harold Hayes, LPH.




In interpreting Egyptian “prose” tales as representing some sort of historicity, one misses the underlying message these texts attempt to achieve.  For example, we read in Three Tales of Wonder, “He spoke concerning her [Redjadet] that they [her 3 sons] shall achieve this excellent office in this land in its entirety” (Papyrus Westcar IX 11). By making this claim, the magician Djedi prophetically tells of the coming of the first three kings of Dynasty V.  These three kings serve as the precedent that the entirety of the Papyrus Westcar is an explanation of the change in political power from Dynasty IV to V (Lichtheim 1973:216), as well as the change in the religious dynamic.  Dr. Harold M. Hays disagrees with this assessment.

“For my own part, even after having set its wonders aside, I would argue that the text comes up short when approached for its historical content, but that, on the contrary, it can be prized as a literary work” (Hayes 2000:2).

In laying out his thesis in The Historicity of Papyrus Westcar, Hays enumerates three main points, thereby rejecting the theory that Three Tales of Wonder should be viewed as purely historical in intent.  His first point addresses the claim that Papyrus Westcar demonstrates the development of the sun cult in Dynasty V (Hays 2000:2).  As early as Dynasty IV, the pharaohs appear to increase their use of the “Son of Re” (i.e., “son of the sun”) name. Concerning the advent of the “Sun Temple,” under Pharaoh Userkaf (the first Pharaoh of Dynasty V[i]) Hays notes several issues.  Three of the kings after Khufu, he points out, use the “Son of Re” name in Dynasty IV.  These are the Pharaohs Djedefre, Khafre, and Menkaure (Hays 2000:2-3). Khafre and Menkaure are two of the three pharaohs who constructed the large pyramids at Giza.  Conversely, when one considers the pharaohs of Dynasty V, the dynasty in which some scholars claim the “Son of Re” name developed, there exist only four uses of the title (Hays 2000:3): Sahure, Niuserre, Izezi, and Wenis.

Thus, there is no significant rise in the use of the “Son of Re” name, and no correlation with the advent of sun temples.  Izezi and Wenis are the last two pharaohs of Dynasty V, and yet these two kings did not have sun temples constructed in their name.  Conversely, Sahure and Niuserre are the only pharaohs who used the “Son of Re” name and who also had sun temples constructed.  This means that the construction of sun temples and use of the “Son of Re” name are not correlated (Hays 2000:3), and that Re was already an important deity before the start of the Fifth Dynasty.  Furthermore, Hays suggests that the “Harmakhis temple” at the base of the Sphinx (carved in the Fourth Dynasty, at the time that Khafre’s pyramid was constructed), could also be considered a sun temple, which seriously challenges the belief that these temple types are purely a Dynasty V phenomenon.

                Hays’ second point discusses the issue of kingship succession.  In response to King Khufu’s discontent with Djedi’s prophecy, the sage explains, “… [F]irst your son, then his son, then one of them” (Papyrus Westcar IX 14).  This means that Khufu’s son, Hardedef, will assume power after Khufu, followed by Hardedef’s son, before shifting power to the three sons of Redjadet.  However, Hays points out that the Old Kingdom king lists clearly illustrate that not two, but four pharaohs intervened between Khufu (Dynasty IV) and the first king (Userkaf) of Dynasty V (Hays 2000:7).

Finally, Hays’ discusses (based on the king lists) the names of the first three pharaohs of Dynasty V (Hays 2000:7): Userkaf, Sahure, and finally Nefirerkare, whose birth name was Kakai.  In referring to the names as translated from the Ancient Egyptian, similarities of the first and last of these names are of interest to Hays (Hays 2000:7).  He leaves the second name out of his discussion, believing it to not be close enough in spelling to mention. Furthermore, although he mentions in a footnote that the name “Redjadet,” referring to the mother of the three kings in the story could actually be a reference to Khentikaus, who was the mother of probably two of the first three kings of Dynasty V (Hays 2000:8), he concludes that these two names are too dissimilar to be taken as mere artistic license. However, he does admit that there is a certain artistic similarity between the names of the first and third pharaohs: Wsrf (Papyrus Westcar X 9) with Userkaf, and Kkw (Papyrus Westcar X 23) with Kakai, the birth name of Nefirerkare (Hays 2000:7).

