MEHAT logo

38th Annual Middle East History and Theory Conference (May 3–4, 2024)
The Middle East from the Margins: Geographic, Temporal, Linguistic, and Cultural Boundary Crossers

longest tree

About the Conference

Since its inception more than three decades ago, the annual Middle East History and Theory Conference at the University of Chicago has earned a reputation as one of the premier academic gatherings in the field. Capitalizing on its setting at a university with a strong tradition in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, MEHAT has established itself as a major forum for emerging scholars across disciplines to share their research with peers, receive constructive feedback, and establish fruitful academic relationships. Participants come from North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and they have traditionally included researchers at every stage of their careers. This year's conference theme is The Middle East from the Margins: Geographic, Temporal, Linguistic, and Cultural Boundary Crossers. This event is free and open to the public. You will find a map of conference locations here.

Please register for the conference here.

Conference Program

Friday May 3rd:

1:00-1:30PM — Check-In — Stuart Hall

1:30-2:00PM — Opening Remarks — Stuart Hall 102

2:00-3:40PM — Session 1

Fresh Perspectives on the Classical Age — SSRB 401
Discussant: Mehmetcan Akpınar (UChicago, Divinity School)

Rebecca Makas (Villanova University) — “Reading Sufi Women from the Margins: Reconstructing Lives of Domestic Piety from Disparaging Remarks”

What can one learn about the lives of women from comments that disparage them? Early Sufi texts frequently regard women as obstacles to spiritual progress, personifying the world, corporeality, and the self as a wife’s domestic and sexual needs. Hagiographies of women saints reinforce the notion that a woman’s domestic obligations conflict with full Sufi piety. This may be most succinctly illustrated in the entry on Nusiyya bint Salmān in al-Sulamī’s Dhikr al-niswa al-mutaʿabbidāt al-ṣuffiyāt (Early Sufi Women). After giving birth, Nusiyya states, “Oh Lord! You do not see me as someone worthy of your worship. So for this you have preoccupied me with a child!” Indeed, when women are praised, it is typically for abandoning feminine obligations to “become men” (as when ʿAṭṭār praised Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya) or supporting male piety as obedient wives and mothers. It is tempting to conclude, as Sara Abdel-Latif has, that such texts show little about the actual lives of the women they chronicle, revealing instead projections of male spiritual ambitions (2022). However, following Rita Gross and Sa’diyya Shaikh, I argue that although the authors never intended it, a feminist reading of the margins of classical Sufi texts enables a reconstruction of these women’s lives to show a mystical piety that existed alongside domestic obligations rather than from transcending quotidian matters or “feminine” traits. To make this argument, this presentation uses feminist historiography to analyze classical sources including Early Sufi Women, ‘Alī Hujwīrī’s Kashf al-Maḥjūb (Uncovering the Veiled), and Aisha al-Baʾuniyya’s Sufi manual.

Adam DeSchriver (UChicago) — Hybridity and Heresiography: Reading the Political Dimensions of al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyya’s (d. 718) Kitāb al-irjāʾ

al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyya’s (d. 718) work known as Kitāb al-irjāʾ has received much scholarly attention throughout the past several decades. Most often considered an early kalām text (i.e., a work of early Islamic theology), the work is frequently understood to be an espousal of the tenets of the Murjiʾite sect, specifically its namesake doctrine of irjāʾ, or postponement of judgement in the debate over determining Muslims' supposed apostasy (i.e., whether certain deeds or beliefs could cause removal of a person from the umma). In my paper, I argue for a reading of the text that frames the work as one with distinctly political dimensions whose argument is made in the language of heresiography. Such language involves the censure of the real and imagined presence of hybridity—a concept I borrow from the postcolonial scholar Homi Bhabha—among Ibn al-Ḥanafiyya’s opponents, the Sabaʾiyya. By employing rhetoric that necessarily hinges on the question of purity and impurity of belief and action, I shall argue that Ibn al-Ḥanafiyya mobilizes a heresiographical discourse to distinctly political ends.

Late Medieval and Early Modern Ottoman Cultural History — Stuart Hall 104
Discussant: Helga Anetshofer (UChicago, NELC)

Cyril Achcar (McGill University) — "Crafting Universal Sovereignty from a Multipolar Sea: Dilemmas of the Fourteenth Century Aegean in the Fifteenth Century Düstūrnāme"

Written by the fifteenth century poet Enveri, the Destan of ‘Umur Pasha, part of the Düstūrnāme (Book of the Vizier), is a powerful epic, of the eponymous Turkic prince of Aydın (c. 1309-1348). This long-neglected text shines a light on the fragmented fourteenth century Aegean, no longer the Roman lake it had once been. Split asunder by a revanchist Byzantine Empire, emerging Beyliks of Aydın, Menteşe and Osmanli, Genoese & Venetian colonial holdings, Catalan mercenaries, and the surviving Frankokratia in Greece, the Aegean was nonetheless united in trans-Mediterranean trade networks, producing important goods for European markets – namely alum for colourful cloth, and surplus grain. The only question being: who would profit from this extraction and trade. Into this maelstrom the question over the sovereignty of the island of Chios (Saqiz) provides an interesting example of clashing universalist claims between the Byzantines (Andronicus II), Turkic Beys (‘Umur Pasha), and the mercantile interests of the Genoese (Zaccaria family). Out of this comes a contested and still unresolved historiographical debate in the twentieth century between Byzantinist Paul Lemerle and Ottomanist Halil İnalcık over who had sovereignty over Chios in 1327. This comes from differing interpretations of select passages from the Düstūrnāme, specifically the term: illik oldu. This paper will explicate these different interpretations, but overcome them, by instead offering a meta-explanation regarding the ignored fifteenth century context of the Düstūrnāme in the court of Mehmed II, and further will question what sovereignty meant in a fragmented regional system of interstate commerce.

Hüseyin Göcen (UC Davis) — "Plagues, Witches, and Vampires: Vampire-Related Questions in A Provincial Jurisconsult’s Fatwa Collections in Early Modern Ottoman Odessa (Early Seventeenth-Century)”

This paper is about vampirism and vampire-related practices in the Ottoman Empire in the early seventeenth century and aims to show how legal opinions (fatwas) stand as primary sources for the perception of vampirism through the analysis of vampire cases from Akkerman (today’s Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky in Odessa, Ukraine). My main fatwa collection is ʿAli b. ʿAbdullāh el-Aḳkirmānī’s (d. 1618) Fetāvā-yı Aḳkirmānī (1630-31 and 1642). In the provincial jurisconsult’s legal opinion collection, there are questions on dead people’s bodies and burning “primary cases” of plagues, who were called “vampires.” In the literature on vampires, people who died of diseases and became vampires are called “nachzehrer.” I argue that these cases are examples of nachzehrer in the Ottoman Empire, and through these questions in the fatwas, we can look at and enter the mental world of the early modern Ottoman peasant communities. The fatwas enlighten the relationship between beliefs about vampires and how people reacted against these supernatural beings. The fatwas on vampires and different practices villagers performed to prevent the spread of the disease uncover the relationship between beliefs about witches, phallic amulets, and diseases in villagers’ minds. These cases demonstrate that the underused provincial fatwa sources can be used as the means for discovering the embodiment of fears and provide us with ways to comprehend the vampirism beliefs and corpses and help us build connections in the Eurasian sociocultural arena thanks to the place of Akkerman in the juncture of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Ece Derindere (Central European University) — “Sā‘atnāme: A Medieval Source of Baraka

