Manchester has a long association with Orientalist discourses. Many of the city’s cotton firms did business with Egypt and South Asia (Gandhi famously boycotted Lancashire textiles, because they put indigenous spinners and weavers out of business). A number of Manchester cotton magnates collected Oriental art and artefacts, while Jesse Haworth sponsored archaeological excavations in Egypt and later presented his collections to the Manchester Museum. Enriqueta Rylands even visited the Pyramids at Giza. The University too was closely associated with Orientalist subjects such as Egyptology.
These interests coalesced in the Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society, which was founded in October 1912 through the amalgamation of the former Manchester Egyptian Association (founded 1906) and the Manchester Oriental Society (founded 1910). Both predecessor societies were closely associated with the University of Manchester, a link reflected in the amalgamated group’s change of name to the Manchester University Egyptian and Oriental Society in 1935. The Society aimed to promote the study of Egyptian and Oriental language, literature and archaeology, and to support the work of contemporary excavating societies. Several professors and lecturers in the University’s Department of Theology were members of the constituent societies, such as Maurice A. Canney, Thomas Fish and Harold Henry Rowley, as was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford, Louis Casartelli.
The MEOS will be of great interest to anyone interested in Orientalism, and the interface between the academic strand of Orientalism and its more populist forms. One of our volunteers, Sandra Cruise, has recently recatalogued the archive in considerable detail. The full catalogue is now available online via Elgar: https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/manchesteruniversity/data/gb133-meo.
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