Travel Report: Robin Bunton, History

August 21, 2017

Robin Bunton, a Master's student in History, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research at Oxford University. Her report:

My thesis project focuses upon the political dimensions of British representations of Egyptian female entertainers throughout the nineteenth-century, and seeks to identify how gendered dynamics of power were culturally constructed and negotiated around the bodies of Egypt’s ‘dancing girls.’

Thanks to being awarded with the GIRTA, I was able to undertake a month of research in the United Kingdom at the British National Archives in London and the Middle East Centre Archive at Oxford University. The British National Archives contained a wealth of later-nineteenth-century sources, which included diplomatic correspondence between the British foreign office and Cairo, press-cuttings, and governmental records.

Here I also encountered several independent sets of photographs taken by British travelers and military officers of ‘dancing girls.’ These photos are remarkable for their apparent spontaneity, which directly contrasts the staged photographic portraits that were more typical of the time-period.

I am very much looking forward to further analysis of these images as I begin writing the final chapter of my thesis. At the Middle East Centre Archive at Oxford I primarily examined traveler’s accounts, as well as the private correspondences, and the personal journals of prominent British protectorate officials, including Harry Boyle, Sir Milne Cheetham, Sir Eldon Gorst, Eden Tatton-Brown, and Sir Hussey Crespigny Vivian.

These were very helpful additions to the body of primary sources I had already collected from digitized archives, and provided me with a valuable lesson in the patience and perseverance required in archival research, as several of the documents were written in nearly-illegible script which took a great deal of time to interpret. One very pleasant happenstance occurred during the daily tea break at the Oxford archive, when I had the opportunity to meet prominent historian of the Middle East, Eugene Rogan, and briefly discuss my findings with him.

None of these opportunities would have been possible without the recipient of the GIRTA, and I am very grateful to have been selected as a recipient of this prize. 

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