Pascale Ghazaleh

Wednesday, 6 December 2017, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

In Search of the Archive: On Writing History in Egypt Today

Pascale Ghazaleh
(AUC / EUME Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung 2017/18)

Chair: Georges Khalil
(Forum Transregionale Studien / EUME)


What is a historian, barred from the archives, to do? In the years since 2011, the National Archives in Egypt have come under ever-tighter control from national security. Self-appointed definers and defenders of Egypt’s national interests, al-amn processes and filters applications from scholars wishing to access the archives. Increasingly, this has entailed rejection of some applications, and long postponement of replies to many others. Non-Egyptian researchers have waited for months, frittering away their allocated time and returning, frustrated, to their home institutions. Egyptian researchers whose applications include vocabulary or refer to ideas that could be construed as subversive have found that their prior experience, however long, counts for nothing in ensuring continued admittance.

This, then, is an account by a historian endeavoring to return to the archives after a few years’ absence, and the tale of the Kafkaesque adventures that ensued. It is an account based on personal experience and hearsay – not one based on rigorous empiricism or solid analysis, because most of the vetting process remains shrouded in secrecy. As such, the presentation will be, in part, anecdotal, narrating different phases of one individual’s attempts to breach the barriers erected by security around the archives. These attempts, of course, can be related to those made by other researchers, some fruitful but many unsuccessful. These anecdotes will open up onto a wider reflection on the question of what to do without the relevant archives – the archives one needs to write history. 

Pascale Ghazaleh is an Associate Professor of History at the American University in Cairo. She specializes in Ottoman history and 19th-century Egypt. She received her PhD in History from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris. She has published research on the social organization of craft guilds in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Egypt, and on the material culture and social networks of merchants in Cairo during the same period. During her time as a EUME Fellow, she will be working on a project about ownership practices and their relation to the constitution of national resources in late nineteenth-century Egypt. In the academic year 2017/18 and in summer 2019, she will be a EUME-FU Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung.

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