This paper analyzes a widely circulated yet little-studied medieval Anatolian text, Sā‘atnāme, written in plain Turkish in the late 14th century, by an obscure Sufi şeyh Hibetullah bin İbrahim or one of his disciples. The analysis focuses on the text’s claim that by engaging with the Sā‘atnāme —whether reading, listening, copying or commissioning its copying and endowing it— and taking it as the ultimate guidance for their religious practices anyone can secure a place in paradise, and explores how this claim resonated within the Turkish-speaking Muslim interpretive communities. Defining the newly emerging Turkish religious literature in medieval Anatolia as a discursive tradition and the Sā‘atnāme being a part of it, the paper thus employs a method that combines a close reading of the text and the historical context of its production. Borrowing Markus Dressler’s terminology, it argues that the Sā‘atnāme displays an interplay between scripture- and charisma-loyal religiosity. Through an examination of the paratextual elements in the various copies of the text, the paper proposes that this aspect of the text underlies its promise of salvation and sustained popularity persisted until the 20th century. While being an alternative to the Quran and hadith, the Sā‘atnāme functions as a relic that embodies Hibetullah’s baraka. It transforms an abstract idea into a tangible, accessible, and reproducible asset, transcending temporal and spatial boundaries.

Turkey Between Empire and Republic — Stuart Hall 102
Discussant: Holly Shissler (UChicago, NELC)

Cevat Dargın (Columbia) “‘The Most Respected Seyid’ and ‘a Terrific Bandit’: Seyid Rıza (1863-1937) Across Empire and Nation-State”

On November 15, 1937, under the lights of cars and trucks, a seventy-five-year-old man named Seyid Rıza, along with his son Resik Hüseyin and five others, was hanged in the Wheat Square (Buğday Meydanı) of Elazığ province in eastern Turkey. İhsan Sabri Çağlayangil, a prominent state official and politician who was sent there to organize the executions, witnessed Seyid Rıza’s final moments: “[Seyid Rıza] turned to me and asked: ‘Did you come from Ankara to hang me?’ We exchanged glances. ... He flashed a smile at me. ... It was cold and there was nobody around. However, Seyid Rıza addressed the silence and emptiness as if the square were full of people. ‘We are the sons of Karbala. We are blameless. It is a shame. It is cruel. It is murder!’ he said.” After decades of suppression and silence regarding Rıza’s execution and the subsequent mass state violence against the inhabitants of his hometown of Dersim and the larger Kurdish and Alevi populated regions in Eastern Anatolia, Seyid Rıza’s departing words have become slogans of justice and resistance among the Kurds and the Alevis in contemporary Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, as well as their diasporas outside the Middle East. This paper explores Seyid Rıza’s multifaceted role during the Hamidian (1876-1908), Young Turks (1908-1923), and Republican (1923-1937) regimes, examining his positions as a tribal chief, local leader, saint, resistance hero, and bandit in his time, as well as the leader of one of many Kurdish uprisings, a symbol of Alevism, and a traitor to the Turkish nation for later generations. The paper employs an interdisciplinary approach to question the myths of rebellion and resistance regarding the formation of national narratives in conventional historiography. It engages with the growing literature that focuses on the period of transition from empire to nation-state, enhancing the argument of continuity in state formation from the perspective of unexpected or otherwise forgotten historical actors whose experiences transcended temporal and geographical boundaries.

Gizem Sivri (Stanford) — “The Unusual Protagonists: Criminal Women in Late Ottoman and Early Republican Turkish Literature (1860-1930)”

This paper targets creating its own concepts against the underestimation-based meta- discourses on women’s criminal acts (especially serious offenses) and their repetition as a notion in the language of Turkish literary productions. The feminist-criminological approach will be driven to explore Ottoman women and crime relationships which have overwhelmingly depicted passive, downtrodden, and incompetent women self-defenders and victims in the published pieces of late Ottoman and early republican Turkish literature. This also resulted in having mainly two types of female delinquents’ representations victims and cruel offenders (doers) by using special formulaic languages, discourses, and repetitious vocabularies for the depiction of women criminal characters in fictional narratives. In this regard, this presentation will initially navigate the true definition of Ottoman women’s criminality and revolutionary approaches to their delinquency with feminist works that criticize the mundane discourses hiding their criminal potential regarding their motherly and nurturer positions and lower numbers in penal institutions. Not only underestimation against women’s perpetrations but also depersonalization and dehumanization by identifying them as wild tigresses, deviant witches, and cruel villains as a way of rejecting women’s criminal competency, especially in serious offenses, have overwhelmingly invaded literary works. It is crucial to note that I will provide many examples from the late Ottoman and early republican literature pieces such as The Woman with a Dagger: A Strange Story, Bloody Fairy, Grasshopper Zehra, Fox Leman, Selma and her Shadow that all will help to trace the ways of displacement of female criminals and powerful women villains with the attribution of the passive and vulnerable characteristics that enhanced the losing agency of women in fictional narrations.

Elif Isık (UIUC) — “Turkish Romance Fiction and World Literature Through the Case of Nihal Yeginobali”

This research explores the work of novelist and translator Nihal Yeginobali whose literary output stretches from the 1950s to the 2000s. Though a key figure in the Turkish literary industry, Yeginobali’s female-centric novels have been forgotten commercially and ignored academically. This paper focuses on her novel Eflatun Kız (Lilac Girl) a unique case as it has been published into three different contexts as three different novels; serialized in the newspaper “Vatan” under Yeginobali’s own name as a Turkish novel in 1957; published as a best-selling American romance novel set in New Orleans in 1964, under a male pseudonym; and finally translated back into Turkish and published as a feminist, social realist work in 1988. In Yeginobali’s attempts to surmount gendered prejudices in publication; her novel transformed; changed nationalities and revealed shifts in notions of womanhood, social responsibility and sexuality throughout 20th century Turkey. Each version was published with radically different paratextual elements offering us valuable insights into apparatuses of cultural production. Yeginobali’s oeuvre not only showcases the Republic’s conflicting attempts at positioning “woman” as the locus of social change, but her experiment reveals a generative rupture from binary thinking which focuses on author/translator, foreign/local, female/male, entertainment/literature. How does a female Turkish writer become a male “American novelist”? How can “a Turkish novel” become “an American novel” in translation just seven years later? And finally, how do we account for outliers like Lilac Girl when we look for coherence and continuity in a country’s literary tradition?

4:00-5:30PM — Keynote Address with Prof. Suraiya Faroqhi: "Carrying Silver Coins Through Rivers in Spate and Bypassing Customs Officials: Eastern European Traders in the Late 1500s" — SSRB 122

5:30-6:30 — Reception — SSRB Tea Room (201)

Saturday May 4th:

9:30-10:00 — Breakfast — Saieh Hall 112

10:00-11:40 — Session 2

Cultural History of the Modern Maghreb — Saieh Hall 021
Discussant: Hoda El Shakry (UChicago, Comparative Literature)

Evangelia Koronios (UChicago) — "Between the Silence and the Scream: The Complex Trauma of the Colonial Condition in Moufida Tlatli’s Ṣamt al-Quṣūr (The Silences of the Palace)"

Released in 1994, Moufida Tlatli’s Ṣamt al-Quṣūr (French: Les Silences du Palais; English: The Silences of the Palace) uses the frame narrative mode of storytelling to depict a particularly painful day in the life of its 25-year-old protagonist, Alia, as she journeys back – literally and figuratively – to the kitchens and servants’ quarters of the silent and secretive palace in which she was raised, and which she fled on the eve of Tunisian independence. As a result, throughout Silences, the audience bears collective witness to multiple layers of overlapping and interconnecting representations of sexual and gender-based trauma. In Alia, the clinical manifestation of complex trauma is exceedingly apparent on the physical and the emotional levels; at the same time, Alia’s “doubly-colonized” positionality within the social hierarchy of the beys’ palace, when read against the concurrent movement for Tunisian national liberation occurring outside the palace walls, effectively highlights the intergenerational transmission of trauma and the perpetuation of gender-based violence within the context provided by the colonial condition. This paper is an interdisciplinary enumeration of and elaboration upon these aspects of the film in conversation with the fields of clinical, postcolonial, and literary trauma theory, and concludes with the assertion that the film’s final shift away from the masculine as a site of oppression and toward an acknowledgement of shared legacies of familial pain makes possible the formation of new subjectivities integral to the healing of trauma. In so doing, this work specifically seeks to foreground the role of and potential for film as a site of continued anticolonial resistance.

