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This is the most important archive for the modern and early modern history of Egypt. It holds a great volume of government and legal documents for the last 500 years. Holdings are spotty, however, and the lack of a comprehensive catalogue makes research difficult.
Ramla Bulaq, Corniche al-Nil
5751078 and 5750886. Reading room is extension 218
 (currently under construction)
Document reading room: 9:00-5:45, Sunday to Thursday. 9:00-1:00, Saturday Library and printed materials rooms: 9:00-2:45, Sunday to Thursday (after closing, it is possible to read material from these rooms in the document reading room)
There are three public reading rooms. The largest is the document reading room on the east side of the second floor. It contains thirty desks and half a dozen microfilm readers, as well as catalogues. There is also a library (containing some books and copies of theses) and a printed materials reading room (containing valuable material on open shelves) [see separate entries?]. Documents are stored in the basement of the archive building.
Description of holdings
Languages of materials
Although this archive holds a good deal of material in Ottoman Turkish and in European languages, those who do not read, write, and speak some Arabic will have much difficulty accessing it.
Readers must apply to the Egyptian government for research permission; approval can take many months. Applications and instructions can be had from the reading room staff. It is preferable, however, to apply via a research institution in Egypt or with the assistance of an Egyptian scholar. Those visiting Egypt to conduct research should apply (and receive a reader’s card) before travelling. John Dunn's comments on this topic at Archives Made Easy are helpful.
Leave passport or identity card at the security desk at the main door on arrival, and collect a numbered reader’s tag. Leave all bags in the locker room near the cafe. Leave reader’s pass with reading room staff on arrival (and collect it on departure).
Permitted and prohibited items
- Permitted: laptop computers, dictionaries, cellular telephones, ink pens.
- Prohibited: Digital cameras.
Documents are typically ordered in consultation with reading room staff (see key individuals below). Enter the document information (in Arabic) on an order slip, using carbon paper to make a second copy. Traditionally, readers put the carbon paper in place for the next order. It is not uncommon for documents to be unavailable (often for long periods of time) because they are in restoration (tarmim).
One can order three items per day. Documents are normally delivered the morning after they are ordered, although under certain circumstances and for certain individuals, delivery can be almost instantaneous. Volumes and boxes are kept on shelves behind the reading room staff. Readers typically collect the material themselves, entering the name of the item they consult in a ledger.
Photocopying, photography, microfilming
Photocopying is performed by archive staff. One must write a request addressed to the director of the archives, listing the material to be copied (suggested format). This letter and the original are given to the reading room staff, who will carry the items to the photocopy room. Once the copies are made, the reader must go to the basement to pay for the copies (2.5 LE per page). Copies are collected from the photocopy room in exchange for the receipt for payment. The quality of photocopies is usually excellent, but the process can be terrifyingly damaging to the originals. Most research permits entail a 100 or 200 copy limit, though staff has been known to show flexibility. Photography is strictly prohibited.
- Madame Nadia. Head of reading room staff. Can be very helpful in locating material and arranging research.
- Madame Nagwa. Deputy head of reading room staff. She is in charge when Madame Nadia is absent.
- Dr. ‘Emad Helal. Historian, and head of archive cataloguing project. Broad knowledge of archival holdings. Has a great desire to improve access to documents. Speaks English.
- Dr. Sabri al-‘Adl.
- Dr. Muhammad Sabr ‘Arab: director of archives.
- Al-Liwa. Director of security. Watches readers through a bank of closed-circuit cameras from office on north side of second floor.
- Taha. Head of main door security desk. Friendly and thorough.
(scholars who are familiar with this archive)
(published works based on research at this archive)
The cafe outside the reading room is impossible to miss. Sharing tea, coffee, lemonade, and conversation with other readers is a great pleasure of this archive. Hospitality is overwhelming, and it is very difficult for a non-Egyptian to pay for his or her own coffee. Sandwiches and cookies are available. The Conrad hotel, next to the archives, contains expensive and mediocre cafes and restaurants. A mall several hundred metres north on the corniche contains a number of restaurants, including a branch of the Danish sandwich shop. More affordable eating (ful and ta’miya) can be had in the popular neighbourhood behind the archive.
All bags must be checked in a room on the second floor of the archive.
Men’s and women’s bathrooms are located on the second floor. No soap or toilet paper is provided, so bring your own if so inclined.
Busses and taxis are always available just outside the front door of the archive. To get there, ask taxi drivers for “Dar al-Kutub” on the Corniche.
A glass box between the entrances to the national library and the national archives sells a useful range of books published by the institution, including many reproductions of documents. Prices are very reasonable. There is also a “permanent book fair” beneath the national library, where many useful books can be had.
The national archives is in the process of creating a digital catalogue of its entire collection. The project is expected to take at least five years.
- [John Dunn's entry] on this archive at Archives Made Easy