Margaret Murray: Outside UCL, Part 1

As many of you know, once you think you’re finished with a project, more and more material comes in.  It’s pretty fun, and thankfully we have outlets, such as blogs, to continue the work.  While attending the HARN conference in Glasgow at the beginning of this month, I was delighted at the quality of the papers we got to hear (see a full list HERE).  One of the papers that caught my particular attention was given by Clare Lewis.  Clare is working on Egyptological Inaugural Lectures (EILs), and is looking at their significance at University College London, Oxford, and Liverpool.  She is comparing and contrasting the goals and ideas of the chairs as they come in to their new positions, and how the promises they make in their ILs play out in their careers and in the discipline of Egyptology.  It is fascinating work.

As she and I were talking, she asked me if I’d seen Murray’s application for the Brunner Chair of Egyptology at Liverpool in 1919.  Not surprisingly, I hadn’t.  The fun, but also frustrating, thing about Murray is that she wrote to so many people and did so many different things in her long career that you never know where a letter of hers or evidence of her activity will turn up.  For example, I found a letter of hers in Chicago, which revealed her feelings about her mother’s death to James Breasted, feelings that she didn’t even share in her own autobiography, making it the only known evidence we have of her reaction to that traumatic event.  But, back to the story.  Clare kindly sent along these notes to me, which I have reproduced below, with her permission (thank you, Clare!).  The following is quoted with kind permission of the Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.  It is available in the Carey Correspondence in the Newberry MSS 1.7/78 and it is dated 27th November, 1919.

The University of Liverpool, Faculty of Arts, Report of the Committee upon the applications for the Brunner Chair of Egyptology
Two applications were received, from Miss M.A. Murray and Mr TE Peet. The Committee interviewed both candidates and are unanimous in recommending the election of Mr T.E. Peet.
Miss M A Murray entered as a student in the department of Egyptology at University College London in 1894 and became a teacher in the department in 1898. In 1909 she was appointed a University Extension Lecturer in Egyptology for the University of Oxford and in 1910 to a similar post in the University of London. She became a recognised teacher in the University of London in 1915 and Secretary of the Board of Anthropological Studies in 1917. She took part in excavations in Egypt and at Abydos (1902-3) and Saqarra (1903-4). She has numerous and valuable publications to her credit including Egyptian and Coptic Grammars. The Committee received distinguished testimony to her zeal and success as a teacher.
Mr T E Peet is already well known as a distinguished archaeologist. A pupil of Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby, he gained a scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford in 1901. He took a Second Class in Classical and in Mathematical Moderations in 1903, and a Second Class in Literae Humaniores in 1905. In 1906 he obtained the Craven Fellowship and in 1909 was appointed Pelham student in the British School in Rome.
His first archaeological work (1906-9) was in connection with the pre-historic periods in Italy – embodied in his “Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy and Scility. In 1908-9 Mr Peet took part in the excavations of the British School of Rome in Malta; and in 1909 he joined in the excavations of Wace and Thompson in Thessaly. These early years of work gave him a wide first hand knowledge of Mediterranean archaeology in general and more particularly that of Italy, Greece and the Aegaean, the Balkans and the so-called megalithic area.
In 1909 Mr Peet first entered upon Egyptian Archaeology, assisting Professor Garstang’s excavations of that winter The following season he was invited to excavate for the Egypt Exploration Fund at Abydos. The result of these excavations, which were continued until the outbreak of War, are published in the three volumes of the Exploration Fund memoires entitled ‘Cemeteries of Abydos’.
On the philological side Mr Peet has also done distinguished work. In hieroglyphs he was published the first volume of the Corpus of Egyptian Inscriptions from Sinai, the inscriptions of the Cemeteries at Abydos, the ‘Stela of Sebekkhu’ and various articles on grammatical points.
Mr Peet holds at present a Lectureship in Egyptology in the University of Manchester. Both in this capacity and as an official of the Egypt Exploration Fund he has had considerable experience of public lecturing and class work.
In recommending Mr Peet the committee are assured that he will fill the Chair with distinction as an archaeologist of recognised eminence, as a philologist with a scholarly mastery of the Egyptian language and as a teacher of proved capacity…

These notes reveal a few things about Murray, as well as about the process of choosing this chair at this time.

We have known that Murray was looking for outside work, and pursuing other paths of scholarship during the Great War, as she thought “Egyptology flat and unprofitable” during that time.  She had helped the Petries to organize and catalog properly the collections that had come to UCL since 1892.  But she had also done some work on the Grail Romance and is (in)famous for her scholarship on witchcraft and folklore.  However, I had always thought that she had planned on returning to UCL after everything was over and her students would return to the classroom.  But instead we find her trying to get a permanent position at a university far from London.  In doing so, she was likely, as in other non-Egyptological pursuits, trying to get out of Petries shadow and possibly away from memories of caring for her dying mother.

We see by the hiring committee notes here that her qualifications were quite comparable to Peet’s, except in two ways—she didn’t have a university degree (even if Peet’s was second class), and she didn’t have as much field experience as he did.  That she was a woman, I think, only plays into this story because being a woman stopped her from having the two things that Peet did.  First, it is not clear in anything I’ve seen why Murray did not take her examinations to complete her degree at UCL.  She was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1931, but she still had not officially completed her undergraduate degree by 1916.  Her training was done in the classroom, partly, and partly simply by working at Petrie’s side from the time she started at UCL in 1894.  By 1898, when many students who arrived with her had completed their degrees, she was instead teaching the beginning hieroglyphics class.  It is possible that she was needed to teach and did not have time or a reason to complete her coursework.

Secondly, she did not have the experience in the field that Peet had for a couple of reasons.  In part, this was because she was a woman, but as there were plenty of other women regularly in the field by this time, this cannot be the main reason.  She did not have the field experience because, as Petrie’s trusted teacher and administrator in the department while he was gone 6 months of the year, she could not leave to excavate like Peet did.  As many have argued, the field at this time was the male domain of archaeology.  More and more women were participating in it, but in the university system, women were expected to take more of an administrative role in the department.  This is what Murray did, and why she only had 2 seasons of field experience in Egypt, compared to Peet’s 5 seasons there, and 4 seasons elsewhere.  This demonstrated his excavation record and the assurance he would continue this activity.  We must also remember that by this time, Murray was 53 and the likelihood of her being able to continue strenuous dig seasons was slim, where Peet was a good 15 years her junior.

Further study needed here include some comparison with other women applying for chair positions, and the notes on their success or failure in getting those chairs.  Dorothy Garrod’s Disney Chair comes to mind–what others are out there in this period?  What were their qualifications?  What made them legitimate candidates tended to be things Murray didn’t have: fieldwork and degrees.

Finally, what was Murray’s reaction to this?  Not getting the position did not slow Murray down, in the end, although it must have been a disappointment.  Again, she never mentioned it in her autobiography, the only record we have of her life from her own point of view (aside from letters) because she kept no personal journals.  These types of rare finds in unexpected place are key to the continuing study of Murray, and other historical figures.  Each piece makes the picture a little clearer and we get an idea of the archaeologist as not just a scientist, but also as a human.

I encourage you, if you find anything on Murray, please do send it to me!

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One Response to Margaret Murray: Outside UCL, Part 1

  1. harngroup says:

    Reblogged this on HARN Weblog and commented:
    Margaret Murray – the story continues

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