The Institute of Egypt
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Napoleon decided early on, perhaps while still on board l’Orient, that he would found a scientific institution in Egypt, modeled on the National Institute of France (of which Napoleon was a member). Soon after reaching Cairo (after the famous Battle of the Pyramids on July 21, 1798), he gave Berthollet and Monge the responsibility of establishing what would become the Institute of Egypt. They chose the members and supervised the writing of the bylaws, and Napoleon signed it into existence on August 22, 1798. They held their first meeting the very next day, when Monge was elected president and Napoleon himself vice-president.

The Institute of Egypt
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The first meeting of the Institute of Egypt, in the former house of Hasân Kâchef in Cairo, from Description de l’Égypte État moderne v. 1.

The Institute was divided into four sections: Math, Physics (i.e., natural history and medicine), Political Economy, and Literature and the Arts. Each section was to have 12 members, although not all the seats were filled. Nearly all of the members were drawn from the Commission of Sciences and Arts. The Institute was housed in several elegant palaces in a beautiful section of Cairo, near the Nile, and surrounded by sumptuous gardens and ponds.

The first meeting was in the harem room in the house of Hasân Kâchef, and the event was captured in a sketch by the artist Jean Protain. Many of the figures are recognizable, primarily because another expedition artist, André Dutertre, later made sketches of nearly all the Institute members, which were eventually published. So we can identify Napoleon, Nicolas Conté (with the eyepatch), General Caffarelli (with the wooden leg), as well as Fourier, Dolomieu (the tall one), Monge, Berthollet, Louis Costaz (wearing glasses), and even the artist Protain himself (also wearing glasses), sitting on a bench in the back and sketching away.

The Institute of Egypt
The garden of the Institute of Egypt, in Cairo, formerly the property of Qasim Bey, from Vivant Denon, Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Égypte (Paris 1802).

Napoleon offered suggestions of projects for the Institute, such as designing better ovens to bake bread for the army, or finding a way to make beer without hops, or developing a treatment system to provide pure water from of the Nile. But the Institute members soon went their own way, writing and presenting papers on such subjects as desert mirages, the natron lakes, and the anatomy of the sacred ibis. These papers were initially printed in various journals, but soon the Mémoires sur l'Égypt was established as the official forum for publishing Institute papers. Eventually, many of their articles would find their way into the Description de l’Égypte.

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This exhibition is made possible with the generous support of the J.E. Dunn Construction Company.