Travel Literature of Egypt and the Middle East

The Rare Books and Special Collections Library possesses an outstanding collection of vintage travel literature, including many first editions, spanning the 16th century to the present. The works range from scientific accounts sponsored by royal patrons to guidebooks for 19th-century European tourists spending their winters floating on the Nile. The bulk of these holdings relate to Egypt, but the geographic coverage includes the entire Middle East and parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Multiple European languages are represented in the publications.

Many of the early travel accounts detail the journeys of European explorers, the oldest dating to 1556. Important holdings include Danish naval officer Frederick Ludvig Norden's Travels in Egypt (1757), and Scottish explorer James Bruce's 1790 Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile. Other highlights are the early 19th-century Description de l'Egypte, compiled by the scholars who accompanied Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, and Egypt and Nubia and The Holy Land (1849), containing lithographs of artist David Roberts' paintings of landscapes, monuments, and people. Another notable work is Ignatius Mouradgea d'Ohsson's vividly illustrated Tableau général de l'Empire othoman (1787). 

Nineteenth and early twentieth-century guidebooks and travelogues represent the most numerous examples of travel literature in the library's collections. Early examples of tourist guides include J. J. Rifaud’s Tableau de Egypte, de la Nubie et des lieux circonvoisins (1830) and Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson’s Topography of Thebes, and General View of Egypt (1847), a Murray guidebook that featured the kind of background information contained in modern travel guides, such as lists of English-Arabic vocabulary and historical figures. The library also houses several dozen Baedeker guidebooks for the Middle East and Europe, in various languages, the earliest dating to the 1870s. 

Prominent examples of 19th century travelers' own accounts of their journeys include Maxime Du Camp's Le Nil (Egypte et Nubie), Amelia Edwards' A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877), and Lady Isabel Burton's The Inner Life of Syria, Palestine and the Holy Land (1879). Later works, like Osbert Sitwell's Escape With Me: An Oriental Sketchbook (1939), can also be found in the collection. More modern travel guides for Egypt and the Middle East and Africa, from the 1970s into the 2000s, are also available, largely comprising the contents of the extensive library of Cairo travel agent Ted Cookson. Additionally, RBSCL has a large collection of postcards depicting Egypt, over fifty of which have handwritten notes.

Related holdings that complement the book collections include the RBSCL's photographic holdings, especially its postcards, 19th and early 20th-century commercial prints, and photographs within the archival collections of individuals like Hassan Fathy, Margot Veillon, and Van-Leo. Twentieth-century archival collections like these also contain ephemeral travel literature like promotional brochures and maps.