Researching Modern Coptic History: A Guide to the Archives in the US and Egypt

Historians of modern Coptic history, much like scholars of the modern Middle East, have faced limitations to their research due to institutional restrictions and a dearth of primary sources. Historians working on Coptic history from the nineteenth century onward have had to draw from alternate archival repositories to develop their projects. In an effort to support our colleagues researching Copts across disciplines, we have generated a list of archives in the United States and Egypt that are open to scholars. This general overview in no way claims to be an exhaustive list of archival repositories on modern Coptic history, but rather an introduction to some significant collections for researchers interested in consulting primary sources.

US ARCHIVES

Hoover Institute Archive

434 Galvez Mall, Stanford University, CA 94305

Closed for researchers until early 2020

The Hoover Institute Library and Archives is a research center that houses and collects material on diplomatic and world history from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. Among its many collections are the Boutros-Boutros Ghali Papers which contain documentation on the career of Coptic politician Boutros Boutros Ghali as the Egyptian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (1977-1991) and Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1996). In addition to speeches, statements, and correspondence of Boutros Ghali’s diplomatic career, the collection also includes important sources on the history of the notable Boutros Ghali Family from 1867 to 2001.

Presbyterian Historical Society

425 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Open 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; and noon to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) is the national archives for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its historical denominational predecessors. Since American Presbyterians (first at the behest of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, a denomination that would later become the United Presbyterian Church of North America) were the first and largest U.S. missionary presence in Egypt from the mid nineteenth century to the interwar period, PHS collections have a strong emphasis on missionary activity across Egypt from the nineteenth century onward. Yet Coptic material, especially as it relates to Coptic Evangelicals, includes but is not limited to documents on the Middle East Council of Churches, the Synod of the Nile, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services [CEOSS], and the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo during the 1990s.

United States Library of Congress

101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington, D.C. 20540

Open weekdays and Saturday 8:30am to 5:00 pm

The most significant material at the library on modern Coptic studies is the Ragheb Moftah collection of Coptic Orthodox liturgical chants and hymns, 1927-1997. The papers contain over 3,000 items from the personal collection of Ragheb Moftah, the twentieth century Coptic musicologist and “pioneer of the preservation of the Coptic liturgical music heritage.” Moftah developed personal and institutional archives of traditional and liturgical Coptic music as a strategy to counter western “Protestant missionaries from interfering with the Coptic Orthodox Church practices of its rites.” The collection not only contains musical artifacts and documentation but also material on the relationships, activities, churches, and societies Moftah engaged with in the Egyptian and diasporic Coptic community from the interwar period until his death in 2001.

University of Utah Marriott Library

295 S Campus Dr, Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Open Monday – Friday: 8 am – 4 pm

The Middle East Library at the University of Utah Marriott Library is named after its founder Aziz Suryal Atiya, a prominent Coptic scholar of medieval and Islamic studies. Atiya’s personal collection, the Aziz S. Atiya Papers (1927-1991), not only contains content on his research interests but also documentation on the Coptic heritage initiatives he spearheaded including: the establishment of the Institute of Coptic Studies in 1954, building the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, and editing the Coptic Encyclopedia. Atiya’s collaboration with his Coptic contemporaries such as Mirrit Ghali and Habib Gorgi are documented as well as the development of Coptic heritage preservation efforts in Egypt and the United States.

Yale Divinity Library

409 Prospect St, New Haven, CT 06511.

Open Mon- Friday, 9am to 4:45pm.

The archive at Yale Divinity Library provides a rich source of documentation on the Coptic community from the mid nineteenth century onward. While the most substantial material relates to missionary activity in Egypt, some archival content contains sources from the Coptic laity on their social, communal, and religious activities during the early twentieth century. For instance, correspondences between representatives of Coptic youth associations and U.S. protestant missionaries demonstrate an active, even if also strained, ecumenical network during the early twentieth century. Other material of interest includes sources from Coptic Evangelical leaders and their projects such as social service organizations and educational institutions across Egypt.

