Oral History Initiatives
Oral Histories are an important means of documentation for AUC’s Rare Books and Special Collections Library. The Archives team at the RBSCL engages in an active program of oral history interviewing by faculty, staff, and work-study students. Interviews are made using ZoomH4N audio recorders, and in some cases video recording equipment, typically taking place in a recording room in the Archives or the Tahrir Square radio studio. After audio editing for clarity, interviews are transcribed and summarized, and featured in the Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library along with descriptive metadata.
The areas covered by this oral history program are:
Documenting Egypt’s History and Heritage
Individuals who have made an important contribution to Egyptian society and culture, or who have interesting life histories to share, are another focus of the library’s oral history program. Interviews have conducted with leading women’s rights activists like Aziza Hussein and Marie Assad, prominent artists like Gazbia Sirry and Helmi El-Touni, as well as architects, specialists in Coptic heritage, and others. Interviews with members of subcommunities in Egypt, such as religious and ethnic minorities, are an area of interest going forward. Special projects are also pursued, like the grant-supported program of 70 oral history interviews made in spring 2016 with relocated residents (many elderly) of Qurna village near Luxor, covering their ways of life and that of their community.
The RBSCL also holds the oral history archive of AUC’s Economic and Business History Research Center, with dozens of interviews with leading figures in 20th-century Egyptian politics and economy. Donations of interviews conducted by researchers on a variety of topics, such as life in Cairo neighborhoods, are also accepted for the oral history archive.
University on the Square: Documenting Egypt’s 21st Century Revolution
In addition to collecting thousands of photographs and artifacts from demonstrations at Tahrir Square and elsewhere, this project has recorded oral histories with participants in and observers of the political events in Egypt from January 2011 to the present day. The more than 400 individuals interviewed include activists, journalists, artists, refugees, and AUC faculty, staff, students, and alumni, coming from diverse personal backgrounds. A selection of interviews can be found in the Rare Books & Special Collections Digital Library at:
Recording AUC Voices
The University Archives of the American University in Cairo employs oral history as part of its mission to document the university’s history, people, and contributions. Since 2005, almost 200 faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, and current students have been interviewed, building upon a series of several dozen interviews conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, creating an archive of voices extends to AUC’s earliest years, nearly a century ago. Topics covered include the role of women at AUC, student life and activities, the evolution of university structures and academic programs, times of crisis like the 1967 war and later student strikes, and major milestones like the move to the New Cairo campus. These are available in the Rare Books & Special Collections Digital Library at:
A variety of audio-visual media, including motion-pictures and sound recordings, is maintained at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. Original formats like 16mm reel-to-reel films, VHS videocassette tapes, and audio tapes are maintained, with digitized versions produced to facilitate preservation and access. Digitized versions will be available in the Rare Books & Special Collections Digital Library at:
Collections of audiovisual material related to Egyptian and regional heritage held by the library include:
Voice of America Egypt Sound Archives, 1980s-2000s
The audio archive of the Voice of America (VOA) Arabic Service’s Cairo Bureau were donated to AUC, and contains sound recordings (tapes and some digitized recordings) of radio programs, interviews, songs, and instrumental music. Except for a set of compact disks produced by VOA containing selections from their programs, the collection is not available in digital format.
Ethnographic and Anthropology Films Collection, 1950s-1980s
These reel-to-reel films, largely related to Egypt and the Arab World, depict topics like such as ethnic identity, agriculture and food production, village life, vernacular architecture, and ancient Egypt. The films were transferred to the Archives from the Main Library’s audio-visual collection. Due to the copyright of the films it is necessary to either visiting the Reading Room or contact library staff to view them.
Egypt Historical Films Collection, 1950s-1970s
These reel-to-reel films, some of them home movies, depict a variety of scenes from Egypt, ranging from Egyptian royalty to the Suez Canal and 1973 October War, as well as leisure and travel of elite Egyptians. The films have been digitized and are available in the Rare Books & Special Collections Digital Library at:
Several archival and personal papers collections, such as that of Van-Leo, also include reel-to-reel films, videocassettes, or audio cassette recordings.
Many of the RBSCL’s audio-visual holdings relate to the AUC’s history (as well as that of Cairo and Egypt and the region), and are maintained by the University Archives, including:
Historic and Promotional AUC Films, 1920s-1980s
Produced to promote the university, or by faculty, these reel-to-reel films (including rare color specimens from the 1920s-1940s) depict the university as well as depicting scenes of Cairo and Egypt. They are available in the Rare Books & Special Collections Digital Library at:
AUC Events Videocassette Recordings, 1980s-2000s
This collection of VHS videocassette recordings document commencements, lectures, theater and music performances, and other events at AUC.