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Modern Egyptian Society and Culture


The library actively collects materials that reflect developments in Egyptian artistic, cultural, intellectual, and social life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Egyptian Society and Women's History
A variety of holdings reflect issues and developments in Egyptian society. The library's collections include numerous 19th century descriptive works about Egyptian society, such as Edward Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836, with the library possessing multiple later editions) and Georg Ebers' 1879 Aegypten in Bild und Wort. Many works of travel literature also provide sketches of urban and rural life from Nubia to the Delta. These published works are complemented by the library's visual resources. Nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial photographs, postcards, and stereograph cards provide images of Egyptians from various walks of life. The collection of Cairo photographer Van-Leo contains large numbers of wedding and family portraits, as well as other photographs of ordinary Egyptians who patronized his downtown studio, representing an important resource for examining mid- to late- 20th century society. A collection of photographs from the family of Magdi Iskander, a Coptic physician, is revealing for its portrayal of several generations of an early 20th century Cairo family as well as depictions of individuals in various professions such as medicine and government service.

The library also contains resources for the study of women's roles and issues in modern Egypt. Its photograph holdings provide a useful perspective, especially the Van-Leo collection's portraits of women from various segments of society, including feminist reformers like Dorriya Shafiq (articles from her feminist publication, Bint al-Nil are available in our Digital Library.) Published works like Elizabeth Cooper's 1914 The Women of Egypt or the magazine L'Egyptienne, though not extensive, are also available. More general accounts of Egyptian society include sections on women as well. An important archival source is a collection of correspondence and writings pertaining to Egyptian women's rights reformer Hoda Shaarawi.

Arts, Culture, and Egyptian Cinema
Materials relating to Egypt's arts, culture, and intellectual life represent a major strength of the RBSCL's holdings. The personal libraries that make up the core of the library's holdings themselves reveal the intellectual tastes and interests of cultured Egyptians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The personal and professional papers of architects Hassan Fathy and Ramses Wissa Wassef contain important works of architectural design as well as many items of high artistic merit, such as gouache paintings and exquisitely drawn studies. Fathy's papers also include the writings and correspondence of one of Egypt's most urbane and original 20th century thinkers. The collection of photographs by Van-Leo and his brother Angelo represents an unparalleled source for visual documentation of Egypt's 20th century artistic and cultural scene. One of the leading Egyptian studio photographers of his day, Van-Leo made portraits of most of Egypt's leading actors, musicians, and singers, as well as other entertainers like bellydancers. Among the leading entertainers depicted in the collection are Farid el-Atrache, Abd al-Halim Hafez, and Samia Gamal. Van-Leo also took portraits of leading intellectuals of his era, such as writer and educator Taha Hussein.

The Van-Leo collection represents the core of the library's rich holdings on Egyptian cinema, containing numerous portraits of film actors and actresses, including Omar Sherif, Mariam Fakhri al-Din, and Roushdie Abaza. Van-Leo also photographed many prominent film directors. In addition to his own photographs, Van-Leo collected photo-reproductions of numerous figures in Egyptian cinema, as well as Hollywood stars. Another important resource for the study of Egyptian film history is the collection of materials assembled by film critic and historian Mahmoud Qassim. Books and article files on directors and the cinema industries of Egypt and other Arab countries are complemented by still photographs from films dating from the 1940s. A unique resource is the series of illustrated, multilingual film programs from the 1920s to the 1980s, some of which provide information on films that no longer exist.


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