Brittany Landorf (Emory) — "Maddening Saints: The Majdhūb and State Power"

In the mid-1900s, the first Tunisian President, reformist, and champion of the modern, Habib Bourguiba, attempted to modernize yet another area of “ignorant” tradition: the saints. Infuriated by accounts that a deviant mad Sufi saint, the majdhūb Omar al-Fayyache was appearing before women undressed, speaking in signs, and having epileptic fits, Bourguiba deemed al- Fayyache mentally unfit. He sent him to the mental hospital. Yet, as al-Fayyache’s family relayed to me, the saint’s stay was brief: the next morning, he appeared, chains still attached to his arms and legs, in the same bed he slept in each night. The saint had given the state the slip. What do saints that madden tell us about the workings of state power? How do textual and oral narratives of saints “giving the slip” (re)negotiate the dynamic of the spiritual and the political? Building on Begoña Aretxaga’s work on how state power productively fills and shapes subjects’ relations not only to political power but also everyday life (2003), Katherine Ewing’s writings on sainthood, modernity, and psychoanalysis (1997), and James Hoesterey’s scholarship on “shaming the state” (2016), my presentation examines the narratives of maddening saints. I draw on textual and ethnographic research in Morocco and Tunisia to analyze the ways in which majdhūb tales use humor, irony, and humiliation to invert the relation of saint and ruler. I argue that the (re)telling of these tales opens space of possibility for North African subjects, a way of eliding, if only temporarily, the state’s desires.

Ben Jones (Georgetown) — “Recording Lightning: Popular Music and the Amazigh Cultural Movement of the 1970s”

In the mid-1970s the Moroccan band Ousmane (whose name means ‘lightning’) became the first group to record popular music in Tamazight, the indigenous language of North Africa. Combining local folk musics with new musical technologies and an explicit political platform of indigenous rights, the band advanced Amazigh sounds and styles as essential aspects of Moroccan national culture on vinyl records and in concert halls from Casablanca to Paris. Ousmane presented a hybrid musical genre which sought to reconcile “authentic” indigenous traditions with “modern” and “scientific” musical principles which they saw as necessary for political and social progress. In the tense cultural politics of the Years of Lead, as the repressive reign of King Hassan II was known, these questions cut to the heart of a contested Moroccan national identity. A cultural history of Ousmane puts these conflicts between official discourses and popular movements into stark relief, revealing the complex ways in which musicians navigated colonial legacies and generated modern audiences. By pairing archival sources of the Moroccan popular press of the 1970s with close listening to Ousmane’s musical output, this paper demonstrates the utility of popular music as a source for narrating subaltern history in the 20th century.

Sharidan Russell (UChicago) — "Moroccan Dārija as a Written Language: Language Ideology, New Literary Practices, and Modernity in Morocco"

In recent decades, Moroccan language policy and, by extension, its literary tradition, have been shaped by sociolinguistic tensions between the various languages and dialects spoken throughout Morocco. While Modern Standard Arabic was codified as Morocco’s national language after independence in 1956 (a decision in line with the Moroccan nationalist party’s identification with regional Arab-Islamic movements), French maintains post-colonial supremacy in the fields of business and education, while Tamazight, the language of Morocco’s indigenous Amazigh population, was finally elevated as an official national language in the 2011 constitution. Against this backdrop of fraught linguistic use and identification, some public intellectuals have begun advocating for the use of Moroccan Vernacular Arabic (Dārija) as an official language in educational, economic and intellectual settings. This contention has been the center of fierce debate as, on the one hand, it represents a gateway to a unified national linguistic future while, on the other, it transgresses ideologies which date to the Arabic literary renaissance (Nahḍa) regarding the diglossic nature of the Arabic language and the unsuitability of vernacular for productive intellectual work. Situated within this debate, my presentation will explore the contemporary work of three Moroccan authors who have produced novels entirely in Dārija, and interrogate the implications of their work in the Moroccan literary tradition. While these authors do not present a unified political ideology, I argue that their work demonstrates the potential of Dārija in written cultural production and provides an artistic lens through which to understand the wider context of Moroccan sociolinguistics and conceptions of modernity.

New Lenses for Ottoman and Safavid Cultural History — Saieh Hall 112
Discussant: Hakan Karateke (UChicago, NELC)

Abdüssemi Aydın (Koç University) — "Simeon Kalfa: The First Non-Muslim Architect of a Sultanic Mosque"

In the early 1750s, when the Nuruosmaniye Mosque was rising on the Istanbul skyline, Ottoman architecture was at a turning point in many respects. This building with its annexes, the first monumental edifice of the Ottoman Baroque, was designed by a Greek (Rūm) named Simeon Kalfa, the first known non-Muslim architect to build a sultanic mosque (cāmiʿ-i selāṭīn). Building secretary Ahmed Efendi’s exceptional monograph on the Nuruosmaniye acknowledges the role of the mosque’s architect in a context of formal and technical details. However, the work rarely mentions the distinctiveness of the architect’s design and the sources from which he took inspiration. Although the information we can obtain from various Turkish, Armenian, Greek, and even French contemporary sources mentioning him is limited, Simeon Kalfa was the first important representative of a new style that would leave its mark on Istanbul for about a hundred years. In this paper, I examine contemporary sources about Simeon Kalfa, written in the aforementioned languages and from different perspectives, and attempt to draw a picture of the Ottoman architect who gained respect beyond his own community. I also address how his non-Muslim status was treated in different sources. Secondly, I explore probable European artistic references the architect used while designing the mosque. Finally, I discuss Simeon Kalfa’s architectural legacy and starting with him, the tradition of appointing non-Muslim architects to design imperial mosques through early examples such as the rebuilt Fatih, the Selimiye of Üsküdar, and the Nusretiye. Eventually, this paper proposes a better profile for the prominent master and an idea about his artistic references.

