Personality: Zahi Hawass

3 Feb

If you’re working in museum curation or are interested in really old Egyptian stuff, you’ve probably come across the name Zahi Hawass.  I think he’s an interesting cookie, so I thought I’d give him a little nod as an illustration of the type of people you can run across in your work with rare materials.  He’s not representative, but he has some traits I think are more commonly found than not.

Dr. Hawass is, first and foremost, an expert in Egyptology.  He’s got an interest in King Tutankhamen that’s well-documented, as well as solid footing in other eras.  He goes out to sites himself and is passionate about what he does.  The down side is that he’s passionate about what he does to the point of not being overly willing to cooperate with other nations regarding Egyptian artifacts.  His position, right or not, is that many prominent or important artifacts rightfully belong to Egypt and must be returned.  Notable in his quest are his attempts to get Britain to return many of the British Museum artifacts.  He has said that he will make life miserable for anyone who does not return these objects, insinuated that they are perpetrating the legacy of theft from Egypt, and other un-pleasantries.  He’s also known for being rather…forceful and has been said to forbid archaeologists from announcing their findings.

So why does he matter?  Well, aside from his professional contributions, I wrote about him because when you deal with archival materials, you’re not always dealing with papers.  Even if you are, there are people like him doing that.  Not knowing they’re out there is bound to come as a shock to someone who has never dealt with someone like Dr. Hawass.  It’s easy to be intimidated by their extensive knowledge, passion and forceful personalities.

The lesson here: always remember that as a professional you are representing your institution.  It might not be the biggest or best funded, but it’s just as worthy as the biggest and best funded.  Be as involved with what you do.  Don’t be bowled over by experts, but be respectful of the work they’ve done.

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