Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jeffrey Abt's "American Egyptologist"

Jeffrey Abt is associate professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University. He is the author of A Museum on the Verge: A Socioeconomic History of the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1885–2000.

Here he writes about his choice for the lead in a big-screen adaptation of his new book, American Egyptologist: The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute:
Harrison Ford, of course, is my first choice. But I’d cast him as he is today: older, seasoned by life’s travails, less swashbuckling, but still charismatic. Though seemingly far-fetched, my preference comes from Indiana Jones’s remark, near the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that he studied archaeology at the University of Chicago—the school where my subject, James Henry Breasted, created his Oriental Institute. When George Lucas was asked why he wrote Chicago into the film, he replied it was because he believed Chicago was “one of the best universities for archaeological study.” That impression underscores the impact of Breasted’s career on the American imagination.

Breasted was not just an Egyptologist and daring explorer, however. He was also a brilliant scholar and captivating speaker who, more than any other American, brought the ancient Near East to life for generations of his fellow citizens. Perhaps, if George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to add yet one more chapter to the Indiana Jones saga, they might well return to the college campus where it began. But this time the film would start with an older and more circumspect Jones as he recalled a career in which an outward life of bold explorations overshadowed personal struggles with the great questions of his era.
Learn more about American Egyptologist at the University of Chicago Press website and Jeffrey Abt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue