When you heard the protest songs and saw the signs in the streets, and looked at how public space transformed, it became apparent that the archive was everywhere and its mediums were diverse. So ultimately my draw to history was living through histor(ies) in the making and thinking about what historians of the future would write about these moments. One of the most exciting things about studying modern Coptic history is that there is so much that has yet to be written about it.
As a modern Egypt scholar, I aim to empower Copts as actors in their own narratives rather than subjects within geopolitical discourse. I write to normalize Copts’ Egyptianness, without placing them in a separate category as a ‘minority’.
Future projects share a common goal: to contend that though national, ethnic, and religious identities have shaped people’s lives in powerful ways, immigrants based their actions on a selective reading of such ideologies that was most often expressed in choices to live their own kind of transcultural lives.
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.
In general, my study of Coptic identity is always framed in relation to questions of national belonging and the homeland, because I believe that you can’t understand Copts without understanding Egypt and vice versa.
In this recorded public history lecture, Michael Akladios speaks of Copts in Egypt and contrasts the democratic promise of the early twentieth century with the rise of discrimination and harassment, leading eventually to persistent persecution of numerical, linguistic, racial, and/or religious minorities by a dominant majority that is institutionalized by the state.
I try to explain that Copts are not Western Christians lost in the Middle East, or living relics of “one of the oldest Church in the World.” At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the violence and discrimination Copts suffer. It is an exercise at equilibrium which is sometimes difficult.
I think the Coptic identity is a dynamic and transforming concept, and that it is our job—as historians—to show how it has changed in response to different events, challenges, and opportunities.
By bringing the ‘extreme’ case of Waguih Ghali to the forefront, I would like to think out loud about the other ‘Waguihs’ who are not able to defining some of their relationships and interactions with the Coptic tradition of khidma. I wish to point to the stories of Coptic Christians who accept the fact that their lives- or at least some aspects of their everyday relationships- do not reflect how they are identified. Yet their stories wrongly contribute to the insistence on a hegemonic identification process.
For Coptic immigrants, cultural diversity is indeed a fact of life. Thank you to all those who have participated and a warm welcome to all those hearing about us for the first time. We look forward to many more years of collaboration and growth.