Degree Granting Department
Art and Art History
Elisabeth Fraser, Ph.D.
Helena Szepe, Ph.D.
Sheramy Bundrick, Ph.D.
France, Egypt, colonialism, travelogue, engravings
This study analyzes the travel conventions manifest in the engravings of the
Description de l’Egypte produced as a result of the Napoleonic campaign
to Egypt in 1798 and published between 1809 and 1828. The first chapter examines the
discourse established on Egypt in travelogues throughout the eighteenth century prior to
the invasion of the country. I argue that the perceptions developed around the country
did not stem from actual experience, but from political and economic motivations that
cast Egypt in a light favorable for occupation.
I examine how this perception was challenged during the collapse of distance
between the French and Egyptians in the process of colonial encounter. Drawing upon
medical records and proclamations of the French medical team in Egypt, I examine a
specific epidemic known as ophthalmia that led to swollen, irritated eyes and eventual
blindness throughout the French army in Egypt. While it is actually caused by
Chlamydia, in every appearance it makes in French medical records throughout the
occupation, the disease was blamed on the climate, sunlight, and air specific to the land
of Egypt. As a result, I argue that the
Description’s hyper-real contrasts of light and dark
and amplified decay in its representations of the monuments residing in Egypt’s ravaging
climate are determined by the manner vision itself was altered by the epidemic of
I then contend that there exists a metaphorical parallel between the decaying
pharaonic monuments in the
Description and the perceived decay of modern Egyptian
society that are linked by misconceptions of Egypt’s climate. I conclude that the effect
of Egypt’s climate believed to destroy both physical monuments and physiological
disposition was used as evidence to support the larger agenda of French imperialism that
justified colonization of Egypt.
Lastly, this study examines how Egyptians counteracted the negative discourse of
their race by appropriating symbols of their country used in European representations and
altering them to develop a national identity. Tracing the time period from French
occupation through British colonization, Egyptians were able to galvanize resistance
while still working within the confines of colonial control.
Scholar Commons Citation
Oliver, Elizabeth L., "Vision and Disease in the Napoleonic Description de l’Egypte (1809-1828): The Constraints of French Intellectual Imperialism and the Roots of Egyptian Self-Definition" (2006). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.