Deborah Vischak

Assistant Professor of Art and Archaeology
Ancient Egyptian Art History and Archaeology
Office Phone
1S-12 Green Hall


Ph.D., New York University, 2006

Deborah Vischak specializes in ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology, with a secondary focus in the art and archaeology of the ancient Middle East. Drawing on analytical methods from both art-historical and archaeological scholarship, Vischak’s work seeks a unified approach to all material forms, from landscapes to monumental sculpture and architecture, and the innumerable layers between. Her work explores a range of themes, including the importance of spatial context, embodied experiences of landscape and material culture, the communicative role of style, community identities, the social construction of ancient visuality, the significance of difference in material culture, and the agency of the people who produced it. A central goal of Vischak’s work is to communicate more actively with the wider art historical and archaeological communities, in order to encourage a more substantial role for ancient Egyptian visual culture in the scholarly dialogues concerning history and material culture.

Her recent monograph Community and Identity in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 2015) analyzes the unusual Old Kingdom elite tombs in the ancient cemetery at Qubbet el-Hawa in modern Aswan. The book argues that the unique form of these monuments represents a carefully and intentionally crafted expression of local community identity within the framework of the Egyptian state, an identity rooted in the location of the town at the boundary between Egypt and Nubia, and by the work of the local population on border control and expeditions into Nubia.

Vischak is co-director of the Abydos South Project with Mr. Mohammed al-Badie of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. This collaborative American-Egyptian project works in the southern part of the important ancient site of Abydos in Upper Egypt. The concession is anchored by a group of royal monuments built by Ahmose, the first king of the New Kingdom (c. 1500 BCE). These include the last pyramid built in Egypt with associated temples, a mudbrick pyramid built for Ahmose’s grandmother, an underground tomb/cenotaph structure, and a temple built into the high desert cliffs. The area also includes ancient material stretching from the Pre-dynastic era to the Roman period (c. 4000BCE-200CE). The project’s work began this year with securing and protecting the site and is now moving into active research and conservation projects.

At Princeton, Vischak is on the executive committee of the Program in Archaeology, and on the steering committee for the Program in Comparative Antiquity. She serves as a faculty fellow at Mathey College, and is affiliated faculty in the Department of Classics and the Program in African Studies.

Teaching Interests

Vischak teaches courses in ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology from all time periods, as well as archaeological methods and theory and comparative studies of ancient Middle Eastern art. Her teaching approaches ancient monuments as the products of real people by bringing out environments, materials, creative processes, and modes of reception, and developing narratives around groups of objects. Students engage primary and secondary sources to hone their skills of formal analysis, to illuminate the different ways objects may be used to understand the past, and to develop fundamental skills of critical thinking.

Current Research

Current projects include a monograph on ancient Egyptian elite tombs from their pre-Dynastic origins through the Greco-Roman era, integrating their material, visual, and textual aspects in a comprehensive manner. In addition, Vischak is coediting a volume publishing the papers presented at the conference The Egyptian Image in Context, which she organized when she was a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton.

Selected Publications

Community and Identity in Ancient Egypt: The Old Kingdom Cemetery at Qubbet el-Hawa (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

“Agency in Old Kingdom Elite Tomb Programs: Traditions, Locations, and Variable Meanings,” in Dekorierte Grabanlagen im Alten Reich: Methodik und Interpretation, Internet-beiträge zur Ägyptologie und Sudanarchäologie 6, ed. Martin Fitzenreiter and Michael Herb (Golden House Publications, 2006).

“Common Ground between Pyramid Texts and Old Kingdom Tomb Design: The Case of Ankhmahor,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 40 (2003).