Herbert and Lou Hoover’s Connection to the Rosetta Stone

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Beginning on Saturday, April 13, 2019 and running through October 27, 2019 will be a unique temporary exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum entitled Written In Stone: The Rosetta Stone Exhibit.  The exhibit will feature an exact replica made from a cast of the original Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.  Just as the most viewed item in the Louvre is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Rosetta Stone is the most viewed item in the British Museum.  The obvious question is what does an exhibit centered on the Rosetta Stone have to do with Herbert and Lou Hoover?  Undoubtedly, they frequented the British Museum during their residency in England and saw the Rosetta Stone many times.  Just as the Rosetta Stone was the key in solving the translation problem of hieroglyphs, the Hoover’s discovered translating De Re Metallica that it involved more than a fluency of Latin.  Rather, translation also involves understanding the larger cultural context of a work and the influences and references available to the original creator of a work.  What De Re Metallica taught both Hoovers was an appreciation of the larger professional guild of which they were a part.  Because the academic offering of geology and mining in the United State gave the appearance that it was a new and young profession with both Herbert and Lou as pioneers in the field, their partnership in translating De Re Metallica taught them that they were part of a profession going back many millennia.  The Hoovers traveled throughout Egypt and the Middle East region and always harbored an interest in archeology.  Lou’s father owned a copy of Charles Rollin’s The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians which is now in the Hoover Library collections.  Written in the Eighteenth Century, the book is an assemblage of historical facts that served as a standard reference work.  The Hoover’s were both voracious readers, especially of history, providing them context for the regions and cultures they encountered in their world travels.

Written In Stone: The Rosetta Stone Exhibit is more than an example of influencing the Hoover’s in their translation efforts.  The exhibit explores ancient civilizations that arose in the region we now refer to as the Middle East.  Numerous examples of sculpture, writing, pottery, jewelry, and ordinary household items reflect how each ancient empire mined and forged metals for their own purposes and created ways of documenting legal transactions in pottery, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, and papyrus.  Belief systems were expressed in the creation of idols and figurines representing different gods.  To geologists such as Herbert and Lou Hoover, the use of bronze and other metals and gemstones by the ancients was of great interest.  All of the artifacts created by the ancient world conveys significant and important stories of creativity, innovation, and values that mattered to different people, at different times, and in different places.  The more that the Hoovers traveled, the more they realized the importance of knowing the history and culture of the places they visited.  Future blog posts will explore their travels in the Middle East, Herbert Hoover’s turquoise mine misadventure in the Sinai, the Hoover’s travels in Egypt, the 1920’s Egyptian revival in fashion and the arts with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and how the Rosetta Stone allowed for the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs just as Herbert and Lou Hoover’s translation of De Re Metallica allowed for a flowering of research stemming from this seminal mining reference work.

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