Information for Potential Graduate Students
Thank you for your interest in the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at The
University of Memphis. This letter is intended to answer your questions about preparations
at the undergraduate level for a potential career in Egyptology. The University of
Memphis program in Art History offers both a Bachelor's degree (B.A.) and a Master's
degree (M.A.) in Art History with concentrations in Egyptian Art and Archaeology.
A Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History with the concentration in Egyptian art and
archaeology, which includes required coursework in Egyptian art, history, and language,
would provide you with an excellent start to a career in the field. Additionally,
undergraduate students may choose to major in Art History or History, and take courses
in Egyptian art and culture offered at the undergraduate level.
Students seeking an graduate degree often ask what preparation is necessary for a career in Egyptology, and what are the job prospects. Egyptology is an extremely competitive field requiring many years of specialized graduate study resulting in a doctoral level degree (Ph.D.). First, you will need to complete an undergraduate degree in a related field such as Art History, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Near / Middle Eastern Studies, or Classical Studies. Since Egyptological research at an advanced level requires use of books and articles written in French and German, it is a very good idea to begin study of one or both languages as soon as possible. The study of these modern languages is more valuable for you at this stage than trying to teach yourself Egyptian hieroglyphs (Middle Egyptian), which can wait until you can receive instruction at the graduate level. Although a knowledge of Arabic, the language spoken in Egypt today, is useful and practical, it is not required for the study of ancient Egypt either at the undergraduate or graduate level at this time.
Upon completion of an undergraduate degree in one of the major fields mentioned above, qualified students can enter a Master's degree program such as the one offered at the University of Memphis (one of a very few such Egyptology programs in North America). Exceptional students with the proper undergraduate preparation can also apply directly to a Ph.D. program at one of the centers of Egyptological research. Universities with well-regarded Ph.D. programs in Egyptology include (among others) Brown, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, University of California/Berkeley, University of California/Los Angeles, the University of Michigan, and New York University; Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Toronto in Canada also have programs. The University of Memphis also offers a Ph.D. in Ancient History, which allows a specialization in Egyptian history. Egyptology programs abound in the United Kingdom and Europe. There is also a program at The American University in Cairo (where instruction is in English). Most universities with a graduate program in Egyptology also offer courses at the undergraduate level, and will allow interested undergraduates to take graduate courses with permission and a few universities have undergraduate degree programs. Each university program tends to have its own sub-specialties, depending on the background and interests of the faculty. For example, The University of Memphis is one of very few programs which centers primarily on the art of Egypt, as do the programs at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts and Emory University.
Students also frequently ask about the need or desirability of archaeological field experience for a career in Egyptology. No archaeological experience is required for acceptance to any Egyptology program of study. However, if you would like to eventually work on an archaeological project in Egypt, your best action to take now is to enroll in an archaeological field school run by a reputable U.S. college or university. The field school experience trains you in the methods and theory of excavation. Some field schools around the U.S. and the world are listed in a print publication entitled the Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin, available through the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The AIA also makes available an on-line database of Fieldwork opportunities. A few of these programs will take high school students. Excavation work in Egypt is generally limited to students at the graduate level who have acquired a strong Egyptological background. Another web site of interest is from the American Anthropological Association at http://www.americananthro.org/StayInformed/fieldschool.aspx.
The Egyptology job market is extremely competitive, with many well-qualified candidates competing for a a few, fairly low-paying jobs. The two main career tracks are that of university professor and museum curator (usually in a museum with a fairly large Egyptian collection). The preparation for both career paths is similar, although the aspiring curator will want to have coursework and one or more degrees in Art History or Anthropology. Coursework in Museum Studies is also beneficial. While it is possible for a trained Egyptologist to work in the ancient art or auction market, these jobs are extremely few in number, and you should be aware that professionally trained archaeologists are prohibited by their code of ethics from participating in the trade in ancient Egyptian art. No Egyptologist chooses the study of ancient Egyptian culture as a career expecting material rewards; professional degrees such as law, business, or medicine are better routes for anyone looking for a more secure financial future. For more information on careers in Egyptology and a list of Egyptology programs abroad, you can also go to http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/er/.
For information about applying to graduate school at the University of Memphis, please see the web pages at http://www.memphis.edu/graduateadmissions/future/apply_grad.php. You may also visit the Department of Art web site for the graduate program in Art History at http://www.memphis.edu/art/programs/ma_arthistory.php or the Department of History at http://www.memphis.edu/history/egyptology/ for additional information, and instructions on how to apply.
Whatever decision you make about your future, we wish you every success in your chosen career.