This week for Women Crush Wednesday we are going to talk about one of the most influential reference authors in Egyptology. Her name was Bertha Porter and she was the co-author of the series of reference books, dubbed Porter and Moss.
Bertha Porter was born in 1852 to Fredrick William Porter, an Irish architect and surveyor for the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, and Sarah Moyle. She had seven siblings, although her older sibling died in infancy, which made her the eldest. Very little is known about her early life, but it was said that she was in many literary circles.
In 1885, Bertha was employed by Sir Sidney Lee, an English biographer, writer, and critic, to write for the Dictionary of National Biography. This was a standard work of reference on notable figures from British history. She worked there for the next 25 years where she completed 156 biographies. You can see a list of her biographies here.
Life as a Reference Writer
Around 1900, she was employed by the former curator of the British Museum, Francis Llewellyn Griffith. A few years earlier he had established funding and direction for the compilation of a reference text for Egyptologists. This was called Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings. It started as an economical filing system, with the information recorded on cards and categorized systematically. It was combined into a book containing the location and content of texts found on ancient monuments in Egypt and Sudan.
Bertha was in charge of compiling the bibliography. It is not known if she had any knowledge of Ancient Egyptian history prior to this job, but she did study Egyptian hieroglyphs in London under Griffith and at the University of Göttingen under Kurt Sethe.
Interestingly, Bertha never traveled to Egypt. She was always based in London, usually living with her brother Horatio in Russell Square. She was interested in physical research, depending on publications, photographs, and drawings, and verifications by other scholars. In 1934, she took on Rosalind Moss as an assistant, who eventually took over after Bertha retired from the project in 1929. Moss tended to do most of the fieldwork, traveling to Egypt frequently.
Bertha later moved to Oxford, where she took lodgings on Banbury Road. She died in 1941.
Porter and Moss
The Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings is most frequently called Porter and Moss after its two main authors. There are eight volumes total. The first seven are arranged topographically, covering the whole of Egypt and Nubia. The eighth volume addresses the significant body of material in museums and private collections which had no provenance.
The last volume was published in 1975, so they technically are not the most up-to-date reference, but there is literally nothing like this in the field of Egyptology, so it is a vital reference for older publications or sites that are not well preserved in the present day.
You can download the entire series here.
Image of Bertha Porter – Griffith Institute
Image of Books – Historical.ha.com
Image of front of the book – AbeBooks
Image of Rosalind Moss – Jstor
Image of the Dictionary of National Biography – Wikimedia Commons