Family and Society in a Seventeenth Century Ottoman City: The ’Alamīs of Jerusalem

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


This dissertation is a study of an Arab-Muslim family from Jerusalem during the early seventeenth century. It examines the life and times of the ’Alamī family, an ‘ulamā’ family of long-standing social and cultural prestige that had been living in Jerusalem for many generations. The seventeenth century was witness to many changes in the social, cultural and political landscape of Jerusalem as it became more firmly integrated into the Ottoman Empire. These changes posed challenges for the 'Alamīs, their claims to prestige and status, and their strategies for maintaining their privileged position in society. Like urban a`yān elsewhere in the Arab-Ottoman world, the ’Alamī family's elite status rested on their access to and accumulation of material and symbolic wealth. This dissertation explores the various strategies employed by members of this family to ensure the continuation of their status as elites.

This study lies at the juncture of family history and the history of Ottoman Palestine, and more specifically Ottoman Jerusalem. The family as a category of historical analysis has been shown to be a useful tool for unearthing the social, cultural, economic and political history of the city and region. This dissertation can be seen as a preliminary foray into the writing of the history of family and family life in seventeenth century Jerusalem. The dissertation unfolds as four chapters. Chapter One provides a general overview of the geographic, political and spiritual importance of Jerusalem in the Ottoman worldview; the urban geography of the city; and the demographic and social composition of the city's residents. Chapter Two looks at the construction of prestige and elite status through the configuration of lineage and genealogies and through the marital strategies employed by the ’Alamīs. Chapter Three examines the accumulation of economic wealth and the ties forged through moneylending and property exchange. The final chapter explores how some members of the ’Alamī family created a niche for themselves in the new religious environment in Jerusalem while drawing upon commonly recognized religious and cultural symbols.

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 04/29/2020