A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Déscription de l'Égypte Online

The Déscription de l'Égypte, the immense 20-volume work produced by the 160 savants who accompanied Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, is a massive work of pioneering scholarship, producing eleven volumes of plates (including an Atlas volume which included the first scientifically surveyed maps of many parts of the country) and nine volumes of text, and is one of the truly great products of the Enlightenment. The surveys and sketches were collected by the civilian scholars during the French Occupation of 1798-1801, and published over the period of 1809-1829. Wikipedia offers a good description of the history of the work, which appeared in various editions with the volumes numbered differently in some. Only about 1000 sets were printed, and the work is hard to find.

Modern digital technology, however, has come to the rescue. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina has digitized 11 volumes of plates in its collection and the nine volumes of text owned by the  Institut de l'Égypte and made it available online. It's not the easiest site to use; I find the zoomed-in function for reading the pages a little slow loading, but unless you are one of those lucky collectors with a set on your shelf, it's a wonderful contribution. (My link is to the English homepage for convenience; there's also a French homepage. But whichever gateway you choose, the work itself is of course entirely in French.) This was Europe's first real exploration of Egypt, the beginning of modern study of the country both ancient and modern, and most people have never had access to it.  Now we do.

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