Rare Books and Special Collections, American University in Cairo

The Rare Books and Special Collections Library (RBSCL) at the American University in Cairo specializes in Egyptology and Middle Eastern Studies including Coptic and Islamic art and architecture as well as contemporary Egyptian art books and archives. It also houses and curates a sizeable collection of historic photographs that amounts to approximately 250,000 prints, negatives and slides.

The RBSCL was established in the nineties based upon the earlier Creswell Library which dated back to the sixties and encompassed his Islamic art and architecture books and his large collection of photographs from Egypt, North Africa, the Middle East and Andalusia. As a result of the RBSCL’s expansion many new collections were added. Among the most important is Hassan Fathy’s photographic collection focusing on his vernacular experiments and the highlights of his architectural career. The RBSCL has also acquired the archives and the bulk of the photographic collection of the Armenian photographer Van Leo as well as photographic collections of modern artists such as Salah Taher and Margo Veillon.

The vintage nineteenth century photographs constitute a pivotal component of AUC’s photographic collections. It includes loose photos and albums of pioneer photographers such as Francis Frith, Abdullah Frères, Arnoux, Beato, Bonfils, Béchard, Fiorillo, Lekegian, Sebah, Zangaki and a set of Underwood and Underwood stereoviews. The RBSCL houses also collections pertaining to other topics such as Nubia’s architecture and ethnographic life, the Egyptian Cinema and other aspects related to Egypt’s contemporary life.

The photographic collection at the RBSCL is currently a visual resource, a teaching and research tool available to the faculty and students of AUC and to worldwide independent scholars. In the last few years, the RBSCL photographs have become an important ingredient in many MA and PhD thesis as well as various publications and documentary movies. The RBSCL organizes annual exhibitions of selected themes based on its extensive collections within and beyond the scope of AUC campus.

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