Private and institutional archives

Faced with the urban upheaval affecting the city of Alexandria, we have felt the need to react swiftly to safeguard a particular form of heritage and a memory that are in danger. This issue is not archaeology in this case, but one of society. 

In this case, we benefit from our social networks, and archive holders, both creators of, as well as descendants holding family archives, come to us. We can ensure them of the long-term preservation of documents, whether physical, digital or both, in a dedicated department within a French research unit that has been based in Alexandria for 30 years, In addition, we can propose the prospects of academic engagement in these archives, in accordance with their wishes, which is often considered to be an added value to the act of donation.

This demand for the safe storage of archives is growing because it is linked to the desire of members or descendants of foreign communities, who lived in Alexandria until the 1960s, to preserve and to share the memory of their Alexandrian life. It is also linked to the difficulties encountered in depositing such archives by the producers and/or heirs of the archives given their current situation (exile, diaspora) and that of the host country (In which institutions should these documents be deposited, with what prospects?). The archives to date are mainly French-language, and shed new light on the cosmopolitan Alexandria of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our expertise has gained recognition through the creation and organisation of cultural events such as the Alexandria Heritage Days, which the CEAlex has managed since 2010, as well as through the publication of scientific works highlighting the heritage and historical importance of private and institutional archival documents. Such material complements the other types of documentary resources held at the CEAlex as part of our study of the city and its past (see the work by D. Gogny, Archives d’Orient, recently published by the CEAlex in the new Alexandrie moderne collection).

Lastly, we should note the snowball effect in the collection of French-language newspapers and other items. From the outset this represented an engagement with private and institutional archives. Indeed, the collection began with institutions, particularly schools, decommissioning elements of their libraries. Then, after visits to Alexandria’s souq el-gomaa (Friday flea market), we acquired a batch of newspapers that turned out to have come from one person who had built up a veritable news archive in his apartment. Thanks to private archives also sold at the souq, we were able to take small steps towards identifying the protagonists in this personal story, a micro-history that bears witness to the history of the city.


After consideration as to how the documents could be used and made available, in accordance with legislation on private archives, we have developed a somewhat limited solution consisting of the creation of an online archival catalogue, which provides an overview of the collections held by the CEAlex through an appropriate description and possibly selected elements as illustrations, but without giving immediate open access to all the digitised documents. This would seem a reasonable way in which to make these archival documents available in a controlled manner.