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This article proposes a new approach to the question of why so few Arabic documents have survived in their original archival context. Taking the Mamluk period as a case study it argues that the category “archive” itself needs to be reconfigured, away from the idea of fixed archival spaces, or even a Mamluk state archive, toward archival practices. These archival practices were spread across the Mamluk realm and involved numerous actors, which included the central bureaucracy in Cairo, individual secretaries, and, most importantly, the small-scale administration managed by officers. These archival practices emerge not from normative and narrative texts, but primarily from a consideration of archival traces on surviving documents.