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Session R4753 (Alternative Archives: New Approaches to Egypt's Modern History), 2017
My research on the history of audiotape technology in Egypt draws on a wide array of visual, textual, and acoustic sources that converge to form a “shadow archive,” or a collection of materials from formal and informal repositories that exist outside of the Egyptian National Archives. Whether harnessing cultural periodicals from a storied paper market atop a metro station (i.e. Sur al-Ezbekiyya), dusty audiocassette recordings from small kiosks and major music labels, or recently declassified documents from the British National Archives, my work aims to offer an innovative account of a seminal era that has long been overlooked by historians of modern Egypt. Indeed, a quick survey of recent scholarship on Egypt reveals a robust body of literature on the first half of the twentieth century and a conspicuous absence of historical studies on the post-monarchical period. How may historians redress this imbalance? And what “alternative archives” may scholars identify, access, and utilize to shed light on Egypt’s more recent past? With these questions in mind, my contribution to this round table may be broken down into two parts. First, I will address a medium that proves central to my work: state-controlled Egyptian periodicals. Following its nationalization in 1960, the Egyptian press, in the eyes of many scholars, became little more than a mouthpiece for ruling regimes and, consequently, lost its usefulness as a historical source. Departing from these arguments, I contend that state-controlled magazines, if read in a sustained and critical manner, may yield a number of important insights into everyday life in Egypt during the final three decades of the twentieth century. To illustrate this point, I will introduce the information that may be gleaned from popular crime reports printed in two leading periodicals. Second, I will reflect on some of the challenges of conducting research in Egypt and the inventive work such obstacles may inspire. Here, I will broach the topic of interdisciplinary scholarship and, more specifically, the potential rewards of historically rigorous ethnographies. By covering both of these subjects, I aim to prompt a dynamic discussion with fellow speakers and all of those in attendance on sources, methods, and the writing of Egypt’s modern history.