Egypt Through The Stereoscope

A Journey Through The Land Of The Pharaohs

by James Henry Breasted | 1908 | 103,705 words

Examines how stereographs were used as a means of virtual travel. Focuses on James Henry Breasted's "Egypt through the Stereoscope" (1905, 1908). Provides context for resources in the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). Part 3 of a 4 part course called "History through the Stereoscope."...

The Itinerary

Together we are about to make the tour of a remarkable river valley, more thickly strewn with monuments of early civilization than is any land in all the world. We are not (actually) to enter the country in the body, but this will make no difference, if we can obtain the experiences, the states of consciousness, of being there. Such experiences are obtainable by the right use of the stereoscope, the stereographs and the accompanying maps.

Though we do not actually walk from place to place, still we shall know what it means to stand in one hundred different places in the valley, and if you note carefully where we stand in each case, you will be making the tour of the country with very many, if not all, of the experiences which you would gain by an actual visit. We shall view what we are to see, particularly the monuments, in a number of different aspects.

First, Locality. We must in every case study the particular part of Egypt we are viewing in relation to its surroundings. With your eyes within the hood of the instrument (stereoscope) you must consider carefully the various relations of the prospect before you, the direction in which you are looking, what lies beyond a distant horizon, what is to the right, left, or behind you.

On the Nile we are especially blessed with important and always present elements of the geography, by means of which we shall be able to locate ourselves. We must always ask, where is the river? on which side of it are we? where are the eastern walls of the cañon? where are the western walls? where is the desert? for these things are practically always with us, as soon as we have passed from the Delta into the valley.

Further, when a number of standpoints are in localities contiguous or partially identical, we must ask ourselves in every case as we look out over the new prospect, where did we stand in our last position? Even when the distance from the last position is many miles, if you think in what direction it now lies, you will be able to connect the one hundred points of view into a coherent whole, and into a definite progress through the land in a real and connected tour.

Second, History. Having considered place, we must turn to time, which really means history. In most cases the part of Egypt before us will contain some great monument marking an important historical event or period or a series of these. The main epochs of Egyptian history can be made so familiar to you in a short time, that you will be able to place every monument, not merely in its proper locality in the Nile valley, but be able to see it also in its great historical perspective. The conversation which we shall hold together at each place will be such, that when your memory fails you, the place of the monument will be suggested and recalled.

Third, Art. Many of the monuments upon which we shall look are valuable, and sometimes phenomenal works of art. Let us always think of their value and meaning as such; let us not imagine that the form of the object before us has always existed as a matter of course, but let us remember that many of the things which we shall see, did not exist until they were conceived by the mind of the Egyptian, and thus a great contribution was made to later human culture, which has profited by the genius of the Egyptian.

Fourth, Mechanics. We shall find in the Nile valley some of the greatest mechanical achievements of man; and indeed the greatest in oriental antiquity. Let us always think of the mighty works which we are to see in this aspect also, realizing that many of the processes employed were first evolved and used by the Egyptians.

If we observe these precautions we shall finally come to see all these things as human documents, the offspring of the mind of ancient man, and frequently opening to us the possibilities of that mind, as a literary document could not do, however superior the literary documents in most cases may be. Doing this we shall not be making merely a local progress through the country, but we shall also follow the career of its people through the ages and gain a comprehensive conception of Egypt, not merely as a land and a place, but also as a great first chapter in the fascinating story of man.

But the first condition leading up to this mental conquest is to place ourselves at the point of view, to obtain a vivid sense of location in the northeastern part of Africa, with eyes in the hood of the instrument, forgetting that we are sitting in an armchair in modern America, as we look out over prospect after prospect in the Nile valley. If you will but believe it, you will have experiences of looking through a window, from which all that might be seen on the spot will appear in its proper dimensions. In my opinion there is no other means of obtaining impressions like those of standing on the actual spot, anywhere near as perfect as those to be obtained by the right use of the stereoscope and this map system.

