Deborah Vischak Assistant Professor
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 North Abydos Expedition with Dr. Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Abydos was one of the most important sacred sites in ancient Egypt, home to first royal cemetery in Egypt (c.3000-2650 BCE) and the primary cult place of the god Osiris. The North Abydos Expedition concession, granted by permission from the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, holds the remains of material culture built over 4000 years, including vast cemetery fieids dating from the early Old Kingdom (c. 2600 BCE) through the end of the Roman period (c. 300 CE). Currently the Expedition is focusing on the conservation and site management of the Shunet el-Zebib, a massive, mudbrick monument built for the last king of the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2650 BCE), and the excavation of an area that includes an early Old Kingdom cemetery and the remains of an Predynastic brewery at the north edge of the site.
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.
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 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.
“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).