Merve Tekgürler (Stanford) — “Semantics of Empire: Machine Translation of Ottoman Turkish into English”

Semantics of Empire will enhance accessibility of Ottoman Turkish sources. We are building a first-pass translator. Our translator will facilitate the integration of non-English historical texts into teaching and research, thereby democratizing access to diverse historical accounts. The project consists of two parts: training a neural machine translation (NMT) model and crowdsourcing a translation dataset from scholars in Ottoman studies. For the NMT training, we fine-tuned a state-of-the-art Turkish to English translation model on a dataset of 50k parallel sentences. We created this dataset by computationally aligning sentences from Turkish novels with their English translations. Our preliminary results show that this dataset improved the model performance by 5 chr-F points and 1 BLEU point, which are common metrics in MT evaluation. Concurrently, we tested the performance of our model and that of several Large Language Models (LLMs) on Ottoman Turkish manuscripts. We identified a concern regarding the use of Google’s multimodal model Gemini in translation tasks. Using Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF), Gemini was programmed to refuse to output texts that contain harmful language, such as depictions of warfare or violence. Historical materials complicate these processes, raising critical questions about the criteria used to classify language as harmful. In the translation tests, GPT-4 had the highest BLEU and chr-F scores. Motivated by these results, we built a website that uses the GPT-4 API to translate Ottoman Turkish into English and collect more sentence examples. We shared this website with Ottomanists, who were asked to input sentences from their own research to be translated by GPT-4 and offer corrections and improvements. Our findings illustrate how we can align models with the needs of underresourced language communities and how AI research can benefit from interdisciplinary scholarship.

Sam Winikow (UMichigan Ann Arbor) — “Cooking, Conviviality, and Connoisseurship in Safavid Iran”

The Safavid Empire, much like its Mughal and Ottoman contemporaries, promoted a culture of gastronomic connoisseurship, treating culinary discernment as a mark of cultivation. This approach to the culinary arts—itself in large part an evolution of ʿAbbasid and earlier norms—itself entailed a distinct approach to the labor of cooking. In this paper, I will explore Safavid cookery as a practice that cut across class lines, encompassing both professionals working in the palace kitchens and urban cookshops of Isfahan and elsewhere, as well as elites (including at least two shahs) who engaged in cookery. I propose that cookery as an elite "hobby" flourished among socially-situated practices of conviviality and adab. This approach to cookery as a practice shared between professionals and elite hobbyists may account for, or at least inform, the unusual self-depictions of two sixteenth-century professional cooks in cookbooks composed for elite audiences—a degree of artisanal subjectivity otherwise unmatched in early modern Persianate culinary literature.

Darragh Winkelman (UChicago) — “Toward Defining Ottoman Turkish”

The term ‘Ottoman Turkish’ encompasses Turkic speech varieties of considerable diversity. Though it has received ample periodization (e.g., Kerslake (1998)), much of the classificatory complexities remain unaddressed. These issues become especially apparent from the late 15th century onwards, where the development of a court register led to the substantial enrichment of the Turkic sociolinguistic repertoire. I argue that these difficulties stem in part from an understanding of language diversity linked to geographies and chronologies across communities and individuals, at the expense of a commensurate focus on diversity within them that emerges over a single lifetime. This understanding is predicated on the assumption that an analysis of a given speech variety (or a set thereof) consists in identifying the constituent parts of its grammar and understanding them as historical reflexes of Proto-Turkic or foreign borrowings. Within this framework, speech varieties are tied to specific intervals of time and space, such that the language of individuals and the speech communities they reside in is treated as a monolith. The diachronic bent foregrounds a taxonomy based on history and geography at the expense of examining language diversity conditioned by social context. However, invaluable to an understanding of Ottoman Turkish is variation within these speech communities and individuals. This paper develops a framework to place varieties like ‘Court Ottoman Turkish’ alongside chronologically and geographically distinguished speech varieties in a single classificatory scheme. By allowing for a sociolinguistic approach, contrastive elements of the linguistic repertoires of individuals can be categorized in the same way as would linguistic features prevailing across specific regions and time periods.

New Approaches to the History of the Nahḍa — Saieh Hall 203
Discussant: Ghenwa Hayek (UChicago, NELC)

Alaa Murad (Brandeis) — “‘To Risk Stirring the Hearts:’ Challenging Islamic Epistemology Through Popular History”

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Cairo-based Ottoman historian and man of letters Jurji Zaydan (1861–1914) was flooded with letters from scholars and laypeople across the Muslim world. They warned the prominent founder of al-Hilal against writing Islamic history within the narrative form of the modern Arabic novel. Zaydan, being of a Syrian Orthodox working-class background and committed to the equality of Ottoman religious and ethnic communities, argued that it was impossible for him to abandon the writing Islamic history in the form of a novel. Instead, he continued to write a total of 22 novels that were widely read and translated, and which he promoted as works of history under the title “The History of Islam Series.” Public debates around Zaydan’s work formed an integral part of Arabic intellectual discourses on who could write and make claims over the historical record. Contemporary engagement with Zaydan’s unique project highlights the uniqueness of his intervention in harnessing the Islamic past to affect socio-political change in his Ottoman present. Zaydan’s rich and contentious historical novels, and the public debates surrounding their production, provide a glimpse into the intellectual, social, and political struggle for reform that shaped his generation. His novels shed new light on the Nahḍa, whose popular productions have often been ignored in favor of “high” literature and scholarship. This paper examines how Zaydan’s project of rendering Islamic history within a fictionalized narrative form challenged axiomatic Islamic epistemologies of history as part of the Islamic sciences and negotiated a non-sectarian reformist vision grounded in Ottomanism.

Olga Verlato (NYU) — “Bridging Languages: Scripts and Experimentation in the Arab Nahḍa”

My paper explores a series of attempts to romanize the Arabic language in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Egypt and situates them within a global history of script reforms and nation building efforts in the modern period. In the first part of the paper, I discuss the virtually unexplored models to write Arabic in the Latin script developed by the Cairo-based magazine al-Muqtataf between 1889 and 1897, relating them to the responses they elicited from the magazine's readers and some of the romanization practices found in advertising, commercial displays in the streets, and governance at the time. I demonstrate that, in this period, romanized Arabic was envisioned as an original way to pursue financial profit and technological efficiency, confront European knowledge production, and redefine the standing of Arabic within transregional publishing networks that encompassed different languages and alphabets. I thus offer an alternative geography of script reform that supersedes the national framework. In the second part of the paper, I follow the history of romanization in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s. I focus on a series of short-lived proposals, in particular the one advanced by ʿAbd al-ʿAziz Fahmi (1870-1951) to the Egyptian Language Academy (established in 1936), to write the Arabic language using the Latin script. I argue that differently from the case of al-Muqtataf, these later instances of romanization were part of nationalist and state building efforts that focused on the national space of Egypt, rather than on the transregional dimension of publishing networks and cross-linguistic knowledge production.

Rama Alhabian (Hamilton College) — “The Poetic Functions of ʿAjamī Impostors in Nāṣīf al-Yāzijī’s Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn”

Not much has been written about the significance of the Syro-Lebanese Nāṣīf al-Yāzijī (d.1871) for the Arab Nahḍa. Though al-Yāzijī was described by some scholars as the greatest Arab intellectual of his age, his own role in the rise of Arab literary modernity has not yet been fully explored. This talk looks at al-Yāzijī’s 1855/56 maqāmāt collection Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn (The meeting of the two seas), where al-Yāzijī closely emulated—but adapted—the classical maqāma collection by al-Ḥarīrī of Basra (d.1122). It explores Majmaʿ’s relationship with the classical maqāmāt model on the one hand, and with works by other major Nahḍa literary figures as they (re)defined the role of Levantine Christian Arabs in Arabic literary modernity on the other. Specifically, the talk focuses on the poetic and productive functions of two interconnected categories that figure in al-Yāzijī’s “maqāma of Tihāma.” The first is ʿajamī: a contrastive ethno-linguistic form of group identification that was historically used by early Arabo-Muslim scholars of language as a boundary-setting tool between Arabs and their linguistic others. Second is ʿajamī’s immediate progeny: khaṭaʾ, meaning error or errancy, as well as takhṭiʾa, meaning errorology or the study or diagnosis of error, which also make their appearances into the maqāma’s dramatic scene. As ʿujma (the source noun of ʿajamī ) in al-Yāzijī’s work, is not only seen, but also heard, it indexes how Majmaʿ engages side by side the sonic and the visual, the oral/aural and the written, in ways revealing of how the standard(ized) forms printed texts alone provide leave off multitudes of meaning, which the aural experience of the language may recover. The study concludes with questions about al-Yāzijī’s perception of the vernacularization of Arabic—specifically through Arabic’s heteroglossic condition, in which varieties of the spoken registers and a standard written form exist distinctly, but integrally, within the language.

