The unrolling of Egyptian mummies was a popular spectacle in mid-nineteenth-century Britain. In hospitals, theatres, homes and learned institutions mummified bodies, brought from Egypt as souvenirs or curiosities, were opened and examined in front of rapt audiences. The scientific study of mummies emerged within the contexts of early nineteenth-century Egyptomania, particularly following the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822, and the changing attitudes towards medicine, anatomy and the corpse that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act. The best-known mummy unroller of this period was the surgeon and antiquary Thomas Pettigrew, author of the highly respected History of Egyptian Mummies. By examining the locations, audiences and formats of some of Pettigrew's unrollings this paper outlines a historical geography of mummy studies within the intellectual worlds of nineteenth-century Britain, illuminating the patterns of authority, respectability, place and performance that Pettigrew and his colleagues navigated with varying degrees of success.
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41 Dawson's study of Pettigrew is for the most part descriptive, characterized by a diligence in research and a near-total lack of critical reflection on any aspect of the work. While I do not wish to denigrate Dawson's efforts in the study of Egyptology, mummification, the life and work of Pettigrew or any other aspect of his work, his notebooks demonstrate that he was clearly aware of the many problematic aspects of Pettigrew's character, and must have chosen to omit them from his study.
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This paper has benefited from the critical attentions of a number of colleagues, friends and relatives. I am extremely grateful for the comments, criticisms and suggestions generously provided by C. Stephen Briggs, Richard Bussmann, Zoe Crossland, Chris Lawrence, Stephanie Moser, Chana Moshenska, Joe Moshenska, Tim Murray, Mike Parker Pearson, Sara Perry, Stephen Quirke, Raf Salkie, Tim Schadla-Hall, Michael Seymour, Kate Sheppard, Pamela Jane Smith, John Tait, John Taylor, Amara Thornton and David Wetherall, as well as two anonymous referees. This research forms part of a wider project on the history of public archaeology, generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust through an Early Career Research Fellowship.
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