By Bella Omar
Asst. Arts & Features Editor
Julia Troche, an Egyptologist teaching at Missouri State University, visited Framingham State on Oct. 16 to deliver a lecture, “Current Debates in Digital Egyptology, Or What Happens When Scholars Assign Race to the Pharaohs” in the Heineman Ecumenical Center.
Bartholomew Brinkman, English professor at Framingham State, began the event by introducing Troche, along with her many accolades.
She is the director of undergraduate studies at Missouri State and co-founded both the American Research Center in Egypt, Missouri Chapter, and the annual Missouri Egyptological Symposium.
The “Death, Power and Apotheosis in Ancient Egypt: The Old and Middle Kingdoms” author, published with Cornell University Press and published in 2021, received her B.A. in history from UCLA in 2008 and her Ph.D. in Egyptology and Assyriology from Brown University in 2015.
Troche prefaced her lecture by stating how “Egyptology, as a discipline, has very much been concerned with race from the beginning.
“Specifically, there was a clear effort by white western scholars to claim Egypt as a product of a white race that a non-Black, non-African, non-Arab and a part of Christian tradition rather than Muslim tradition,” she continued.
She said that the lack of training in the historiography of Egyptology has been a “detriment to the field.”
She added this is because of how “many of us have become complicit in interpretations and so called histories that are motivated explicitly by racism, xenophobia, pseudoscience, and anti-Black, anti-African and anti-Arab, anti-Islamic sentiments.”
This lack of awareness has manifested in itself in recent digital Egyptology projects that she discussed only after providing some background on the “role of digital humanities in the field.”
She revealed her epigraphic work in Egypt and how it is a prime paradigm of how Egyptology “has been fairly quick to utilize digital methods of recording and collecting data, analyzing data, and disseminating it.”
Her epigraphic work was completed by using the “old school way” of recording the drawings on the walls, scanning them, and then utilizing tools like Adobe Illustrator and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to interpret.
Troche then showed the audience images from her time in Petra, where she worked as a field surveyor.
Her and her colleagues would walk on plots of land, 10 meters apart from each other, “looking at the ground, collecting artifacts, and that way we were able to date those artifacts and figure out where sort of different sites might be located.”
She said recently Egyptology has been “focusing on digital reconstruction of ancient sites.” Harvard hosted Digital Giza, one of the more significant projects, she added.
They have developed 3D, immersive models of the tombs, and sites and monuments on the Acropolis and “present archeological information in innovative ways with a goal of teaching and research in mind,” she said.
She went on to explain how these projects are extremely user friendly and have accessibility to students and instructors at the core of their interfaces.
UCLA has a project titled Digital Karnak which “largely uses photogrammetry to reconstruct and recreate the ancient temple, not just as it currently stands but has stood at different eras,” allowing for users to have a more immersive history learning experience, she said.
Troche then began to explain how in order to avoid depicting Egyptian deities as any particular ethnicity, in some virtual experiences, they are exclusively shown as their respective colorless hieroglyphics.
She then took the audience through a concept game called “Dead Pharaoh,” where the player undergoes a series of trials as if they were buried in an Egyptian tomb.
Other virtual projects that depict ancient Egyptians did not shy away from depicting deliberate skin tones, such as the popular video game “Assassin’s Creed Origins,” created by Ubisoft Montreal.
Ubisoft “consulted with historians and Egyptologists to recreate a fairly accurate ancient world, though it is clearly imaginary,” Troche said.
Wrapping up the lecture, she said, “We need to increase pathways for Black African American students and scholars and Egyptian American scholars and students to study Egyptology and succeed in a slightly competitive field.”