Dr. Victoria Jensen
ARCE is honored to recognize Dr. Victoria Jensen for her generous support of ARCE’s greatest needs through a gift to the Director’s Discretionary Fund. She spoke with U.S. Director Liska Radachi about her experience with ARCE. Edited for length and clarity.
A Path to Egyptology
Like so many ARCE members, I first fell in love with ancient Egypt as a kid. When I was 12, the Tutankhamun exhibit was touring the US and it really permeated our culture, not only in the media and school curriculum but you could even get wallpaper and fabric printed with ancient Egyptian iconography! I begged my family to take me to see the exhibit in Chicago, the nearest venue to my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and that summer my grandmother and mom made it happen for me. I was mesmerized by the artifacts, especially the iconic gold mask. In middle school, I wrote to Christine Lilyquist, then the curator of the Egyptian Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, essentially asking how I could be her when I grew up. She was kind enough to reply and mentioned several graduate schools with good programs including Berkeley and the University of Chicago.
As I continued through high school, my father steered me away from thinking of a career in Egyptology toward something more practical, so I attended the University of Chicago but as a political science major. I had a work-study job on campus in the Sponsored Projects office that became a full-time career after I graduated, and I continued to assist faculty with their grant and contract proposals after I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area.
I was about 40 years old when I discovered that UC Berkeley had an Egyptology program and decided that after 20 years of helping others to attain funding to make their dreams come true, I should give my long-dormant dream a chance. I wasn’t at all sure how viable it would be – I had a full-time job with a good salary and benefits, plus a young daughter to raise – but I met with Dr. Candy Keller who was Department Chair at the time and she encouraged me to take the first steps of enrolling in Egyptian history and language classes as an Extension student. I really loved these classes and that was when I learned about ARCE. I fully took the plunge when I quit my full-time job and applied to the Ph.D. program. I am grateful for the guidance of Drs. Rita Lucarelli, Carol Redmount, and Kim Shelton who supervised my dissertation, “The Cemeteries of Deir el-Ballas: Non-elite burials of the 17th – 19th Dynasties and their relationship to the royal palace,” which I completed in 2019.
Connecting to ARCE
I first heard about ARCE from reading KMT magazine, and then when I started taking classes at the University of California, Berkeley I discovered there was a local chapter that held meetings on campus. I started attending lectures hosted by the Northern California chapter and was thrilled to hear speakers talk about current field research in Egypt. Not long after, I was asked if I might be willing to serve on the Board, and that led from being an “At-Large” Board member to being the Membership Director for a few years before being elected as President of the chapter.
ARCE was the organization that opened my eyes to the ongoing fieldwork and conservation work being done in Egypt, and it has been the conduit to my being able to meet and become friends with many like-minded people. Thanks to ARCE, I have been graced with deep friendships both with professional colleagues as well as amateur enthusiasts. The local Chapters bring in speakers who present the latest research from the field, and this is a fantastic way to link people in the area who are interested in Egyptian history, as well as to develop professional relationships among experts in the field. Also, I love the annual meeting; it is a smorgasbord of interesting presentations.
I have always been drawn to cross-cultural communication and learning in general, believing that if we can try to see the world through the eyes of people of different cultures, that would help to counteract the default human mode of categorizing people as “us vs. them.” My innate enthusiasm for ancient Egypt brought me to visit the country to see and study the ancient remains, but it was my immersion in a local family that has resulted in me living in Luxor. Participating in daily life activities with the family like sowing and reaping crops, making bread, and tending animals is not only inherently satisfying but it has given me invaluable insight to understand the lifestyle of ancient Egyptians.
I appreciate that many of my international colleagues in Egyptology have deep and meaningful connections with Egyptians, which are expedited by the incredibly warm hospitality that is characteristic of Egyptian culture. One of the main reasons I believe ARCE is a worthwhile organization to support is that ARCE’s partnership with the Egyptian government provides the opportunity for many personal linkages between Americans – including scholars, students, and amateur enthusiasts – and Egyptian scholars, students, and regular citizens who are justifiably proud of their national heritage.
Looking Towards the Future
I am hoping to continue to broaden my education in various aspects pertinent to field projects, such as conservation and digital epigraphy, before applying for a concession to conduct original research. My hope for the future of ARCE is simply that it may continue doing the important work of preserving Egypt’s cultural heritage alongside the efforts of the Egyptian government, through field school training programs, conservation projects, and fellowship support, and transmit the results of these projects to the American public to enhance cross-cultural appreciation and friendship. For Egyptology’s future, I would love to see more connection between the international scholars who come to work in Egypt and the local communities. Advances have been made in this regard, but more training in colloquial Egyptian Arabic would be beneficial.
Influential Friends and Mentors
Steve Harvey was the speaker at the first ARCE-Northern California lecture that I attended, and his spirited and knowledgeable presentation made a lasting impression on me. I later followed up and asked if he might be able to include me on his expedition to Abydos, and, luckily for me, he did have space for me. That became my first-ever archaeological field experience in Egypt, and it was amazing! As well as experiencing the magic of unearthing pots that had not seen the light of day for 3500 years, I made several other wonderful friendships during that season over a decade ago that I treasure to this day. Steve is a natural teacher, ebullient with his zest for sharing knowledge. As a friend, his kindness and support have been invaluable, and he has always been there for me when I have sought guidance on my career path.
Carol Redmount taught the first Egyptology class that I took at Berkeley, and she helped guide me through the process of applying to the Ph.D. program. It was a pleasure to work as one of her teaching assistants when I was enrolled in the program, and to have her input on my dissertation.
Peter Lacovara was very helpful to me while I was working on my dissertation, providing numerous suggestions of secondary literature, and I was very grateful to have been on his team at Deir el-Ballas from 2017 to 2021.
Barbara Richter blazed the trail that I followed at Berkeley, as she also raised her children while taking classes and eventually earning her Ph.D. there. Her story helped to strengthen my resolve that I could also manage to juggle these responsibilities. As a lecturer in the department, she taught several of the Egyptian language classes that I took, and her enthusiasm and care for her students are simply amazing.
Rita Lucarelli was my advisor for my doctoral dissertation, and her guidance was invaluable in scrutinizing my drafts as well as helping connect me with other scholars whose work was pertinent to various aspects of the dissertation. She has continued to be an active mentor in my life, reaching out to discuss post-graduate goals and publication strategies. I truly appreciate her caring concern.