”My preference would have been to pursue geology and archaeology, but there was no money in archaeology” 

Career choice

At the end of the 19th century, archaeology was still very much the domain of enlightened amateurs. Aristocrats and rich industrialists in the main, they had the time and money to indulge their passion. Although he was from a noble family, Jacques de Morgan was far from wealthy and he was forced to strike a compromise.

The compromise he made - attending the École des Mines - offered two advantages. The first was practical. As an engineer, Morgan could earn his living and even make his fortune while following a path deemed worthy of his aristocratic heritage. The second advantage was more strategic: he could put the skills he learned at the École des Mines to good use in the disciplines that interested him most.

Preparatory studies

Morgan enrolled on a course in preparation for his entrance exam to the École des Mines. He had no head for mathematics or physics, and failed on his first attempt but succeeded on his second. Between attempts, he completed his military service in an engeneering service in Arras, northern France, where he learned topography, and acquired a basic grasp of fortifications and ballistics, which he subsequently put to good use.

Lessons and leisure

Teaching at the École des Mines was a mix of courses and work experience. Hardly a conscientious student, Morgan failed to shine. Although he was interested in mineralogy and stratigraphy, his average was weighed down by subjects of which he was less fond like physics and mechanics. This did not prevent him from obtaining his degree in 1882.

As a student, Morgan also attended Georges Perrot's archaeology courses, Jules Oppert's Assyriology lectures, and meetings of the Société Géologique de France, while still finding time to visit the Muséum d'Histoire naturelle, and publish an account of his and his father’s earlier discoveries.