Imperial Bodies
Empire and Death in Alexandria, Egypt
Shana Minkin


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: The Imperial Bodies of Alexandria
chapter abstract

The Introduction discusses the driving questions of the book as well as the historiographic literature of empire, cosmopolitan Alexandria, and death studies. It sets up the historical setting of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alexandria, when the city was booming as a multiempire, transimperial trade hub under nominal Ottoman and veiled British Empires. The Introduction lays out the primary arguments of the book, which assert that British and French Consulates of this time period used the bodies of their dead to make claims on public space and social belonging in Alexandria. By doing so, these imperial powers demonstrate that empire is built on the ground, in competition with other would-be imperial powers and in negotiation with the surprising strength and resilience of Egyptian national government. The bodies of the dead served as political tools of multiple empires.

1 Foreign Hospitals, Local Institutions
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the foreign-national, non-Muslim hospitals in Alexandria during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focusing primarily on the Catholic European Hospital, the Protestant Deaconess Hospital, and the Greek Hospital, it demonstrates that in the work of caring for the sick and the dying, foreign communities and imperial consulates built hospitals that purposefully served the city as a whole. The foreign hospital committees decisively positioned the hospitals as institutions of greater public good, dedicated to all nationalities and religions in the city of Alexandria. They harnessed the charitable and public service of the hospital as the basis for requests that the Egyptian government grant them land and monetary subventions. In serving the sick and dying from all religions and nationalities, foreign communities demonstrated their worth to the public health infrastructure and the core of their claims to belonging to the city as a whole.

2 Mourning the Dead, Connecting the Living
chapter abstract

This chapter explores public and private funerals of the British and French dead in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alexandria. Proper funerals, with coffins, religious officials, and mourners, were signs of a good death and of a strong living community. The imperial consulates of Alexandria guaranteed their subjects good deaths, allowing the consulates to claim space and belonging in Alexandria as facilitators of funerals. This chapter closes by demonstrating the political power of the funeral via the death of the Latin archbishop in 1904. Mere days after the British and French signed the Entente Cordiale and the French recognized Egypt as British territory, the French Consulate used the death of the Latin archbishop to stage an elaborate public service that tied together elements of French state funerals and reaffirmed French strength as "protectors of the Catholics of the Orient" in this British-ruled, Egyptian land.

3 A House for the Dead, a Home for the Living
chapter abstract

This chapter uses the non-Muslim cemeteries of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alexandria to probe questions of land use and resources in the imperial and national state. In the building of cemeteries, imperial consulates and communities of foreign nationals and religious minorities repeatedly found themselves subject to the rule of the Egyptian national government, which held the power to determine who could bury where. In contrast to the open institutions that were the hospitals, cemeteries were designed for specific communities exclusively, creating closed, permanent physical space for imperial bodies within the city. Granted their cemetery land, foreign-national and religious-minority populations harnessed that relationship with the Egyptian national government to bolster the social and political presence of their living members.

4 Dying to be French, Dying to be British
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the written archives of the British and French Consulates in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Alexandria. The death registers of the French Consulate are juxtaposed to the inquest reports of the British Consulate. Civil registers and inquests helped empires know their subjects, creating imperial bodies that could be divided into the categories that the empire might need in building or maintaining its presence in Egypt, such as the North Africans of the French Empire or the Maltese of the British Empire. As deaths were documented and information about public health and safety was generated, imperial consulates had to turn over their findings to the Egyptian government. Thus, the registers and inquests reveal that the process of investigating and recording death intertwined the consulates with local space and governance. The consular bureaucrats were consequently turned into both collectors of the imperial dead and archivists of Egypt.

Conclusion: The Death of Empire
chapter abstract

The Conclusion reiterates the primary argument of the book: death matters as a tool for building empire and exercising both national and imperial governance. In post-1952 Alexandria, imperial bodies remained a political issue for the Egyptian state and the imperial consulates. Residues of empire, they were no longer needed to make claims of power and presence in Alexandria, and cemeteries turned from an asset into a burden for all involved. For the Egyptian government, the bodies in the cemeteries were a problem to be solved as the city grew and expanded. For former imperial powers, the minimization of the space and rituals of their dead demonstrated that Alexandria was no longer theirs and, more important, they no longer belonged to Alexandria.