Wherever you are in the world, the past year has seen many challenges and much sadness. In the UK thousands died of Covid in the first few weeks of this year before numbers began to fall rapidly. In Egypt, whose history and culture is what brings all members of the EES together, though the reported rate of infection has remained relatively low the shortage of vaccine supplies remains a cause for great concern. Until everyone the Society works with is safe we’ve re-prioritised and re-engineered our work and our services to support and promote Egyptian cultural heritage to best effect.
Thanks to the initiative of our staff and with the generous participation of our Egyptologist colleagues we’ve been able to offer an innovative slate of online talks, lectures, and courses which not only attracted many Members but also brought the Society to the attention of new audiences around the world. Although our fieldwork in Egypt has mostly been paused during the pandemic we’ve nevertheless found new ways to provide help to partners in Egypt, expanded access to our archive collections online, as well as continued to produce our regular publications – including Egyptian Archaeology membership magazine and the latest two volumes of the internationally respected JEA.
Last summer we launched a special Heritage at Risk appeal. We set an ambitious target of £10,000 and, thanks to your kind support, far exceeded our expectations. This fund will make a real difference over the next year in providing essential support to projects in Egypt where heritage is particularly vulnerable. This month we were delighted to . She will help us to identify those projects, distribute specialist advice and funds where required, and feed back the results of this work to our Members, whose donations made it possible.
A year ago, I shared with you our worry about the continuing slow decline in our membership and a yearly operating deficit that simply could not continue. I am delighted to say that we have now reversed that trend for the first time in almost a decade, with hundreds more members joining from all over the world. Thanks to your help, we ended the last financial year, not with a deficit but with a very small surplus. Now we need to work hard to retain all our Members and increase our global reach still further, all with one aim: to spread knowledge and understanding of the cultural inheritance that Egypt has given the world.
Most Members welcomed the . However, the two tall trees in our neighbour’s garden continue to push on the back wall of the building, putting our collections and facilities at risk. Though the owners agreed last summer to remove them the Council imposed a tree preservation order pending further investigations. Those investigations have been delayed by Covid restrictions, and only now can we proceed to analyse the damage the trees are causing and decide on any remedial works. I’m confident we will succeed and, although my term of office as Chair of the EES ends this month, I’ll continue to lead the work on this particularly difficult issue for the rest of this year.
I’m delighted now to be handing over the reins of the Board to Dr Campbell Price whose eminence in the field of Egyptology members will already be aware of, and who has been Vice-chair in the past couple of years. I would like to thank him and all the other Trustees, and of course our staff led by Dr Carl Graves: they have all worked very hard to get us through this pandemic. Also, our thanks go to every one of you who has stuck with us through this difficult year, made use of our new services, and offered us your loyal and continued support. We never took it for granted, but without it we might not have survived. Thank you.
Taking over as Chair was always going to be a challenge but, as you can see from Linda’s account of the past year, I’m now able to say with some confidence that we have the chance of a good and productive future in spreading the word and sharing the appreciation of Egypt’s rich heritage. The time and effort that Linda has put into leading the trustees over the past eighteen months has been instrumental in getting us to this position.
This month we welcomed a new member of staff - - who will work alongside Carl to ensure we keep in closer contact with our members, our friends, our partner organisations, and prospective supporters who may not yet be aware of our important work. Look out for regular e-newsletters, website updates, and new social media content as well as our ongoing online event programme which will offer you more news of what we’re planning, what we’re doing and what, thanks to your support, you have helped the Society to achieve.
With Linda overseeing the solution to the trees Carl will take charge of drawing up plans for developing the London premises. We will need to make good the damage and remove asbestos but we may aim to do much more than that. So Carl will canvas ideas about what we should be providing there in the years ahead: an office, a library, an archive, a reading room, a meeting place, a research facility, exhibition space, or a centre for deeper understanding and celebration of Egyptian heritage? The answer is likely to be a mix of some of these. Only once we agree what’s most needed will we know how much it will cost. So please watch this space as we embark on a wide discussion about the organisation’s future.
, marking both the bicentenary of the decipherment of hieroglyphs and the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Next year also marks a hundred years since Egypt gained partial independence from British rule, providing an important opportunity for the EES to continue re-examining our own history in cooperation with Egyptian colleagues.
And it is in Egypt that the most significant developments are taking place, including a range of newly opened museums and heritage sites – not least the world-class Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza, which will showcase material from Tutankhamun’s tomb. Some of the most significant objects in Egyptian and international museums were uncovered in the course of EES excavations, and it was the EES that first sent a young Howard Carter to Egypt, where he was to become arguably the world’s most famous archaeologist. As it reaches its 140th anniversary in 2022, it is an important chance to contextualise the work of the Society and its practitioners in terms of our understanding of Egyptian heritage today.
While we plan for another virtual AGM this December, hearing your views shouldn’t be a once-a-year affair. So, please do let us know your thoughts by emailing [email protected], and continuing to attend and participate in our online events.
Meanwhile, wherever you are, I hope that the next twelve months will bring relief from these strange times and a return to more normal activities. Whatever the future holds, we remain committed to working together with you for the benefit of Egyptian cultural heritage whether through our online programme of events (which will remain a permanent feature), or through the steady reopening of our collections to researchers. Together, we have an exciting future ahead of us.