Although he believes the second name of Ra sAx (Papyrus Westcar X 17) is not at all related to the name of Sahure, one can interpret the name Ra sAx as quite similar to the actual king’s name.  This is because it was common in ancient Egyptian writing to honorifically transpose names: i.e., to write the deity’s name first because it was the most important element in the name (Brewer and Teeter 2007:138).  By placing Re at the end of the name, and then transliterating it into Ancient Greek, one easily gets the name Saphres, or Sahure as we know him.  Perhaps, then, one can understand the names in Three Tales of Wonder as representing the names of the first three kings of Dynasty V.  Yet, this does not detract from Hays’ overall argument.  The names, as accurate as they may be, are still only puns on the originals.  Therefore, there is artistic license in how this scene is constructed; artistic license, which Hays is certain, has some motive other than merely representing, or misrepresenting, history.

                Hays’ first point concerning solar imagery in Dynasty IV seems reasonable. For example, some have suggested that the function of the mortuary temple of Khufu in his pyramid complex at Giza was to venerate the pharaoh’s “celestial aspect of Ra” (Brewer and Teeter 2007:182).  Ritual boats found at the site suggest this interpretation.  These boats could have served the pharaoh on his celestial journey across the heavens in his afterlife (Brewer and Teeter 2007:182) in order to forever manage Egypt from above. With respect to Hays’ second point, modern scholars basically agree that three or four Dynasty IV pharaohs followed after Khufu’s reign to the beginning of Dynasty V.  A footnote from Hays discusses the argument that two “blood-successors standing for more than one each” (Hays 2000:7) does exist, and that the ancient author could have, as artistic license, combined multiple successors together.  However, this is a weak argument, and one that Hays does not readily accept.  Rather, to explain this inaccuracy, Hays argues that there must have been another reason for doing so (Hays 2000:8).

In looking at Hays’ theory of the current interpretation of Papyrus Westcar, one can see how labeling the work as “prose” is problematic.  There is a message being imparted to the reader, and it is not just history.  If the historicity of Papyrus Westcar is the entire purpose of the tale, then why include a section in which Khufu is told about a boating party conducted years ago by his father, Snefru? Why include a story in which Khufu actually witnesses a sage replace severed heads onto their proper bodies? These questions represent the crux of Hays’ argument (Hays 2000:8).  After hearing the story of the boating party, Khufu states “I have seen his display of skill” (Lichtheim 1973:217) and decrees an offering to be made.  Yet, it is clear that he has not witnessed this miracle.  His son, Prince Hardedef, points this out, and suggests that he witness a true miracle in his own time (Papyrus Westcar VI 22-25), the miracles of the magician Djedi.  Hays argues that by introducing Djedi, Prince Hardedef introduces “a narrative about true and false things” (Hays 2000:9), reflecting how truth and lies are represented.  Entertainment and seriousness, an extension of the dichotomy of true and false things, are blurred throughout the story. A chief lector-priest like Djada-em-ankh in the boating party story (Lichtheim 1973:217) and the magician Djedi in the story of the severed heads are called upon to placate the bored pharaoh.  Compare that with the three gods sent down to aid Redjadet in giving birth. They are disguised as “female musicians with Khnum as their palanquin” (Papyrus Westcar IX 27-28). The lector-priest might not have existed, or managed to reclaim a lost pendant from the sea, but the three future pharaohs certainly did exist and were bound to the aid of those who appear as entertainers.  In the former two cases, the role of chief lector-priest and the role of the magician are adopted for whimsy, but in the case of the births frivolity is a disguise for importance.

