Wittenberg University held a celebratory event on Thursday, Nov. 30, to recognize Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom and the publication of her book, “The Monastic Landscape of Late Antique Egypt: An Archaeological Reconstruction.” Several history students and professors gathered eagerly in Founders Pub to listen to the author explain the drive behind her book and answer questions.
Brooks Hedstrom has over two dozen published articles and book chapters to her name, and has been invited to speak in Rome, and at UCLA and Oxford. Brooks Hedstrom wrote her book on the monastic life in Egypt to remove the stereotypes about ancient Egypt that she knew were common in history circles.
“This topic of monastic Egypt is one in which people imagined what the other world was like… too many of my colleagues over the last several generations have imagined what Egypt was like rather than actually look at the material, so my book is trying to put the physical world into the hands of people who only read about the monastic world through text, and not by actually physically going there,” Brooks Hedstrom said.
Historians in the 19th and 20th centuries had perceptions of the monks living in Egypt being illiterate and secluded men living in small, isolated caves, when in fact many monks were heavily involved in Egyptian communities and lived in constructed physical structures close to these communities. 19th and 20th century archaeologists frequently focused on the material they wanted to uncover, and would destroy the rest.
“They didn’t describe anything, they didn’t analyze, they didn’t photograph at all and they just discarded it… it was definitely this desire to create a sanitized past,” Brooks Hedstrom said.
Brooks Hedstrom’s struggle to recover the past that has been destroyed by European archaeologists was received well by Egyptian historians, who believe that it is important for Egyptians to become good stewards of their history. It’s especially important to spread awareness about monasteries today because of the political climate in Egypt today. The monasteries in Egypt have no political protection, so they could very easily be destroyed in attacks against Christianity in Egypt. Brooks Hedstrom’s efforts are changing the way the modern world views ancient Egypt, and could be one of the first steps to preserving those ancient monasteries that stand in Egypt today.