What is this course about? Can someone with no experience or a first year student take it?

This course is an introduction to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Absolutely no background is required and first year students are most welcome! Plus you can even fulfill your language requirement with 4 semesters of Middle Egyptian.

What material are you most excited about to be teaching in this course? Why?

Students learn hieroglyphs by reading excerpts from actual ancient Egyptian stories. One of my favorites comes from Papyrus Westcar, which is a cycle of stories about magicians, including one who is able to reattach severed heads. A close second is a story, aptly called the Shipwrecked Sailor, in which a sailor washes up on a magic island and meets a gigantic, talking snake, who may or may not be a god.

What would you say are the easiest and hardest aspects of learning Middle Egyptian?

The easiest is that no one cares about your accent! There are no oral or listening exams like there are for modern languages, because Middle Egyptian is a dead language. The hardest aspect is that reading Middle Egyptian is a bit like problem solving, because the writings are often ambiguous and can be interpreted in multiple ways.

How did you get into Egyptology?

I loved museums as a child (and still do) and spent far too much time in various ancient galleries. Then in college, I began taking classes in ancient languages and decided that hieroglyphs were, by far and away, the best ancient writing system.

What can the 21st century student get from reading hieroglyphic texts?

The most practical thing you can learn as a 21st century student is obviously the spells from the Book of the Dead, which I’m sure will have everyday relevance. Just kidding! While this may sound surprising, my serious answer is that reading hieroglyphic texts improves your decoding skills. If you love math or engineering, you might find that these texts require the use of logic and deduction in fun ways. 

If you have any questions about this course, please reach out to Professor Davis or the curriculum coordinator at mes-curriculumassistant@umich.edu. More information on MELANG 430 can be found here