We asked acclaimed Egyptologist and author Aidan Dodson what it felt like working and writing, under the current lockdown, in the UK.
As I generally do most of my work at home—I really only normally go into the university when I’m teaching or need the library—the lockdown hasn’t massively changed things for me, apart from having my wife around all the time, as she’s been furloughed from her museum job. As such, I’ve been pushing on with my various writing projects—for AUC Press this means working on correcting the page proofs for Nefertiti, Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt, which is due to go to press in May for my ‘Lives and Afterlives’ series, and continuing writing the next one in the series, The First Pharaohs, which I’m due to deliver in the New Year. I’m also working on a very different book for another publisher—The Kaiser’s Cruisers, 1871–1918, also due for delivery in early 2021. Although my core academic interest remains Egypt, I have always had a research interest in the history of the navies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries AD.
I’m also making preparations to teach online next semester, as we don’t really know when the university will be back open again. This could well be ‘interesting,’ as we’re all having to learn how to use the software without the kind of face-to-face training one would normally expect when making this kind of fundamental change, especially using software most people have never used before. I think I’ve now got my first class set up and will try to do a practice run with my wife registered as the sole ‘student’ a week or so ahead of time.
My other major ‘lockdown’ activity has been—quite fortuitously—preparing to move house. We bought an 1871 house about three hundred meters from our current flat in January, but needed to have work done on it (a new kitchen and bathroom) before moving in, as well as some do-it-yourself decorating and fitting of new bookcases. We have between us some three hundred boxes of books to move, as well as the rest of our furniture and possessions. The building work is nearly over but the move is now being delayed by the lockdown. In the meantime, we are pushing on with the packing and also walking over to the new house with backpacks of books during our government-permitted single act of outdoor exercise each day. Right now, the flat is so crammed with boxes of books that there is no space to do anything else. I must say the packing has taken far longer than I had guessed, so the fact of the lockdown preventing us from going on our usual spring trip to North America (for the American Research Center in Egypt annual meeting, lectures, seeing friends, and sightseeing) has done us a favor and given us (hopefully!) sufficient time to do things properly before the movers arrive.
So keeping busy—and, much to our surprise, no signs of my wife and I killing each other yet: but there is still time, especially once we’ve moved and ‘debates’ about where some things (especially pictures on the walls) should go, begin. . . . But the inability to plan is frustrating: will out autumn river cruise happen? When will I be able to teach face-to-face again? When will I be able to get back to Egypt? Yet what matters is that the virus is squeezed to a degree that stops it harming yet more people, and it’s not until then that anything can be vaguely ‘normal’ again. And the new ‘normal’ won’t be the old ‘normal.’ We are now living through ‘interesting’ times, as the old Chinese curse goes.
AIDAN DODSON is honorary full Professor of Egyptology in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol, where he has taught since 1996. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 2003.
He is the author of Afterglow of Empire: Egypt from the Fall of the New Kingdom to the Saite Renaissance (Revised Edition) (AUC Press, 2020, paperback), Sethy I, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife (AUC Press, 2019, hardbound), Rameses III, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife (AUC Press, 2019, hardbound), Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation (Revised Edition), (AUC Press, 2018, paperback), Poisoned Legacy: The Fall of the 19th Egyptian Dynasty (AUC Press, 2016, paperback), Amarna Sunrise: Egypt from Golden Age to Age of Heresy (AUC Press, 2016, paperback), and Monarchs of the Nile (New Revised Edition) (AUC Press, 2015, paperback).