Sample Investigative Process Paper


            The history of Egypt has been known for many years with many people marveling at the accomplishments that they were able to achieve.  Many refer to the country as the first true civilization, which influenced numerous other cultures in the West.  Architects marvel over the structure of the Great Pyramids, while thousands of visitors travel to the country every year to learn more about its history.  Despite the great accomplishments of the Egyptians, it at times has been overshadowed by debate of what race they actually were.   [To what degree is this a claim?]

Problems in African History is a compilation of various views of historians specializing in the history of Egypt and the debate over what race or ethnic group that the Egyptians belonged to. Although the book was written with the ideas of Egyptologists  from the mid 1900’s, it strongly demonstrates the early stages of a heated dispute that is still present today. One of these historians, Cheikh Anta Diop, devoted years to study the origins of the Egyptian people.  He dedicated most of his coursework to voicing his opinion on the true race of the inhabitants.  To him, there was no question that the Egyptians were black and that it was these blacks that were the first to develop innovative and unprecedented ways of thinking.  Among these accomplishments were making huge strides in the development in the areas of medicine, agriculture, astronomy, and mathematics.  Kevin Shillington, author and editor of History of Africa, also shares this view.  By studying the origins of farming, crop cultivation, and pastoralism performed by the people of the Nile region, Shillington reflects Diop’s ideas on the great contributions that the Egyptians made that would later be used by the Western World.  He notes the high level of organization that took place in Egyptian society, which included a class system, which allowed the government to maintain an well thought-out plan to maintain order within each pharaoh’s province. These thoughts were also shared with Lester Brooks, author of Great Civilizations of Ancient Africa.  Brooks spends much time in the novel discussing the contributions of Egypt to other Western societies. Both Diop and Brooks comment on the scientific and cultural achievements that the Egyptians obtained including hieroglyphics, irrigation, and the development of the first twelve-month calendar. To Diop, the denial by many Egyptologists  that the Egyptians were of a black race and were a main source of knowledge in the Mediterranean was a form of pure racism.  He supports this evidence by referring to the writers of ancient history; the Greeks and the Romans.  Such writers mentioned were Herodotus and Diodorus.  While studying these ancient writings, Diop emphasized  the fact that many of the Greek writers mentioned that the Egyptians had many black features, such as “full lips”, “woolly hair”, and “broad noses”.  Diop further  argues, “ The evidence clearly demonstrates that the Egyptians were black, and as the ancestors living throughout black Africa today were the first to invent, among other things, mathematics, science, religion, agriculture, and medicine” (7).  He later questions, “What can be the attitude of those who systematically reject the written evidence when they also find material proof in the ruins and excavations of Egypt which conform to the writings of the Ancients?” ( 11).   Clarence E. Walker, author of We Can’t Go Home , also shares this view by Diop . In the book, Walker claims that the history of black people has been stolen by writings and historic accounts of white, male, Western historians.   He believes, like Diop, that Egypt was a center and the “mother” of the West. He further explains that the people who study Egypt in modern times are attempting to take back what European history has stolen from the people and legacy of Egypt, which has been reflected more by the Greeks and Romans.  Walker  writes, “Consequently, this book is an attempt to show that the true authors of Greek philosophy were not the Greeks, but the people of North Africa, commonly called the Egyptians; and the praise and honour falsely given to the Greeks for centuries belong to the people of North Africa, and therefore the African Continent”( xx).  Timothy Kendall, author of a book review of Kush, : The Jewel of Nubia parallels the thoughts of of Walker. In his review, Kendall states, “ Typically scholars denied or minimized the ‘Africanness’ of ancient Egyptians civilization and considered it part of the Near East or Mediterranean; Nubian civilization they considered merely an offshoot of the Egyptians” (472). Mario I. Auuilar, author of the book review of African Images; Racism and the End of Anthropology,  further reflects the ideas of Walker.   He also states that historical perceptions of Africa have implied that it is in fact inferior to Europe and Asia. The thoughts of these authors reflect the opinion of many other authors and historians; that the history of Egypt has been often written based on a Euro centric way of thinking, meaning that the accomplishments and the country as a whole has been disenfranchised from the entire African continent. It is the view of these authors that African blacks have been cheated out ‘claiming’ Egypt as their own, and that racist historians are the one’s to blame.

            Although Diop argues that history has ‘robbed’ black Africans from claiming Egypt as their own, does his conclusion also rob the other groups of people that contributed to the success of Egypt of their ‘ claim’ to it’s legacy? Is this not a form of reverse racism? Diop continually argues that Western based history habitually undermines the contributions of black Africa to Western society, but to claim that Egypt was only habited by black Egyptians is an extreme attempt to ‘claim’ a part of history on the behalf of blacks throughout the world.  Admittedly, the culture and traditions of Egypt were duplicated by many other ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, but to argue that Egypt wasn’t heavily influenced by other civilizations in the Mediterranean area suggests that the country was absent of migration and assimilation of other ethnic groups. Diop’s argument lacks much evidence that would support that the Egyptians were black and not a product of the blend of people who migrated and conquered the area during different dynasties.  Egypt was at times under the rule of the Greeks and the Arabs, and to conclude that these other ethnic groups had no effect on the legacy and culture of the civilization is ignoring vast parts of Egyptian history.  There are many opponents to Diop’s view, including C. G.Seligman who was a distinguished professor at the University of London.  Seligman formatted his Hamitic Hypothesis which stated, “the belief in a race of tall, lean, light skinned people who originally came from Egypt or even southwest Asia and later migrated throughout Black Africa spreading superior political and cultural ideas that were inherent in their blood”( 7). Seligman’s views expressed an extreme analysis that strongly opposed Diop’s idea that the Egyptians were black.  Raymond Muany, another Egyptologists, also writes “ Although I am more than willing to admit that there were certainly blacks in ancient Egypt, I strongly deny that all the Egyptians were blacks, or for that matter, that the ancestors of the inhabitants of West Africa today came out of Egypt.  I regard Egypt as a melting pot of many races and to credit Egyptian civilization to any one particular ethnic group is blatant racism”( 7). Although the views of these historians are on opposite poles, it is easy to observe how historians firmly stand on their belief as of to what race, (if any one race), that the Egyptians belonged.

