Tea on the terrace takes readers on a journey up and down the Nile with archaeologists and Egyptologists. Travellers such as Americans Theodore Davis, Emma Andrews, and James Breasted, as well as Britons Wallace Budge, Maggie Benson, and Howard Carter arrived in Alexandria, moved on to Cairo, travelled up the Nile by boat and train, and visited Luxor. Throughout the journey, readers spend some time with them at their hotels and on their boats. We listen in on their conversations, watch their activities, and begin to understand that much archaeological work was not done at the field site or in the university museum, as many historians have argued. Instead, understanding the politics of conversation in the social studies of science, the book shows that hotels in Egypt on the way to and from home institutions and excavation sites were liminal, but powerful and central, spaces which became foundations for establishing careers, building and strengthening scientific networks, and generating and experimenting with new ideas. These are familiar stories to readers, but Tea on the terrace presents them in a new framework to show Egyptologists’ activities in a seemingly familiar but unknown space. A mix of archaeological tourism and the history of Egyptology, the book is based on original archival research, using letters, diaries, biographies, and travel guides as well as secondary sources.
The introduction is an entry into the theoretical underpinnings of the book as a whole. In it, I frame my main argument, which is stated in the first few pages as: ‘As the sites of such activities, Egyptian hotels, I argue, functioned as Egyptological think-tanks. Egyptology began and operated under the umbrella of European colonial power, and for the time period in this book, specifically British colonial power. In that context, I analyse the power of ephemeral hotel spaces in the networks formed within them and the interpersonal performances within the places, groups, and networks up and down the Nile.’ I frame this argument in the theories and methods of the social studies of science, geographies of knowledge, the history of archaeology and Egyptology, and the history of tourism and travel.
The first chapter investigates Alexandria, the city that welcomed most Europeans and Americans upon their first arrival in Egypt. Alexandria was then, as it is now, largely ignored by visitors. Archaeologists and tourists alike usually stayed for just one night while waiting for the train to Cairo, and many left the city out of their stories. From 1885 until the end of the period covered by the book, we see that some tourists extended their stay in Alexandria for two or three days before moving south, to Cairo. This was due to the development of Greco-Roman archaeology. The first chapter briefly traces the development of Greco-Roman archaeology in Alexandria and how those discoveries impacted travel in that city. Chapter 1 is more a history of archaeological tourism than of hotels as central sites. This discussion is included because Alexandria, a city that welcomed countless travellers to Egypt, was an important space that is so often ignored.
Chapter 2 focuses on Cairo. Some visitors stayed the whole season in Cairo, venturing out for day trips to nearby Helwan and Memphis, but mostly staying around the city. Many archaeologists would spend several days or weeks in Cairo, preparing their equipment and making final preparations to go into the field for months at a time. Most archaeologists at the end of the nineteenth century could not afford to stay for long in the bigger hotels, which were designed for long-term tourists and cost more than their small excavation budgets would allow. A few, however, had very generous patrons. The hotels discussed in this chapter include Hotel du Nil, the Continental, Shepheard’s Hotel and Mena House. Chapter 2 introduces a lot of the characters in this book, and, as Cairo was the city in which archaeologists prepared themselves, built their scientific networks, and readied their thoughts for the next step in their work, the chapter performs the same role for the argument in this book. That is, it works to introduce many examples and demonstrates the use of hotels as important nodes of networking, building the cognitive landscape, and being useful for certain knowledge-creating activities.
Having finished preparing for the season, some archaeologists went out to the desert areas near Cairo, and throughout Lower Egypt. But many went south to Luxor, heading up the river by steamboat, dahabeah, or train, and sometimes stopping at various points along the way. The third chapter follows these river travellers and centralises their activities on these semi-private boats as scientific institutions in Egyptology. The boats served as labs, classrooms, offices, storerooms, and homes. Some archaeologists, like Charles Wilbour, Emma Andrews, Theodore Davis, Archibald Sayce, and James Breasted, travelled to Luxor in dahabeahs, or private houseboats. They would live on the river in these floating homes, entertain guests, host scientific meetings, and even store their artefacts to keep them safe. While dahabeahs were not necessarily options for all archaeologists on limited budgets, there were enough of them to analyse the role they played as semi-public spaces and as scientific institutions. James Breasted used dahabeahs in this manner, deliberately beginning to do so in 1905 and then continually after that for the next thirty years. He saw these floating laboratories as so important to Egyptology that he attempted, but failed, to get funding for a custom-built steamer to house his work in Egypt. Travelling up the Nile in any conveyance usually strengthened the bonds in each network, and, by turning the dahabeahs and steamers into scientific institutions themselves, they became truth spots by giving credibility to the work the travellers were doing.
The fourth chapter uses the sites and spaces in and around Luxor as the culmination not only of the long journeys of the travellers in this book, but also of the ideas presented throughout these pages. Truth spots, sites of knowledge creation, network creation, the intellectual landscape all peaked in the activities of archaeologists in Luxor. Luxor’s many sites, tombs, and artefacts drew both archaeologists and tourists and, therefore, offered a variety of lodging options. Smaller hotels like the Grand Hotel, Karnak Hotel, and the Savoy, were significant only as meeting places for social events and holiday meals, such as those that took place on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, or New Year’s Eve. From the time it was built in 1907, the Winter Palace became the chosen lodging of many archaeologists, including Carter and Breasted before their houses were built, and Davis when he wanted to get off his boat. The Luxor Hotel, older than the Winter Palace and only a short walk away, was favoured by less generously funded archaeologists and tourists on a budget. This chapter is much longer than the others because there are two major hotel sites to discuss, and, because there exist far more sources for these events, the stories are more complex. The stories of Margaret Benson, Janet Gourlay, Emma Andrews, and E. Harold Jones are detailed here. I also argue for a new view of the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
"The story presented in these pages ends around 1925, when the dispute Carter had with the Department of Antiquities over excavations at the tomb of Tutankhamun was ending. By this time, the antiquities laws that had allowed almost unabated excavation and the expatriation of artefacts had become much stricter. Laws were set by the newly independent Egyptian Government that no longer benefitted Western, rich, white, male excavators but ensured instead that Egypt would retain its control over its own artefacts. For years, Egypt fought for political and economic independence, and by 1922, after the First World War had changed the world order, the British had given them some autonomy. It was in 1922 that Carter found King Tutankhamun’s tomb and all the ‘wonderful things’ it held. The control he tried to maintain over the artefacts he uncovered depended on his use of the space at the Winter Palace and drove the change in laws regarding archaeological finds. Luxor was the place in which, for this book, most of the work was performed and, therefore, was the most exclusive in terms of location and participation.The conclusion ties together all of the themes and ideas in the book, as well as proposing new avenues of investigation. "