This groundbreaking study illuminates the Egyptian experience of modernity by critically analyzing the foremost medium through which it was articulated: history. The first comprehensive analysis of a Middle Eastern intellectual tradition, Gatekeepers of the Arab Past examines a system of knowledge that replaced the intellectual and methodological conventions of Islamic historiography only at the very end of the nineteenth century. Covering more than one hundred years of mostly unexamined historical literature in Arabic, including rare archival sources, Yoav Di-Capua explores Egyptian historical thought, examines the careers of numerous critical historians, and traces this tradition's uneasy relationship with colonial forms of knowledge as well as with the post-colonial state: What were the basic concepts of this new way of thinking? How did it affect the Egyptian experience of nationalism, modernization, and democratization throughout the twentieth century? Written in a clear and lively style, this definitive tour through a complex century of thought will be essential reading for students and scholars of modern Egyptian history, as well as of the histories of other countries in the region.