12:00-1:20 — Lunch — Saieh Hall 112

1:30-3:10 — Session 3

Modern Egypt: Histories of Capitalism and Carcerality — Saieh Hall 112
Discussant: Aaron Jakes (UChicago, History)

Mehdi Hoseini (Boston College) — “The Ideology of Crime and Punishment in Egypt Under British Rule (1882-1922)”

This article discusses how the discourse of controlling crime and order formed a major part of the British colonial policy during the occupation of Egypt in 1882-1922. It aims to study the occupation of Egypt in the context of criminology. It argues that the British colonial policy towards the occupation of Egypt was implicated in a criminology project in addition to being a broader capitalist project. The article relies on two main strands of scholarship: It refers to the histories of emerging capitalism in the Global South, which accelerated the integration of Egypt into the global market through unequal trade deals and military force, leading to an “informal empire.” Then, it attends to the studies on the appropriation of law under the guise of “civilizing mission,” which convoluted occupying Egypt with lines of race and empire. Drawing on sociological theories of crime, it asks how British colonialism absorbed punitive ideas of controlling populations and framed a discourse of order to the advantage of developing global markets in Egypt. Against this theoretical backdrop and informed by what Biko Agozino (2003) terms Counter Colonial Criminology, it shows that the interplay of colonial bureaucracy and the processes of exploitation of resources were facilitated by a discourse of control and order that formed in these main areas: a) agriculture and commerce, b) judiciary and policing, and c) bureaucracy.

Israa Khalifa (UMichigan Ann Arbor) — “Beekeeping the Nation: Entomology, Apiculture, and the Shaping of Modern Egypt in the Early 20th Century”

This paper explores the interconnectedness of entomology, apiculture, and the early 20th-century formation of the Egyptian nation-state. It delves into the pivotal role played by scientific knowledge about nature and technological advancements in beekeeping, investigating how this intersection influenced economic, political, and scientific interests. Grounded in a Marxist understanding of the materiality of the nation, the paper scrutinizes the establishment of beekeeping as a pivotal industry in capitalist development. The chief protagonist in this narrative is the Egyptian bacteriologist Ahmed Zaki Abu Shadi (1892-1955), an established authority figure on beekeeping. By examining global entomological networks, the analysis goes beyond a local context, shedding light on Abu Shadi's impact on inter-national practices and the trajectory of Egypt's economy. The study reveals the intricate relationship between entomology, capitalism, and nation-building, emphasizing that the bee is not merely a metaphor but a tangible artifact central to the political economy of Egypt's modern development.

Xiaoyue Li (Tulane) — “Wearing Out: Infrastructural Exhaustion and Political Economy in Colonial Egypt”

In this paper, I study the aging, breakdown, impairment, and dysfunction of the Egyptian State Railway during an austere period of Egyptian history (1876-1904). It seeks to connect the local microhistories of anxiety, agitation, and fear with the broader loom of imperial structure and expanding capitalism. This paper hones in on the metamorphosis of speculative capital, from the shackles of public debt to the liquidity of cash profits, facilitated by the imperial machinery of the Caisse de la Dette Publique. I contend that the Caisse, in this period, was an agent of meticulously crafted austerity measures, aiming to reroute the financial lifelines from Egypt’s rail arteries directly into the coffers of European claimants. By paying special attention to impactful and profound engineering scars left by the Caisse’s relentless extraction of profit, this paper uncovers a stark nexus between imperial mandates and infrastructural exhaustion. Moreover, I posit that acts of pilfering and skullduggery, though perhaps unpremeditated, emerged as a deliberate transgression, or at times rebellion, against the global tide of predatory capitalism. This narrative not only chronicles a tale of local decline, but also illuminates the silent, yet potent, undercurrents of local resistance that refused to succumb to wear and tear.

Armenian History in the Late Ottoman Empire — Saieh Hall 203
Discussant: Isaac Hand (UChicago, Division of the Social Sciences)

Yağmur Karaca (USC) "The Unseen Power of the Armenians in Ottoman Imperial Governance: The Cases of the Düzyan and Dadyan Families"

What would emerge if we consider imperial governance an amalgam that we should disaggregate into its individual components? What actors would come to the fore? How would it change how we have typically conceived historical agency in the Ottoman context? In sum, how would it compel us to rethink our assumptions about the nature of political power in Ottoman history? From a broader perspective, we would see a multitude of intricate networks that facilitated the empire's overall functioning. We would also see that possessing an official title or institutional position was not a prerequisite for participation in imperial governance. The term "Amiralık" did not represent an official position within the state's hierarchical structure or have a formal institutional role. This paper explores the role of the Amiras, a group of Armenian bankers based in Istanbul, within the Ottoman state from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. Despite being barred from wielding formal political power, the Amiras were pivotal in the functioning and exercise of state power. Through their involvement in strengthening the economy and financing state policies, the Amiras emerged as indispensable actors in the Ottoman state apparatus. This paper challenges the traditional narrative of imperial governance, which typically emphasizes a formal state apparatus composed of institutions and networks. It does so by exploring the scholarship surrounding the Amiras, focusing on the examples of the Diuzian and Dadian families. It argues that these instances show the Amiras were, in fact, a part of imperial governance, contributing to the scholarship that calls for a reevaluation of Armenian influence within the fabric of imperial governance. Imperial governance as a space helps us understand how the presence of Amiras functioned at the imperial level, assisting the imperial elite in various scenarios such as money lending, industrialization, administration of state institutions, managing the finances of the sultan and state elites, and architecture. By looking at the Diuzian and Dadian families, Amira families that administered the Imperial Mint and Gunpowder Industry, this paper analyzes how their influence extended beyond the state institutions to encompass broader imperial society, governance, and economy, mainly being advisors to the Sultan. The control of these institutions, symbols of economic and military prestige in the Ottoman Empire, underscores the significant position held by the Diuzian and Dadians and, by extension, the Amiras within the Ottoman hierarchical structure.

Ümit Kurt (University of Newcastle) — “Defending ‘Honor’: Restraining Violence and the Microdynamics of Intercommunal Relations in the Late Ottoman Empire”

In the last decade, historiography has copiously documented instances of violence in the Ottoman Empire’s final years. Indeed, we have reached a point in which what has been less accounted for is the absence of violence. This paper offers an examination of the absence of violence. It begins, curiously enough, with sex in a bathhouse. At night on February 25, 1911, three Armenian and two Greek men who resided in the town of Adapazarı, located in north-western Turkey (connected to the sanjak of İzmit in the Ottoman Empire), were caught having sex with a Bosniak (Boşnak) Muslim prostitute in a bathhouse and brought into police custody. Thereupon, Hüseyin Sırrı Bey, the district governor of Adapazarı, gave a political character to this incident—in light of the Adana Massacre of 1909—in order to have them be imprisoned, put on trial before the judge and be condemned. Through this particular event, this paper examines why intercommunal killings happen in some situations, but not in others. It argues that with careful microhistorical research it is possible to reveal certain local factors that lead to restraint. It also shows likelihood of idea of Ottoman unity (İttihad-ı Anasır) between Ottoman Muslim and non- Muslim communities in a borderland region to the Balkans as well as exploring political space for negotiations among local actors. Through microhistory and sociolegal analysis, I employ this specific adultery event to understand state-society relations within the late Ottoman context.