Taking into consideration the dichotomy of “true and false things” (Hays 2000:9), Papyrus Westcar questions itself as a relevant historical source (Hays 2000:9).  We have already seen how the names of the three kings are puns on their original names, and that the order of kings is misrepresented.  Therefore, according to Hays, Papyrus Westcar is using history to impart a message and it is this: “…[I]f the story is to be read as a coherent whole, then how all of the old kings are characterized has to be put in relation to the new line” (Hays 2000:11).  The tale is perfectly balanced.  At the front, there is King Snefru, King Khufu, and Prince Hardedef.  At the end, there are the three sons of Redjadet.  Snefru, as seen through the boating party, is bored and decides to have scantily clad women take him for a joyride in a boat (Lichtheim 1973:216).  Khufu, also bored, demands his sons to tell him tales of miracles and magicians (Hays 2000:12).  Prince Hardedef secures the magician Djedi for the purpose of entertainment.  These are all incredibly selfish undertakings; instead of conducting the duties of the State, these decadent pharaohs look for an escape from their work. Contrast this with the three new kings. They, Re promises the gods, will “build new temples, and that their altars will be endowed, their offering tables abundantly provided for, and their divine offerings multiplied” (Hays 2000:12); all things, in other words, that a true and just pharaoh ought to do. Additionally, these offerings will be made available to all the gods, not just to the sun-god Re, further weakening the theory that this is a treatise on the sun cult.  Finally, the miracle of Redjadet’s birthing experience is a miracle created for the greater good of Egypt rather than for personal satisfaction.  Thus, Three Tales of Wonder elaborates on what it means to be a “good” king, thereby placing the tale within a specific historical context to drive home the point.  The historicity of the tale is generally irrelevant, except to provide a historical context for which kings the author considers to be effective rulers versus which ones are not.

[i] Note the similarity of the name “Userkaf” to that of “Wsrf,” as seen in the papyrus. I will return to this point later.


Brewer, Douglas J. and Emily Teeter. 2007.  Egypt and the Egyptians: Second Edition.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

de Buck, A.1963.  The Papyrus Westcar.  Egyptian Reading Book, 2nd Ed.  Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.

Hays, Harold M. April 2000.  The Historicity of Papyrus Westcar.  Presented at the annual ARCE meeting, held at Berkeley.

James, T.G.H. 2005.  The British Museum Concise Introduction to Ancient Egypt.  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Lichtheim, Miriam.1973.  Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol. I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms.  Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Strauss, Susan. 1996.     The Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation.  Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.

References for Translation:

de Buck, A. 1963.  The Papyrus Westcar.  Egyptian Reading Book, 2nd Ed.  Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.

Gardiner, Sir Alan. 1957.  Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, Third Edition.  Oxford, UK: Griffith Insitute.

Hoch, James E. 1997.  Middle Egyptian Grammar.  Toronto, Canada: Benben Publications.

Faulkner, Raymond O. 1962.  A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Oxford: Griffith Institute.

Shennun, David. 1977.  English-Egyptian Index of Faulkner’s Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian.  Malibu, CA: Undena Publications.


The Beginning of a New Semester

A new semester has begun at Tufts University, and with it a new program. This year, I officially begin my Master’s in Classical Archaeology, now that my internship is drawing to a close.  I am still working at the MIT Museum, but in a limited role, for I am a TA of a course this fall, Classics 0037: History of Ancient Greece.  Not only will I be grading in this course, but I am also teaching a discussion section once a week, with approximately 15-20 students from the larger seminar class.  Additionally, I return to my position at the Tufts University Art Gallery, but with a change – guided tours!  Now refreshingly trained in VTS, or Visual Thinking Strategies, I will be giving tours to groups throughout the year.  This does not mean that my other duties have changed, however.  Indeed, I am once again taking up the mantle of marketing, with a return to my weekly post “Devon’s Pick of the Week.”  Originally posted to the Tufts University Art Gallery Facebook Page, I will also post them on this website, so keep an eye out for those!

As for courses, I am taking an advanced level Archaeology of Ancient Egypt and the Near East course, as well as a refresher course in Greek.  I am also taking Latin, but as the summer intensive only prepared me for Latin 3 (undergraduate-level Intermediate Latin – as expected), I am taking an intense independent study with my adviser to get me from Latin 3 to what is effectively Latin 6 – a graduate-level Latin course in the Spring.  I’m nervous, but I should be OK.

Wish me luck, and have a good semester everyone!