One of the things that I wanted to do with Notes From the Apotheke was to amplify the voices and contributions of BIPOC scholars in ancient studies, at all levels and from all backgrounds. BIPOC in the field are invited to reflect on what brought them to studying the ancient world, as well as offer their opinions on the future of the discipline and share any work they are especially proud of or excited about.
Check out this month’s post by Annissa Malvoisin and learn more about her journey to studying the ancient world and her thoughts about the future of Egyptology! You can find previous posts in the series here.
I’m Annissa – I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto (U of T) and I am an Egyptologist, Nubian Studies specialist, Museum Studies specialist, and ceramicist.
My dissertation investigates the inter-regional relationships between Nile Valley civilizations Egypt and Nubia, and the regional cultures of Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya between 500 BCE and 500 CE. I do this by following the geographical, ideological, symbolic, and artistic movement of Meroitic pottery, named after the capital city of Meroe in Nubia.
Ultimately, my project aims to identify similarities between pottery in each respective region while re-evaluating their archaeological records found in museum collections in order to better contribute to their understanding in cultural institutions and as a complex type of material culture (not me rambling about how collection surveys need to be more consistent in cultural institutions in order to properly contextualize and understand objects). I think it’s pretty interesting.
How I ended up over here
My introduction to the ancient world was through popular culture – movies to be exact, a space where my family and I like to get lost in different worlds and stories. But I never thought I would become a historian or an archaeologist.
Only when I started my undergrad did I discover that I love what can be learned from ancient societies and the place of their material culture in museums.
This little girl from Scarborough was still captivated by being transported to different worlds through literature (influenced by my talented sister, who is a writer), and excelled in that field. So, I went to university planning on studying English and specializing in writing. Then I took my first introductory course to Egypt and loved it.
I began to specialize in ceramics and sought out opportunities to work with ceramics in museum collections and on archaeological projects.
If you know me, you know I love me a pot. I love what pottery can tell me, what they carry; I like that I can tell where they’ve been, and how they’ve travelled. Thus began the foundation of the material centre for what would later be my dissertation proposal.
During my undergrad, a PhD was not on my mind, but an MA was.
Torn between Egyptology and Museum Studies, the promise of a practical internship component led me to choose the latter program, and I earned a Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) from the Faculty of Information at UofT. Now, at this point (!), I am critiquing museums, collections management, and provenance both as a combined result of my archaeological background and a critical MA program, and now I definitely want to pursue a PhD. I was accepted for my doctorate at U of T in the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations.
All of this to say that art, history, archaeology, and museums were not part of my initial plan for my professional trajectory, but I am thankful that I took that first class, which sparked my academic interest in early African history.
Changes in the Field of Egyptology
In addition to the connection between the Mediterranean and Africa, one of the central objectives of my dissertation is to examine regional connections between East and West Africa.
It may seem obvious but studying Egypt in its African context isn’t completely commonplace in the academic world. Ideologically, historically, and politically, it is located somewhere between Europe and West Asia. Grounded by early archaeologists of ancient Egypt and Nubia, this narrative is repeated in foundational academic literature. I found this humorous and began to think about where Egyptology and Nubian Studies (if the latter specialization existed at all, but that’s a whole other issue for another time) were situated in the academic sphere.
Institutionally, you can typically study these histories in the Near and Middle Eastern or Classical Studies departments. Lol.
Okay, then I thought that this is clearly due to the contemporary situation of each region, which leans more political than geographical. Still, though – a bit humorous.
I have always been interested in interconnection and exchange and am therefore unsurprised that my dissertation takes on re-evaluating East and West African connection, a hole in the academic literature that is at its genesis of beginning to close.
Lastly, the discipline is not diverse. I say this in terms of perspective, race, and discipline.
That is certainly something I’d like to see change, and to be honest, the process has begun. Egyptology is often, and has traditionally been, studied as a silo, but it is such a field that is inherently interdisciplinary and will only benefit from being studied that way (shout out to Interdisciplinary Egyptology Journal!).
Fine tuning my best friend of a dissertation has been my life for the past year.
I am helping as an archival researcher with the El-Kurru Archaeological Project which has been amazing.
I am also a member of the William Leo Hansberry Society (check it out!!). Being the only Black student in Egyptology at a Canadian institution and engaging with problematic literature and interpretation alone was numbing. Members of the WLHS found me floating before the society was founded and being part of that community has been one of my most momentous and beautiful experiences.
I am currently the Arts of Africa fellow at the Bard Graduate Center (BGC) and the Brooklyn Museum (BkM) teaching a course on the Arts of Africa at the BGC helping with the museum collection of the Arts of Africa in preparation for the BkM’s new permanent gallery.
I am excited to see how the gallery flows and wish to keep the conversation going between the interpretive approach to galleries of historical African collections in a contemporary vision and to continue discussing the discontinuity of separating certain areas of Northeast Africa from the rest of its continent, for the sake of current and future scholars, and also for museum audiences engaging with problematic interpretations of museum displays. Because, whether we know/feel it or not, the engagement lingers and finds its way from the tangible museum (and even academic!!) space to the intangible intellectual space – which manifests in our thinking.
Whew chile, I know it’s a lot – but it’s true!
What is next? For now, I’m out here, and hoping to put what I’ve learned and unlearned into practice in a way that engages with Africa poetically, with history, with present and future, and with incredible promise.