Since Herodotus, Egypt has drawn tourists interested in the Pyramids; however starting in the mid-19th century Europeans descended on Egypt to explore ruins, sail down the Nile, and relax in luxurious hotels. Documenting the travel literature about Egypt has long been an important collecting area of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the American University in Cairo; guidebooks and travel accounts make up the bulk of our collection, but we recently made turn-of-the-century postcards, the most visually interesting material, available in our digital library. The postcards are largely from the Golden Age of Travel, and are a visual representation of what visitors to Egypt were interested in, and will support travel writing courses offered to AUC undergraduates. The images also help document Egypt’s architectural heritage, which has been eroded over the past 50 years (an extreme example is the collapse of a lovely Art Noveau apartment building in my neighborhood a few weeks ago); many of the famous hotels depicted no longer exist, but were at one time world famous.
The postcards, and much Western material we have about Egypt, is also found in other libraries and digital collections (AUC was founded in 1919 and so has a bit of a late start). For me, this can be helpful regarding metadata, but also raises questions about what to digitize and place in our digital library. We’ve also expanded our travel literature collection with our web archiving activities, which provides a fun challenge given the amount of material available for collection within a limited budget.