Çağdaş Acar (UChicago) — “Situating Hovsep Vartanyan Among His Contemporaries”

The writing of intellectual biographies of Ottoman reformers is an area that runs almost parallel to the writing of ulema families’ careers, and the writing of politico-economical networks Ottoman pashas establish locally and internationally. These histories nevertheless open windows into larger pre-modern and modern histories as they explain milieus, offer nuanced views or to challenge the existing scholarship. An intellectual biography of Hovsep Vartanyan (1815-1879) is liminal as it stands between histories of Ottoman reformers of the Ṭanẓīmāt who are litterateur-bureaucrats, and histories of non-Muslim Ottoman pashas who are multilingual deal-brokers. Vartanyan earns the title of a pasha after 20 years of employment at the Ottoman navy as a first translator at a moment when the title first becomes available to those from non-military backgrounds. His literary production as an author and as a translator is not only instructive (as in writing about Napoleon or telegraph) but also reconciling (as in trying to bridge the Catholic and Apostolic Armenian millets through romance as a literary genre). His writing on constitutionalism, his membership in the Ottoman scientific society (Encümen- i Daniş), and his publication of periodicals for over two decades force us to analyze his intellectual output in Armeno-Turkish and Armenian, situate him among his contemporaries (such as Şinasi, Ahmed Vefik, Ahmed Cevdet, Ahundzade, Malkum Khan and Bogos Nubar) and revisit categories as such litterateur-bureaucrat, reformer-pasha, and Ottoman-Armenian.

Hazal Özdemir (Northwestern) — “Unmaking Ottoman Subjecthood: Ottoman Armenian Mobility and Nationality at the End of Empire”

My paper demonstrates how denaturalization and surveillance methods devised to control mobility, including a photographic repository, were a crucial part of a broad repertoire of state violence aimed at Ottoman Armenian transatlantic migrants. I focus on the Hamidian era – the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876- 1909) – and how empire-wide bureaucratic networks collaborated to label Armenians as undesirable subjects and prevent migrants’ return to the empire. The anxieties of the government about growing Armenian nationalism, which could the Great Powers support, fueled discriminatory policies that transformed a labor migration into an exile. Unpacking this history helps to resituate the bureaucratic tools the government of Abdülhamid II used to single out Armenians, which accompanied other forms of violence, such as massacres. Reconstructing late Ottoman policies of denaturalization that started in 1896, this paper asks the question of how becoming Ottoman was informed by perceptions of governability and malleability, and how Ottoman subjecthood was made and unmade at the end of the empire. As the work of historians on Greater Syrian migration has shown, in contrast to the policies towards Armenians, the Hamidian administration actively encouraged Syrian and Lebanese transatlantic migrants to keep their Ottoman subjecthood and return to the empire. Although statelessness has been associated with the inability of minorities to acquire citizenship in the post-imperial successor states, the Ottoman Empire had already stripped a marginalized ethnoreligious community of its nationality. Denaturalization, I argue, became the precursor of more standardized border- building and mobility policing projects in post-Ottoman states, such as the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923.

Histories of Modern Resistance: Palestine, Iran, and Afghanistan — Saieh Hall 021
Discussant: Carl Shook (UChicago, NELC)

Marah Abdel Jaber (UChicago) — “The Homeland Is Us: Reconceptualizing Liberation through the Palestinian Imaginal”

The structural disintegration of Palestinian existence by the Zionist project since 1948 perpetually ruptures the collective Palestinian consciousness, generating fragmented conditions of Palestinian reality which rapidly evolve across generational and geographic contexts. The Israeli Nakba canon operates to dismantle the Palestinian collective by manufacturing violence which penetrates and disrupts every extension of Palestinian being. In pursuit of liberation, the Palestinian people require a globally accessible landscape which transcends the nation-state to consider the various contexts of occupation and their respective demands for freedom. The Homeland is Us argues that this space, one frequently alluded to by various scholars of the Palestinian question, can be identified as the Palestinian imaginal. The imaginal realm, or Mundus Imaginalis, in this case is adopted from Islamic theosophy and reconceived as a mode of Palestinian landscape which generates access to a unified homeland concealed by violent occupation. The imaginal is evaluated through its relationship with the Palestinian novel as a critical informant on the diverse Palestinian condition, reconceptualizing the tangibility of liberation within and beyond the boundaries of occupied land via expanded knowledge on the heterogenous Palestinian reality.

Omar Kamal (UChicago) — “Late Ottoman Responses and Communication from Palestinian Bedu and Fellahin regarding the New Yishuv”

During Ottoman Palestine’s finalizing decades, the first Zionist Aliyot (1881-1914) introduced labor-focused and self-sufficient settlements emphasizing land and agricultural ownership. Distinct from the previous Old Yishuv, Zionist migrations comparatively lacked religious motivations and generally rejected economic co-dependencies developed from cohabitation with native populations, conveying Zionist migrations’ economically and politically independent approaches and goals. This analysis strives to provide primary sources presenting subaltern Palestinian responses to the emergence of the New Yishuv and secondary sources surveying these first-hand accounts as well as other material pertaining to this topic. Particularly focusing on sources related to petitions submitted by the Fellahin and Bedu to Istanbul, this paper will showcase the changing relationships between rural Palestinian communities and Zionist settlers of the First and Second Aliyot as well as Jews generally. A part of numerous disputes between the two respective parties, these petitions also offer insights into the interpersonal and communal conflicts that would greatly shift from inter-community resource clashes to rising binational struggles. Providing an approach that situates rural intercommunal conflict and the burgeoning nationalization of Arab and Palestinian identity among Arab elites as codependent events in the formation of Palestinian awareness, fear, and rejection of Zionism. In addition to reexamining scholarly prevalent conclusions that place early Arabist thought among Palestinian largely urban elite and intellectual communities as virtually the earliest clear indications of an anti-Zionist movement despite the preceding early Arab rural encounters against Zionism.

Connor Christensen (UChicago) — “Echoes of Empires: Foreign Ambitions and the Odyssey of the Afghan People”

This study, rooted in sociological inquiry and leveraging interview transcripts and data from a previous research project, seeks to meticulously document Afghanistan's historical entanglements with external forces since the 19th century, culminating in the pivotal fall of Kabul in 2021. By incorporating life history interviews, it aims to weave a contemporary narrative that situates Afghanistan's protracted geopolitical engagements within the expansive tapestry of global power dynamics. This research endeavors to dissect the intricate socio-political effects of these interactions on Afghan society, offering an in-depth understanding of the interplay between international influences and local realities. The intention is to augment existing scholarship by harmonizing microhistorical personal narratives with the broader trajectory of foreign interventions in Afghanistan. Central to this study is the exploration of the recurring theme of external exploitation and its profound impact on Afghanistan's socio-political fabric. The research culminates in a contention that enduring foreign interference has significantly shaped Afghanistan's modern history and fostered a cycle of instability, exemplified by the disorderly withdrawal of U.S. forces. This investigation into Afghanistan's geopolitical role and the ensuing challenges confronting Afghan communities—both within the country and in diaspora—profoundly enriches our understanding of Afghanistan’s complex position in global politics. It casts light on the multifaceted consequences of geopolitical strategies on individual lives, critiquing the often-overlooked effects of major power narratives on everyday existence. These findings underscore the imperative for a more sophisticated, informed approach in international policy formulation concerning Afghanistan, one that is cognizant of the varied experiences of Afghans both at home and abroad, and geared towards addressing the diverse and complex nature of their challenges and aspirations. The study highlights the critical need for integrating microhistorical insights into broader geopolitical frameworks to develop policies that are not only effective but also compassionate towards the human aspects of international relations.

