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The most important thing to remember here is that we are not looking for specific works. This is a blanket search for related material that should narrowinto a thread, one work leading to the next through the subject heading links. As long as you keep close track of everything you find you can begin again and againwith more and more refined subject headings and keyword combinations. For our search here we found more than thirty books, many of which were in close proximity in thestacks. Let's take a look at a few of them in the context of our search for the meaning of our symbols from the Souvenir of Egypt.

Symbol 1

Symbol 1
In defining our first symbol, let’s stop for a moment and think about how we understand the meaning of symbols. Imagine that you are examining asymbol from some ancient culture, long past and from some distant region. The simplicity of the white ribbon is perfect for this kind of consideration. If the symbol has a definedmeaning in our culture, what is the possibility that it means the same thing here, or the possibility that it has a very different meaning, even opposite ofthe one we would intuitively attach to it? What symbols mean is determined by their cultural context.

Consider the color. White is commonly associated with peace or innocence. Think of the color of a bride’s dress or the flag of surrender. But,why do we associate such meanings to that color? Do other cultures associate the same meaning?

The ribbon clearly connects the two flag poles in the silk. Does this signify a peaceful alliance or asymbolic shackle of some kind?

Defining the meaning of the white ribbon is the most elusive of our symbols so far. The sources we will scour below provide no cleardefinition of its symbolic meaning. And yet, it is the easiest of the symbols for us to understand on its surface. It seems to suggest a spirit of cooperation andunity between the two flags (and therefore nations) bound together by the ribbon: Egypt and the United Kingdom. But we are unable tocorroborate that interpretation with any reference source.

For our purposes here, our first symbol will serve to point to the assumptions we may be inclined to make about what we see in the silk. Thefact that we do not easily locate a reference source for the meaning of this symbol despite its common interpretation should highlight for us some of the difficulties ofresearch. We need to base our interpretations on evidence such as expert analysis and historical facts such as dates and names. We may be able to advance a plausible argument thatthe flags joined by white ribbon does indeed represent unity by analyzing the history of the relationship between Britain and Egypt as well as the common cultural connotations of the imagery, but we should beaware that culture helps to determine meaning.

A deeper reading

In order to understand the meaning of this symbol in the silk we will have to take a look at some of the surrounding imagery and understand thesocial and political contexts informing the images. What the ribbon serves to connect is an obvious point of departure: the nationalflags of Egypt and Britain. Let’s take a look at British-Egyptian relations. There are a number of ways to approach this. Here are just a few.

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Source:  OpenStax, Understanding material culture: deciphering the imagery of the "souvenir of egypt". OpenStax CNX. Oct 08, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10301/1.7
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