While Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 military conquest of Egypt was short-lived, Description de L'Egypte is an enduring legacy of the brief French occupation. Napoleon authorized the monumental publication in 1802 as a record of the scientific and social studies undertaken after his Egyptian campaign.
The completed work fills twenty-three volumes and contains engravings depicting 3,000 individual images. Description de L'Egypte documents many aspects of Egypt's history and culture and has sections devoted to antiquities, the modern state, and natural history. An atlas supplements the text.
Description de L'Egypte was intended for an academic audience, and many copies of the first edition were distributed directly to institutions. However, it was clear even before the original production was complete that the title had a much broader appeal. The descriptions of Egyptian antiquities and religious monuments satisfied a curiosity about ancient cultures, religion, and mythology that had been sparked by the Romantic movement.
The description of modern Islamic culture addressed a rising interest in Orientalism that was focused particularly on North Africa and the Near East. The popular demand for the title led Parisian publisher Charles-Louis-Fleury Panckoucke to print a second edition in 1820.
The library owns a copy of the second edition of Description de L'Egypte, which serves as a valuable record of not only Napoleon's scientific and cultural endeavors, but also the early-nineteenth-century origins of the French connection to Egypt and North Africa.
Description de L'Egypte
January 31, 2007