The holiday season is upon us. For many, this is a time to reunite with family and friends, and to take a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine. For graduate students and researchers, this is also one of the few times in the year that – free from coursework and teaching – they can devote time to planning those exciting summer research trips.
But, fieldwork is expensive. It’s imperative to do extensive research long before booking a flight, hotel, and embarking on that delightful journey to Egypt. If this will be your first trip, I have compiled a few tips and tricks to get you started. If you’re a veteran at this, perhaps some of these could save you time and money. Happy Holidays!
1) Do your research
This may seem obvious, but preparation is the key to success. Today researchers are privileged with access to an abundance of online content. Before you travel abroad, do some Google searches and see what is already available to access digitally. You’d be surprised by how much is already scanned and available to you from the comfort of your home. For instance, our Resources page has an array of primary and secondary resources for you to browse. Do you still need to go? Then collect the relevant sources and narrow down your questions. Make a list of the places you need to visit and rank them in terms of importance. Prepare, and you will make the most of your time.
2) Get a phone and data plan
We all need to communicate. Aside from your hotel room and some cafés in the major cities, free internet is hard to come by in Egypt. Your first stop upon landing should be to enter the office of a service provider. I prefer Vodaphone; a decent phone plan and 12GB of data will cost you approximately 200 Egyptian pounds per month (around $11 USD). Your smartphone can also serve as a hotspot router, keeping all your devices connected no matter where your research may take you.
3) Don’t be afraid to talk to people
The most important piece of advice on this list is also the simplest: talk with people as soon as you arrive. Aside from fostering relations with friends and colleagues in Egypt prior to arrival, put yourself out there as soon as you land. By doing so, you will master the language, learn the latest vocabulary, make contacts, and find friends to introduce you to all that the country has to offer. Don’t worry, Egyptians are (mostly) super friendly! A note of caution though: experiences vary greatly depending on your gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality. Always be careful and listen to your instincts when you’re in the field.
4) The Coptic Orthodox Cathedral (222 Ramses St., Abbassia, Cairo)
Are you researching a topic related to Coptic Orthodox Christians? Visit the patriarchate and check out their bookstores, explore the library on the second floor of the Cultural Center, and speak with the archivist of the Clerical College. Unfortunately, to get anything else done there you’ll need a wasta (influence from connections, either in person or by letter). In that regard, knowing a high-ranking bishop may help. If you’re still struggling to get access, try visiting Coptic bookstores in Shoubra and Giza. There’s no telling what you could find on their shelves.
5) The Jesuit Cultural Centre (15 al-Mahrany St., al-Azbakeyah, Cairo)
The Jesuit Center is located a short drive from the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Be sure to call well ahead of your visit for an appointment. Their archive contains a large array of published material: from monographs to statistical studies. In addition, ask the archivist about their “miscellaneous” files! This collection of primary documents is hidden in a back room and includes many files, categorized in alphabetical order and stacked in a bookshelf for you to explore.
6) Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (al-Tarabeeshi, al-Ganzouri, al-Zaher, Cairo)
The Dominican institute in Cairo has the friendliest staff that I’ve ever met! Their website offers a simple to navigate interface to search their holdings and their collection is open and accessible to all researchers. In addition, by fostering relationships with such institutes you open yourself to the possibility of meeting like-minded researchers and growing your network. Perhaps there are local researchers working on similar topics and willing to guide you on your journey.
7) American University in Cairo (AUC) Library (al-Obour St., New Cairo City)
Now located in their new campus in New Cairo, the AUC Library and Archives is a vital resource for researchers. Visit their website to learn of their holdings. Contact the archivists well in advance of your trip with inquiries (and make sure to ask about their growing oral history collection!). Give them plenty of time when you arrange a visit and you’re bound to find material. And, while you’re there, take some time to explore the stunning new AUC campus.
8) Dar al-Kutub al-Qawmiya al-Miṣriya – Egyptian National Library & Archives (121 Nile Corniche, Boulaq, Cairo)
Dar al-Kutub is a must visit for those looking to access periodicals in Egypt. Whether you’re looking to consult textual material or microfilm, the staff will guide you and provide you with the relevant newspapers, magazines, and journals. However, be prepared because most of their microfilm machines do not work and their consultation room is exceedingly hot and humid in the summer. Also, say hi to the cats roaming around for me!
9) Library of Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina (al-Azaritah Wa ash-Shatebi, Alexandria)
The Norwegian-designed Library of Alexandria is an architectural marvel. Their online databases also include an array of digital material and should be one of the first you consult before leaving home. They also boast vast collections of books, manuscripts, and audio-visual material. When you arrive, visit the consultation desk on the bottom floor and happy hunting. And always remember that: al-Iskandaranya agdā nas!
10) Explore and Enjoy
You’re in Egypt; explore and enjoy it! Visit the cities, tour landmarks, and do some shopping. By far, my favorite place in Cairo is the Khan al-Khalili Bazaar; where you can do all three.
Now armed with some tips and tricks for your first, or next trip to Egypt: Bon voyage! Keep this list in mind as you travel; maybe visit some of the places I mention and hopefully discover new ones. All I ask is that when you come back, please share and educate your fellow researchers by adding to this list in the comments below.
Egypt Migrations is always looking for people to contribute to our digital initiatives. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join or support the organization.
Michael Akladios is completing his PhD at York University on the immigrant experience of diverse Coptic communities in post-Second World War Toronto, Montreal, and New York. Over the course of his PhD Michael has become particularly interested in questions around the influence of the Coptic renaissance on emigre populations and the politicization of collective memory. Michael is the founder of Egypt Migrations (formerly the Coptic Canadian History Project).