Fateme Tavakoli (UChicago) — “Sentimental Resistance: Emotions, Politics, and the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement”

Throughout history, the success of social movements has hinged upon the ability to garner widespread support through a shared sentiment that can be effectively communicated both internally and externally. This paper examines the intersection of emotions and social resistance within the context of contemporary Iran. While prior research has explored various art forms as conduits for protest and social change in both pre and post-revolutionary Iran, this study shifts the focus onto the role of emotions themselves as a collective act of resistance against an autocratic regime. Examining video footage, slogans, dances, poems, and speeches from recent protests, specifically within the Woman Life Freedom movement, this study aims to understand how emotions, such as joy and hope, serve as the dynamic force behind the "life" in the movement's slogan. Drawing from theories of social interaction and social construction, this paper interrogates the role of emotional expressions in defining the boundaries of the public sphere and forming political communities. This analysis contends that emotional expressions such as joy, when denied through bans, denigration, or economic means, act as a method of dehumanization. In such cases, the courage to reclaim joy emerges as a tool for pushing back against dehumanization and affirming the humanity and agency of the oppressed population. This paper provides a unique perspective on the complexities of emotions and positions them not only as a form of resistance but also as a powerful connector that fosters a sense of national intimacy among Iranians and inspires connections that transcend boundaries and contribute to the collective resilience of a people.

3:20-5:00PM — Session 4

Late Ottoman Regional Studies — Saieh Hall 112
Discussant: Murat Bozluolcay (UChicago, IFK)

Nada Khalifa (UToronto Scarborough) — “Afterlives of Reform: Social Investigation and the Performativity of Political Trials (1908-1920)”

This paper reconsiders the understudied reform movement in Beirut province in the closing decade of Ottoman rule, drawing on consular sources, the writings of influential figures in the reform movement and the records of the trial of Arab nationalists by the Ottoman government in 1916. It considers the practices of social investigation that this movement inspired, a guidebook and an encyclopedia devoted to the province of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, as well as its afterlives in the French mandate period, ending with an account of the trial of Muhammad Bahjat and Rafiq al-Tamimi by the Conseil de guerre de Damas in 1920. At once a contribution to political and intellectual history, the paper engages recent scholarship on the performativity of political trials, adds to studies of early Arab nationalism and contributes to debates over Arab-Turkish relations during the second constitutional period.

CHEN Gong (Princeton) — “Land Conflicts between Muslims and Armenians in the “Six Provinces”, 1908-1914”

This project seeks to explore the land conflicts between Muslims and Armenians in the “Six Provinces” (Vilāyāt-ı Sitte) in 1908-1914. After the revolution in 1908, the Armenians who returned to the Ottoman Empire from abroad initiated campaigns to assert possession claims over land usurped by Kurdish tribal heads. Disputes led to violent crashes between ethnic groups, which presented one of the most severe problems during this era. While numerous works on events in 1915 have mentioned land conflicts as an important background, there are few specific studies on this topic. This project aims to fill this gap. This project aims to examine the policies taken by the Ottoman central government, the effects of these policies, and the reasons behind the government’s inability to resolve the disputes. The Ottoman government opted to employ a combination of administrative arbitration through Councils of Administration (Meclis-i İdāre) and adjudication in administrative (niẓāmiye) courts. These frequent changes created confusion among officials. In addition, in the Six Provinces where the authority of government was weak, the Ottoman central government on one hand suffered from a lack of an effective land administration system, on the other hand, the government aimed to secure the support of Kurdish tribal leaders. Consequently, the Ottoman central government reached a compromise with the Kurdish tribal leaders, refraining from returning most of the usurped lands. In the end, the land conflicts remained unresolved. By examining the interactions between the Ottoman central government, Kurdish tribes, Armenians, and other stakeholders, this article illustrates how these interactions defined the outcoming of land conflicts in the periphery of an empire in decline.

Camille Cole (Illinois State University) “What was Ottoman About the Ottoman Gulf? Interpreting the Empire in Basra and Kuwait, c. 1900”

In 1913, the Basra newspaper al-Dastur published a poem praising shaykh Mubarak al-Sabah for his devotion to the Ottoman state: “long live Arab magnanimity / long live Islamic zeal / his excellency Mubarak Basha al-Sabah / supports the state of the caliphate.” 1 But most historical writing on Mubarak, drawing largely on British archival material, dismisses his claims to Ottoman-ness – and Ottoman claims to Kuwait – as mere posturing. This paper instead takes seriously the protestations of Mubarak and other Ottoman Arab elites in Basra and Kuwait that they were Ottoman. It asks, what did these men mean by “Ottoman”? The paper reads petitions from Basra and Kuwait alongside newspaper coverage of the Gulf in al- Dastur. Focusing on petitions written by Mubarak al-Sabah, and newspaper coverage of him, the paper explores how the shaykh envisioned his relationship to the Ottoman state and the place of Ottoman sovereignty in Kuwait. It examines how Ottoman officials in the center reinterpreted Mubarak’s claims through translation; and explores how Basra intellectuals outlined the conceptual and geographical boundaries of the Ottoman, especially with regard to Mubarak. I argue that elites in the Gulf were invested in what it meant to be “Ottoman” because they assumed the future would be Ottoman, and wanted to shape it. Rather than assess the empire in terms of institutions or proximity to the center, then, this paper examines Ottoman-ness from the perspective of imperial subjects in and around Basra.

Irmak Şensöz (Princeton) — “Settling the Countryside: Pastoralists, Migrants, and the Ṭanẓīmāt in Central Anatolia”

A growing body of scholarship has reconsidered the Ṭanẓīmāt (1838-76) by detailing how those on the Ottoman Empire’s margins experienced the era’s reforms. This paper builds on such work by centering nomadic pastoralists in the central Anatolian countryside. Using bureaucratic documents from the Ottoman archives, it details the 1860s transformation of the Uzunyayla region in Sivas. Uzunyayla is a highland plateau that the Avşars, a pastoralist Turkmen tribe, traditionally migrated to each summer. Nineteenth-century Ottoman reformers aimed to make rural spaces like Uzunyayla more ‘orderly’ and ‘productive’ through the sedentarization of mobile communities. Simultaneously, after the 1854-6 Crimean War, Istanbul instrumentalized the resettlement of Muslim refugees (muhacir) for state-formation. Under the terms of the 1857 Immigration Regulation and 1858 Ottoman Land Code, muhacir were given “empty land (arazi-i haliye)”—in other words, space that officials deemed to be unoccupied or agriculturally unproductive. Uzunyayla was one of the first of such purportedly empty places. Its settlement by muhacir sparked a violent conflict between the incomers and the Avşars, who had used the land for generations. This paper explores how officials suppressed the pastoralists’ resistance to state policy and coerced the community into sedentary life in the 1860s. The settlement of Uzunyayla is a fruitful case study that can strengthen our understanding of how Ṭanẓīmāt-era shifts in rural governance and land administration impacted the lives of ordinary Ottoman subjects. I ultimately argue that the Ottoman state used migrant resettlement to render the Anatolian countryside legible and forcibly sedentarize the empire’s nomadic communities.

