I’m taking “Ancient Egypt in London” as a course this term. It is certainly a class I wouldn’t be able to take at Caltech. It is a reading intensive course that aims to strip away long held misconceptions about Egypt. Amazingly, lecture is in the British Museum! The opportunity to have lectures in the Egyptian galleries is such a treat. We spent the first lecture in a room dedicated to pre-dynastic Egypt (roughly 4000-3100 BC) looking at burials, pottery, cosmetic palettes, and tools. In pre-dynastic Egypt there were no mummies, no sarcophagi, mostly just bodies buried in the sand with a small number of clay or stone pots containing goods. The graves are very sparse compared to the later extravagant tombs of pharaohs.
The Western fascination with ancient Egypt was kicked off during the Enlightenment after an invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. It was during this period, and continuing on since, that excavations of Egypt began on a massive scale. With this period in mind, we spent our time at the British Museum this week in the Hall of Enlightenment. It is a huge room meant to give a feel for a gentleman’s study during the Enlightenment period. As such, it is dimly lit and full of vastly diverse treasures: shells, plants, animals, crockery, scientific instruments, rocks, dinosaur fossils, neoclassical sculpture, religious artifacts, Greek pottery, Egyptian carvings, etc… All the artifacts demonstrated an explosion in curiosity about the nature of man in all his aspects. The idea behind our time in the gallery was to gain a context for how ancient Egypt entered the British mind at the time of its “rediscovery.” For example, one view of Enlightenment thinkers was that Greek art was more highly evolved than Egyptian art. Another example, the bodies of buried Egyptians were used medicinally. Pulverized mummy was used in salves for bruises, among other uses. Incredible how that which socially accepted can change in so short a time period!
This statue is where we meet at the beginning of class:
Let’s face it: the US loves being just a little different from everyone else. The obvious example? Units of measurement. As an international student from Canada, even I have no clue what’s going on half the time when my friends talk to me and use these weird nonsensical units. And I’ve literally lived on the border between Canada and the States for all my life. After a year here, I’ve finally got a sense of how the two systems of measurement compare and how you can more easily get your bearings with these weird units.
After a year spent in “soft-lockdown” at home in Atlanta, and as Caltech students prepared to finally return to campus, I was aboard an eight hour flight towards Edinburgh, Scotland. Since my junior year plans were interrupted by the virus who shall not be named, I’m spending my first term of senior year studying abroad through the Caltech - Edinburgh University International Exchange program. I’ve only been here just over a week yet have been exposed to so many new people, perspectives, foods, and classes.
When the announcement was first made that fall term was going to be online, I started talking to friends and looking for places to live. We were debating locations around the country: California, Florida, New York, etc.. there were plenty of options. Then it suddenly hit me, what is stopping us from going to Hawaii, covid numbers were better and a two week quarentine would ensure that numbers stayed down… I proposed this to my friend and we agreed it would be an amazing experience, but we didn’t want to get out hopes up. A month or so later we still haven’t decided where to live, Hawaii seemed too far and too difficult to plan. But we couldn’t get the idea out of our heads. We spent some time looking into plane tickets, places to stay, etc… and it actually didn’t seem so impossible after all. A couple weeks later and we were arriving here on the big island!