In the book We Can’t Go Home, Walker also comments on Western Historians making little effort to celebrate the history and accomplishments of black Africa. To demonstrate the racist opinions of some historians regarding the African culture, Walker quotes Friedrich Hegel’s thoughts on black’s place in history. Hegel wrote an article entitled “Commenting on the Negroes” in Putnam’s Monthly, which was published in 1865.  In it Hegel claimed that there was no reason to study black history because black’s had no history to study.  He further reiterated that blacks worshipped no gods  and had never ruled a hierarchy or other organized government.  He later states that the cities of Africa were a vast accumulation of huts and clay walls.  Ending his views he stated, “ the Negro has no history- he makes no history”( 14).  Although these views were stated in the mid 1800’s, they are an example of how the writings of some affected the thinking of many and were left in history for later generations. Although Walker and Diop shared the opinion that the culture and intellect of the Egyptians heavily influenced the rest of the Mediterranean area, they differ when it comes to the question of race. Unlike Diop, Walker views Egyptian culture as a result of various different ethnic groups assimilation into the country. He gives the following example:

            “ For example, ancient Egyptian architecture and writings resulted when the Nile civilization came into contact the Sumerians. Irrigation, the lifeblood of the land of the pharaohs, also developed out of Egypt’s contacts with Sumeria( 6).


                        Walker also takes a stand against Diop’s methods of proving that the Egyptians were black.  He comments on Diop’s attempts to excavate mummies to determine their race by measuring the amount on melanin in their skin.  Walker disapproves of Diop’s methods saying, “Diop’s works represents the single most unsuccessful effort on the part of a scholar to determine the racial origins of an Egyptians notable” ( 53).  He notes that the methods of measuring the amount of melanin in a mummies skin are an unreliable and was proven to be inconclusive.

                        Many historians believe that the debate over what race the Egyptians were is one that will never be resolved. C. Loring Brace, D. Tracer, L. Yaroch, J. Robb, K. Brandt, and R. Nelson, authors of “ Clines and Clusters versus “race”, A Test in the Ancient Egypt and the Case of a Death on the Nile”, insists that this debate will forever be forgoing.   They note, “ An assessment of ‘race’ is as useless as it is impossible.  Neither clines nor clusters alone suffice to deal with the biological nature of a widely distributed population.  Both must be used… As others have noted, Egyptians are Egyptians, and they were so in the past as well”( Brace et al 31).

      Walker’s arguments focus mainly on Afro centrism, which he explains has suggested that nothing of any importance has ever happened in African history.  His negative opinion of Afro centrism is expressed throughout the book.  He defines Afro centrism as a “ mythology that is racist, reactionary, and essentially therapeutic. It suggests that nothing important has happened in black history since the time of the pharaohs and thus trivializes the history of black Americans” ( 1). This negative opinion of Afro centrism is also shared by Mary Lefkowitaz, author of  Not Out of Africa.  In 1996 a heated debate took place between Lefkowitz and Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena.: The Afrosiatic Roots of Classical Culture.   Bernal is a well-known Afro centrist  who argues that traditional history has undervalued the contributions of Black Africa to ancient Greek and Western thought. In the April issue of  Blacks in Higher Education, this debate between the two another was recorded. Lefkowitz views paralleled those of Walker when she noted , “It is not about race and it is not about an attack on Afro centrism, if that means acknowledging accomplishments of Blacks.  I do not seek to deprive Africans of their rightful heritage.  But Africans do not need Greece to have a rich heritage”(9). Bernal, who takes a stance based on Afro centrism argues on the cultural exchanges that took place between Egypt and Greece.  He notes that because they were two of the oldest civilizations that occurred in such a close vicinity of each other, it was obvious that thoughts and ideas would be exchanged between the two civilizations. He quotes, “ We cannot look at Greece without looking at the whole Mediterranean, and the oldest society in that region is Egypt. It could be a very exciting time for the classics.  The interaction of the cultures can be extremely fruitful” (9).

                        Because of the heated debate that has taken place, and continues to bring much attention from scholars, the question regarding what race the Ancient Egyptians were still is a very prevalent issue in modern historical society.  This debate has perhaps overshadowed the accomplishments of the Egyptians and undermines the positive influences that they passed on.  This debate makes me question the effect that it has placed on Egyptian history.  I believe that the accomplishments of the Egyptians were achieved by a diversity of people, and like Walker explains, to credit just one race of the accomplishments that the Egyptians were able to achieve would unfair to the numerous other ethnic groups that played a role in it’s formation.  [As it stands, is this the claim at this stage of the investigation?]




Writers Memo

While doing this process paper, I was a little skeptical at the onset of it.  I wasn’t exactly sure what my claim was going to be, but as I began to read more

of my sources and sift through the information, it became clearer as to what stance I would base my claim on.  I still think that my topic needs to be 

narrowed even more, and I need to cut out some of the excess questions that I have presented in this process paper.  I need to focus on just one question,

because if I try to tackle more than one claim in my paper, it will be easy to get off track and lose my audience on what I am in fact trying to prove.  This

Process Paper has allowed me understand what direction my research is going in and it has also allowed my to view what I need to work on.