History 270.01
Course Description
and Goals

This course focuses on the role played by environment in the formation and progress of ancient Egyptian history and culture from the Neolithic Era to the Ptolemaic Period (7000-34 BC). By combining traditional text-based historical methodologies with archaeology, and with careful and circumspect inclusion of issues of environmental determinism, it examines the geography and topography of the Nile Valley (river, cultivation, deserts, climate, seasons, etc.) to understand how the Egyptians adapted them for development, and to understand the extent to which environmental issues could have impacted the course of history. Specifically, texts and inscriptions are used as a counterpoise to the physical and environmental evidence, assessing the degree to which they might or might not corraborate arguments of environmental causation. Archaeological data on specific sites and processes are also integrated into the argumentation.

Important topics covered are: the flood cycle of the Nile River, its connection to the agricultural system, land tenure, the distributive economy and taxation, the significance of the river as a means of communication and transportation, the irrigation system, the influence of geography on Egyptian conceptions of cosmos and religion, the calendar and reckoning of time, the relationship of time and space in the Egyptian psyche. In terms of cultural ecology, the course probes the extent to which Nile-flood levels could affect Egyptian history in any given period. Textual genres examined in this course include: Egyptian political and historical inscriptions, religious texts (hymns, prayers and myths), Nile flood-level records, tax and rental accounts, land leases and bills of sale, wills, deeds of endowment, royal exemption decrees, graffiti, private letters and autobiographical inscriptions, as well as Greek and Roman tracts on Egyptian geography, history and economy (viz. Hecataeus, Herodotus, Diodorus, Strabo, Plutarch, etc.).