Today, Yalies don't have to look far to uncover opportunities for exploring the mysteries of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Undergraduate classes are taught in subjects that range from pottery analysis to the civilization's love poetry.
Beinicke houses rare manuscripts. The Peabody Museum displays an exhibit on daily life in the Ancient Egyptian world. Some students even find sponsorship for conducting field research deep in the deserts of Egypt.
George Grant MacCurdy, perhaps the most influential figure in the creation of Egyptian study at Yale, boasts a background quite distinct from the ancient desert region of North Africa. Born in 1863 in Missouri, MacCurdy was the descendent of a formerly slave-owning family. His ancestors set free their slaves before the Civil War. MacCurdy was thus well-acquainted with the routine tasks of managing a small family farm.
Despite his humble origins, MacCurdy had long dreamed of entering the world of academia. In search of a job to fund his future academic aspirations after graduating from a local school, MacCurdy found a position at the age of 18 and began his teaching career. Despite working and studying intermittently, MacCurdy's aptitude as a teacher led to his rapid promotion to superintendent of his local school district. Nevertheless, the youthful MacCurdy maintained a life-long dream of one day attending Harvard. It was only after attending a Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) conference in Massachusetts that he finally cultivated the contacts needed to apply. At age 28, MacCurdy received a scholarship to study geology and biology at Harvard.
MacCurdy became renowned in the Harvard community as an excellent student. He quickly became well-known and respected in academic circles, and developed a close friendship with Yale professor Edwin Salisbury. Salisbury and his family sponsored MacCurdy's ambition to study abroad in Europe in the mid-1890s. It was during these extensive travels that MacCurdy first observed the remains of recent ancestors to the human species and developed his fascination for the evolution of Homo sapiens. By the time he returned in 1898, MacCurdy was offered a position teaching prehistory at Yale.
From the start, MacCurdy promoted innovative teaching techniques. While at Yale, he designed and established an archaeological institute, which provided students with the chance to personally excavate prehistoric artifacts. At the Peabody Museum, MacCurdy single-handedly created Yale's Anthropology Division in 1902. Today, this sector of the museum houses nearly 300 thousand artifacts which were unearthed in Egypt. Perhaps due to their immense contributions and affection for the University, MacCurdy and his wife forever referred to Yale as "our school." Indeed, the MacCurdy's investigation of archeological mysteries fostered a student passion for the exploration of Egypt and its rich past for years to come.