EGYPT ARCHIVES

American University in Cairo (AUC) Rare Books and Special Collections Library

AUC Avenue, New Cairo 11835, Egypt

Open Sunday- Thursday: 8:30am-4:00pm

The development of the Coptic Studies Collection at AUC was undertaken by research librarian Laurence Moftah, niece of the renown Coptic musicologist Ragheb Moftah. While the collection encompasses religious material from earlier periods, valuable sources on the modern period are also preserved. The Ramses Wissa Wassef Architectural Drawings is a collection that chronicles the prominent Coptic Egyptian architect’s work, including Coptic cultural and religious institutions such as St. Mary’s Church in Zamalek, St. George’s Church in Heliopolis, and the Habib Gorgi Museum. The collection also has primary sources on the Wassef family in Giza during the twentieth century.

Dar al-Kutub

121 Nile Corniche, Ramlet Boulaq, Cairo

9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Saturday

Dar al-Kutub is the state-managed Egyptian national library. While its neighbor, Dar al-Wathaiq al-Qawmiyya is notoriously restrictive and can take years to successfully receive access, Dar al-Kutub is accessible to the public and merely requires an ID. Dar al-Kutub houses a massive array of sources in a range of formats, including print books and maps. In terms of primary sources however, some of the greatest treasures for modern Coptic studies can be found in the library’s periodicals room, which houses extensive holdings of Coptic newspapers, journals and magazines, including one of the most complete sets of the rare Coptic daily Misr. However, as a state institution, visitors should expect to face the full force of Egyptian bureaucracy, and it is best to have backup plans in case your materials suddenly disappear.

Franciscan Center for Christian Oriental Studies (FCCOS)

12 al-Bendaqa St, Mosky, Cairo

Library open 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday-Friday

The FCCOS is a research and publication center housed in the historical Franciscan convent of Cairo’s Mosky district. With a particularly strong interest in the studies of Christian communities in the Middle East, the library houses a large collection of books, manuscripts, newspapers, archival materials of the Franciscan’s activities in the Middle East. The library’s impressive holding of 20th century Coptic newspapers, as well as its generous photographing policy, makes the center a great resource for document collection.

The Institute of Coptic Studies

222 Ramses St, al-Abassia, Cairo

Housed in the patriarchate building of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbassiya, the Institute for Coptic Studies boasts an impressive library. Library holdings include a wide array of secondary literature on Coptic life from communal history to theology, as well as several difficult-to-find sources on Coptic history written by Copts themselves. A significant portion of the library consists of contributions from the personal libraries of prominent Copts. The library also carries several Coptic periodicals, which library staff have been working to digitize.

Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies (IDEO)

1 al-Tarabishi  St, al-Abassiya, Cairo

Library open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00pm Friday

The IDEO is a Cairo-based research institution administered by the Dominican Order. Alongside organizing lectures, training, and institutional publications, IDEO houses a large library dedicated to its mission of studying Arab and Islamic heritage. While the library’s contents lean towards Islamic studies, it also contains issues of several important Coptic periodicals such as Al-Yaqazah and al-Manarah al-Misriyyah. Library contents can be searched through the institutions’ comprehensive online catalogue. The library also houses an excellent reading room for researchers.

Dar Madaris al-Ahad

70 Rod al-Farag, Shubra, Cairo

The monthly magazine Majallat Madaris al-Ahad is headquartered at the still functioning Dar Madaris al-Ahad. The institution houses the full corpus of the magazine, which staff have comprehensively digitized with continuous updates. CDs of the full digitized run of the magazine can be purchased for a modest fee. In addition to its own magazine, Dar Madaris al-Ahad also carries a handful of copies of other periodicals, such as al-Yaqazah. While this additional collection is more limited, the holdings at Dar Madaris al-Ahad are an excellent complement to other institutional libraries.


The CCHP is always looking for people to contribute to our digital initiatives. Please contact theCCHP@gmail.com if you would like to join or support the Project.


Amy Fallas is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Santa Barbara with a focus on Modern Middle East History. Her dissertation examines the transnational and inter-confessional encounters between Anglo-American ecumenists and Coptic and Muslim benevolent societies in Egypt during the late nineteenth century. She also writes on religion and politics in the modern Middle East, U.S. foreign policy in the region, and the Arab diaspora in the Americas.


Weston Bland is a PhD student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on modern Egypt and communal histories in the modern Middle East, with an emphasis on the development of institutions in the modern Coptic community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s