New Approaches to Modern Iranian History — Saieh Hall 203
Discussant: Elham Mireshghi (UChicago, Divinity School)

Saeed Saffar-Heidari (University of Illinois Chicago) — "Revolutionary Counter-Mobilization and the Racialization of Historical Memory (Iran Before and After 1979)"

Arguing that a vast body of historical and sociological literature on the Iranian Revolution has been inattentive to the critical role of race, the paper aims to account for the racialization of the revolutionary movement before and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Contextualizing its complex, contradictory, and entangled modern history, it is argued that the publicization and politicization of race as a discursive category played a significant role in the revolutionary mobilization that resulted in the overthrowing of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran. Even though initially appropriated by the Pahlavi monarchy as the state technique to manufacture the regime’s legitimization besides serving its quasi-secular modernization agenda, race, albeit covertly and in a concealed mode, was then counter-mobilized into the liberatory episteme of revolution as formulated and exemplified by its grand ideologues such as Ali Shariati, and finally weaponized against the Pahlavi monarchism. Such a racialization of the revolutionary movement was itself premised upon a refashioning of the interconnected histories of the national Persian and transnational Islamic traditions as well as their intertwined collective memories. Shedding a light on its critical role before and during the Iranian revolution, the paper will subsequently make a case for the ensuing mutations of race and its discursive shifts after the 1979 revolution as it underwent a de-racialization and re-racialization transformations while it retained its mobilizing possibilities by reshaping its liberatory discourses in different post-revolutionary spaces and times.

Navid Zarrinnal (University of Tehran) — "Theory and Historical Difference: Secularization in Modern Iran"

In recent years, postcolonial scholarship has probed the relationship between European- derived theory and non-European histories of the modern world. In particular, postcolonial historians of the Middle East have critiqued the limits and inadequacies of Eurocentric theory presumed to be universal. They have concluded that we cannot simply universalize from European-derived theories and concepts, and speculate that the existing theories of capital, labor, class, race, sexuality, and secularity—to name some—apply with the same characteristics in the Middle East. Following this developing literature, I focus on a particular set of social theory (secularization) and its application to a specific case of historical difference (Iranian history). In existing Iranian studies historiography, the concept of secularization is often invoked, but without a careful accounting of its explanatory value (or lack thereof). I argue that secularization theory, as it stands in the social theory canon, confounds more than it clarifies when tested against modern Iranian historical transformations. Primarily, the differentiation and privatization aspects of secularization theories fail to adequately explain modern Iranian history. However, I further argue that theories of secularization are not without utility. Primary Persian sources of the twentieth century show that the cognition of religion as an autonomous category of analysis became possible. They further demonstrate that the emergent concept of “religion” became, at least for certain demographics, less central to social and individual life. The critique of secularization in an Iranian context may entice comparative conversations with the rest of the Middle East where the decline of religion occurred in different ways compared to Europe.

Pouya Nekouei (UT Austin) — "Gender and Singing in Pahlavi Iran: Modern Feminine Culture and Masculine Politics in the Age of Pop Culture"

This study focuses on gender in the cultural history of Iranian vocal music during the Pahlavi period. From the early Pahlavi period until the late 1940s and early 1950s, women prolifically performed two kinds of vocal music, namely āvāz and rhythmic vocal music known as Tasnif and Tarāneh. The period under Reza Shah witnessed an eventful era during which female performers appeared publicly. The same generation of female performers continued to perform both vocal performances throughout the 1940s and the early 1950s. However, as this article argues, as women were seen and heard publicly, the masculine elite musical culture reacted to their presence by deploying a gendered discourse in the 1950s and 1960s. The gender dichotomy in the performance of vocal music in Iran, as the article argues, should be read as the history of the opposition between two senses: sight and seeing and ear and listening. While disciplined practices of listening, ear, and body constituted the elite masculine culture, the feminine culture was expressed through public spectacles of sight. Scholarly writings on modern Iranian cultural history have not paid attention to the histories of senses, including the eye and sight and the ear and listening. This article hopes to situate the debates about the performance of vocal music at the cusp of the opposition between the aural and the visual in modern Iranian cultural history and open up a space for writing the history of senses in modern Iranian cultural history.

Middle Eastern Jewish Self-Fashioning: Between Nationalism, Zionism, and Diaspora — Saieh Hall 021
Discussant: Coleman Durkin (UChicago, NELC)

Anna Shabi (UChicago) — "Understanding Twentieth-Century Iraqi Jewish Life Through Creations of Family Memory"

This paper focuses on the way that memories of homeland and journeys of exile are constructed by those in the modern-day Iraqi Jewish diaspora, and how these narratives work to both enrich and obscure the historical record. Nostalgia, performativity, and the fallibility of memory all contribute to creating narratives that differ from both each other and factual history. I examine these issues through self-published memoirs, oral history, and structured informal memory books created by my own relatives. By doing this, I add to the body of critical literature surrounding memoir and family narratives by using original family texts that have not been studied before. These texts are compared with each other to analyze the reasons behind any differences in the recollections of their experiences, and are also situated within the wider body of twentieth-century Iraqi-Jewish exile and emigrant discourse. The contextualization that this paper provides for the primary sources of family narratives also involves the analysis of how such narratives are formed and maintained, situating the paper in anthropological debates around the construction of memory and autobiography. There is no “typical” Iraqi-Jewish narrative, and this paper does not aim to try and capture the totality of Iraqi-Jewish experiences; instead, by focusing on one family and the two narratives of life and emigration that have been recorded, this paper provides a framework for analysis of family narratives within an historical context. In doing so, I aim to demonstrate the paradox of the fallibility of memory, and the usefulness of accounts of life stories in supplementing the historical record.

Abigail Merritt (UChicago) — "The Transformative Journey of Jewish Identity: Zionism and Nationalism in 20th Century Tunisia"

For many generations, differing ethnic and religious communities have cohabitated in modern- day Tunisia. Archaeological evidence shows that Jews have held a long history in the region of North Africa, outlasting the multiple transformations Tunisia endured. The expanding colonial presence in Tunisia during the 20th century led to the rise of a national struggle for internal autonomy. Until 1952, the Jews were not affected by political developments that arose from the independence movement against the French. However, in the summer of 1952, attacks on Jewish homes and property occurred. What was the cause of these attacks? Were the attacks apolitical and spontaneous? Or were they a result of the nationalist opposition movement that exploded throughout the country, where Jews were often accused of collaborating with the French colonists? While emigration to Israel from Tunisia was a complex matter, around 70% of the Jewish population left after independence in 1956. Today, the Jewish population in Tunisia still exists, numbering around 2,000 individuals. Why did some Jews stay when the vast majority of their population emigrated? This paper aims to explore Tunisian Jewish identity during this tumultuous time, when the anti-colonial nationalist movement overtook Tunisian politics, and when Israeli-led Zionist sentiments infiltrated the Jewish community of North Africa. This paper will contribute to the generation of scholars that have begun to tackle and further understand the complexities of the Jewish experience in the Muslim world.

5:10-7:00 — Dinner — Saieh Hall 112

Conference Map