Above all, do not look at a place for a careless few seconds and throw it down in disappointment, but follow with me the points which we are to note together and find them in every case either in the scene or on a map; and when you have done this, then follow them all through again, noting each detail as you pass it.

You will be surprised to find after you have done this, how much each section of the land has come to mean, what an intelligible story it tells and how much more there is in it than you supposed beforehand. If you do this for every one of the outlooks from the one hundred points of view, you will have become more familiar with Egypt than most tourists in that country, who usually read so rapidly on the spot and are hurried about at such a rate, that they bring home only blurred and confused impressions of what they have seen.

Furthermore, wherever your memory later fails you, you have only to return to the spot by means of the stereoscope and renew your impression, which the tourist cannot do.

Finally, make constant and repeated use of all the maps; never take a position without having first found it on the map, if it is there at all (only two or three are not marked with red lines on the maps), and then compare it with the last point of view as to distance, direction, etc. Frequent references are made to the maps in the texts, but it has been impossible to refer to them in every line where they should be used. It is impossible to use them too much, and it will be found very useful to have the map open before you on the table constantly, turning it around as you take each new position, so that you have the apex of the red V, marking out the direction and field of your vision, pointing toward you.

You will then be looking across the map in the same direction in which you are looking, in that particular view in Egypt; and right and left, in front and behind, as you find them mentioned in the book, will exactly correspond on the map; even though some of the print on the map may often be upside down.

Let us now open the large map (3), and trace the route which we are to follow through the country. We shall land at Alexandria, proceed by rail to Cairo, where we pass from the Delta into the cañon of the river. From Cairo, after a short study of the town and some of the important monuments in the museum, we shall visit the surrounding points of interest; the pyramids, Memphis, Heliopolis with its solitary obelisk, the quarries from which the stone of the pyramids was taken, and the city of Pithom to the northeast, built by the Hebrews.

Leaving Cairo and beginning the voyage of the river, we shall visit the Fayum, the great oasis on the west side of the river; and the south end of the line of pyramids. Then, passing these monuments of the Old and Middle Kingdom, we reach the tombs of Benihasan; then the tombs of Assiut, over two hundred miles above Cairo, with suggestions of the coming rise of Thebes; then entering the great Theban period, we visit our first temple at Abydos, and, after a brief visit at Dendera, we reach Thebes itself. Here we shall spend a long time, studying first the east and then the west side of the river.

After a visit at El-Kab and Edfu, fifty miles or so above Thebes, we shall reach the first cataract, where we shall visit Assuan, Elephantine, and beautiful Philae. We then enter Nubia and shall stop at Kalabesheh and Kasr Ibrim on our way to Abu Simbel and its great cliff temple. We shall then have followed the Nile River from the mouth to the vicinity of the second cataract.

Leaving the Nile at Wadi Halfa, we shall pass over the desert railway from there to Abu Hammed, cutting off the great bend of the river, on our way to Khartum, but shall make no stop until the last-named place is reached. We shall look at the tomb of the Mahdi, at Omdurman, opposite Khartum, and view the palace of the governor of the Sudan in Khartum itself. Here our voyage will end; or you can follow it back to the Mediterranean through the same places if you wish.

You will find nearly all the places which we visit underlined with red on this map, and this will enable you to find the points without difficulty. If you notice any slight difference in spelling on the various maps, this is due to the fact that these names are all Arabic, and that it is therefore possible to put them into English in several different forms. As our maps are from different sources, and made by different men, uniformity was impossible. Turn now to Alexandria. There we are to stand and look north toward the Mediterranean.


Details to be Observed:

First—Move the slide, or carrier, which holds the stereograph, to the
point on the shaft of the stereoscope where the subjects in the scene can
be seen most distinctly.

Second—Have a strong, steady light on the stereograph. This is often
best obtainable by sitting with the window or lamp at one side, letting
the light fall over the shoulder.

Third—Hold the stereoscope with the hood close against the forehead
and temples, shutting off entirely all immediate surroundings.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: