Series Černý MSS 21 - Correspondence

Identity area

Reference code

Černý MSS 21




  • 1918 - 1972 (Accumulation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

6 boxes

Context area

Name of creator


Archival history

The majority of the correspondence is part of the original Černý bequest to the Griffith Institute and contains letters to J. Černý as well as drafts for some of Černý's replies. The Sargant/Černý file are letters exchanged between Černý and his wife, from the 1940s onwards.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

J. Černý bequest and subsequent donations by the Černý family.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Professional and personal correspondence, the majority of letters date between 1946-1970 and are addressed to J. Černý in London, Oxford, Prague and other European, American and Egyptian addresses and locations. The letters contain Egyptological information regarding text readings, translations, exchange of information on objects in museums or in situ, sites and texts.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Over 300 files arranged alphabetically according to correspondent; the arrangement within each file is usually chronological, with occasional divergences between the archive numbering sequence and the chronological sequence. Carbon copies of replies are either inserted in the chronological sequence or grouped at the end of a given file.

Each letter in the collection has been assigned its own number, the current numbering sequence for the letters range from 1 to 2483:
-a) 1-2268: correspondence organised alphabetically in two series (original Černý bequest and additional correspondence accessioned in the 1990s),
-b) 2269-2380: correspondence between J. Černý and M. Sargant (accessioned in 2016), and
-c) 2381-2483: correspondence with no internal order, including additional letters to/from M. Sargant (accessioned in 2011 and 2016).
The files have not been assigned group numbers; the individually numbered letters within each file are directly shown after the series number 21.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Some files and selected letters - access subject to approval by the archivist.
Correspondence between J. Černý and M. Sargant - restricted access in place until 2036.

Conditions governing reproduction

Restricted reproduction for some files. Restricted access and reproduction of file M. Sargant in place until 2036.

Language of material

  • Coptic
  • Czech
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian

Script of material

  • Coptic
  • Egyptian hieratic
  • Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Latin

Language and script notes

Černý was proficient in several European languages as is evident in his correspondence. However, increasingly from the 1940s onwards, Černý's replies were composed in English, whilst correspondents continued to communicate with Černý in their native language.
Correspondence also contains passages in Late and Middle Egyptian, hieroglyphs and/or transliteration, as well as Coptic.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Most of the correspondence is well-preserved, with the exception of fragile airmail letters and those written on low-quality paper, especially that which was produced during the WWII.
Some letters were written in pencil, careful handling is necessary.

Finding aids

Černý MSS 21 - Correspondence hand-list compiled by H. Navratilova:

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

These are originals. Exceptions indicated where necessary in files.

Existence and location of copies

Photocopies of the following are in the National Museum - Náprstek museum in Prague: Černý' MSS 21.272; 21.277; 21.324; 21.707; 21.712; 21.732; 21.1014; 21.1526.

Related units of description

Letters from J. Černý to other Egyptologists form parts of their respective collections within the Griffith Institute Archive, see below.
Where Černý's correspondence form part of collections held in different archives, these are referred to within the individual files.

Notes area


-Some files are incomplete. References to particular letters referred to either in Černý's carbon-copy replies or noted within other letters by a particular correspondent are not present in the files (specifically H.W. Fairman and A. H. Gardiner).


-Relatively few letters from the pre-WWII period are represented in this collection; it seems likely that J. Černý only took selective papers with him to the UK when leaving Prague in 1946 and lost access to some of his remaining possessions in Prague after February 1948.
-Černý acknowledged the loss of part of his correspondence in 1959, writing to M. Matthieu (widow of I. M. Lourie, see Černý MSS 21.1380) – where photographs from Lourie are mentioned as "are among my correspondence which (sic) is no longer accessible to me". It is not known if Černý regained access to any of his possessions during his 1967 visit to Prague and it would appear that if he did, the correspondence was not included.
-The pattern is evident in the file between Černý and Marie Sargant (Černá). Letters sent to Černý, whilst he was visiting Prague (vacations 1946 to winter 1947/1948), are lost, whereas his letters to M. Sargant, which she kept in London, attest that correspondence between them was reciprocal and exchanged regularly throughout that period of time.
-It is probable there was an earlier correspondence between Černý and particular scholars, especially B. Bruyère, J. Capart and Ch. Desroches-Noblecourt. It is certain there was previous correspondence with A.H. Gardiner, as the Gardiner Collection contains letters from Černý dating from the 1920s onwards (Gardiner's replies in the Černý Collection are preserved from 1939 onwards only), similarly the B. Gunn Collection, whose papers contain Černý letters from the 1930s onwards.
-A large proportion of the letters from his student Z. Žába were returned to Žába after Černý's death and are currently located in the Czech Institute of Egyptology, Prague.
-Černý's professional and social contacts would have expanded after 1946, following his appointment as the Edwards Professor at University College, London, then later as Professor of Egyptology at Oxford. Subsequently, the post-WWII correspondence should be more substantial than the pre-war one. However, it is possible that a part of his previous correspondence is lost (see above) or perhaps still with family members in the present Czech Republic. It is also possible that some letters were destroyed either by him or by his family members in Czechoslovakia as they might have been perceived as incriminating communications from an émigré.
-There are gaps within some files around late 1950/early 1951. This may have been due to Černý's prolonged illness at this time. His main correspondents during this period were Marie Sargant, I.E.S. Edwards and A.H. Gardiner.
-Other seeming hiatus might have been caused by a change in communication patterns, e.g. perhaps when a correspondent moved to the same city or preferred to use the telephone, or moved again to a different location, in particular, R.O. Faulkner and A.H. Gardiner.
-Some instances of a correspondence hiatus may have still another explanation, e.g. letters from G. Posener from 1955 and 1956 that seem to be missing. The hiatus coincides with the difficult political situation in Egypt preceding and following the Suez crisis in 1956, but any explanation of the missing correspondence remains speculative at present.
-When Černý was in Egypt, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, he occasionally noted to correspondents that it would be difficult receiving any communication (e.g. Černý MSS 21.671, few letters were sent to him whilst travelling to and when in Egypt during this period). This was, however, not an absolute rule, as he was able to exchange materials with colleagues interested in texts he was working on while in the field or sites he visited (see correspondence with H.W. Fairman or R. Moss).
-Following Černý's move to Oxford, Oxford-based correspondents only sent letters only when Černý himself was travelling outside Oxford (a salient example is R. Moss, Černý MSS 21.1417-53).


-For biographical research, the letters provide essential information on events in Černý's life.
-Egyptology, particular sites, monuments and research problems are often discussed in detail and directly relevant for an evaluation of Egyptological research of the period. Often discussions preceded a known publication and enable observations on research practices within the subject.
-A specialist record for monuments and their study and often information on the history of a particular excavation may be obtained by combining visual and textual material – i.e. letters, and photographs within the Černý bequest. The changing archaeological landscape of sites may be observed in photographs, whilst the correspondence reveals details on research plans and intentions.
-Institutional practices, research and academic policies, including assessment of academics, examinations and advice on academic careers, is recorded in the correspondence.
-The accumulation of academic and private libraries is recorded throughout the correspondence as Černý exchanged off-prints and publications and mediated purchases of books to a number of his colleagues, notably E.A. Edel, H.W. Fairman, F. Lexa, Z. Žába, and many others.
-Aspects of academic and personal habits of Černý and his correspondents are well illustrated in some letters, including cultivation of social capital, norms of politeness in correspondence and different interpersonal relationships.
-Černý's approach to circulation and dissemination of Egyptological information may also be observed – he maintained a large network through regular correspondence, promoting sustained contact, book exchanges, etc., as well as providing evidence of support for both the Topographical Bibliography and the Annual Egyptological Bibliography projects, and demonstrating an understanding of the emerging research infrastructures in Egyptology.
-Academic networks ("invisible college"), including research information and social contacts, may also be mapped.
-Context for political, economic and social circumstances is shown in a number of letters, reflecting on coeval situations; relating directly to WWII, the Suez Crisis, the Cold War, the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, changes in the management of Egyptian antiquities, the UNESCO campaign in Nubia, and others.
-Letters to and from German academics immediately after the WWII offering insight into the post-war German academe situation, illustrating Černý's unusual generosity.
-Personal matters include family and other personal relationships of the correspondents, also the personal crises of J. Černý in 1942 and 1950/1951.
-The letters are relevant for Egyptologists, as well as historians of post-WWII Britain and Europe, science historians, and experts in Oriental studies.


-Requests and verification queries sent to other archives holding allied material are noted in individual files. Some of the queries are in process and will be updated accordingly

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