Meaningful mediums is a study of the political economy of writing in the first Ottoman city to develop a sustained urban print culture. Cairo’s writing economy comprised the longstanding manuscript industry, the governmental printing industry from the 1820s, and the for-profit private press printing industry from the 1850s. I investigate these industries’ functions, interactions, and reputations to explore why Cairene printing developed and how contemporaries ascribed meaning to textual production during this period of flux.
This study relies on the texts themselves to generate the history of their production. I aggregate the names, dates, and other information contained within their openings, contents, and colophons to chart the work of their producers and vendors for the first time. I then contextualize this information through contemporary iconographic and descriptive depictions of Cairene texts. My sources are drawn from libraries and private collections in America, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and France. They include formal and ephemeral manuscripts and printings.
Against narratives that invoke printing as a catalyst for modernity, I argue that printing was simply a tool. Its adoption increased because it was useful for different actors like the state, private entrepreneurs, and scholars who employed it to respond to specific political, economic, and intellectual needs. My argument reverses the causality of modernization narratives, in that I establish that printing was the result of practical demands instead of the origin of new demands. As a tool, printing was deployed by Cairenes flexibly. Some used it to appropriate western norms, including the idea that printing is a civilizing force. Others used it to enact manuscript tradition.
The history of this process is important to social practices, like the creation of new professions. But it is also important to historical legacy. Nationalism, Enlightenment, and civil society are assigned their origins and proof in Cairene printings from the 1870s and 1880s. Yet this narrative of the Middle East’s generic print modernity draws from the expectation for printings to engender public discourse and galvanize society, instead of from the words that these texts actually contain or an understanding of who made and consumed them and why. To counter the prevailing idea that printing is fixed and universal in its value and effects, Meaningful mediums examines printing as both a social and economic practice, and itself a space for ideas. It therefore emphasizes the significance of human agency, local context, constraints, and continuity during a period of momentous technological, textual, and cultural change.
In conclusion, this study documents Cairenes’ incorporation of printing into their political economy of writing and revises the widely held notion that this process was an agent of social change, a marker of modernity and colonial restructuring, and a foreign disruptor of local textual tradition.
The following study traces the production and history of the talismanic scroll as a medium through a Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk historical periods. My dissertation understands the protocol of manufacturing and utilizing talismanic scrolls. The dissertation is a study of the Qur'an, prayers and illustrations of these talismanic works. I begin by investigating a theory of the occult the medieval primary sources of the Neo-platonic tenth century Ikhwān al-Safa and al-Bunī (d.1225). I establish that talismans are generally categorized as science (`ilm). Next, a dynastic spotlight of talismanic scrolls creates a chronological framework for the dissertation. The Fatimid talismanic scrolls and the Ayyubid pilgrimage scrolls are both block-printed and are placed within the larger conceptual framework of pilgrimage and devotion. The two unpublished Mamluk scrolls from Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah are long beautiful handwritten scrolls that provide a perspective on how the occult is part of the daily life of the practitioner in the medieval Islamic culture. Through an in depth analysis of the written word and images, I establish that textually and visually there is a template for the creation of these sophisticated scrolls. Lastly, I discuss the efficacy of these scrolls, I use theories of linguistic anthropology and return to the Islamic primary sources to establish that there is a language of the occult and there are people that practiced the occult. The word of God and the Qur'ān empower the scrolls I studied. As for the people who practiced the occult, I turn to the tenth century Ibn al-Nadim and Ibn al-Khaldun (d.1406), the people of the occult are understood. Yet, keeping in mind, that there is always a tension with the theologians that condoned practices of Islamic magic.
In the tenth century, a confluence of two unrelated events shaped the Twelver Shia community in Baghdad: the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam in 939/329 and the takeover of Baghdad in 945 by the Buyid princes, who were largely tolerant towards their Shia subjects. Twelver intellectual life flourished during this era, led by the exegetes who are the subject of this dissertation. Chief among them were al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Sharif al-Murtada, who - along with many of their contemporaries - comprised a "Baghdad school" of Twelver intellectuals. This dissertation analyzes the Qur'anic commentaries (tafsir) written by this core group of medieval Twelver exegetes, most of whom lived and wrote in Baghdad, although others - such as al-Ayyashi - remained on the margins.
The deposition of Imam Muhammad al-Badr in September 1962 was the culmination of a Yemeni nationalist movement that began in the 1940s with numerous failed attempts to overthrow the traditional religious legal order. Prior to 1962, both the USSR and Egypt had been cultivating alliances with al-Badr in an effort to secure their strategic interests in South Arabia. In the days following the 1962 coup d'état, Abdullah Sallal and his cohort of Yemeni officers established a republic and concealed the fate of al-Badr who had survived an assault on his Sana'a palace and whose supporters had already begun organizing a tribal coalition against the republic. A desperate appeal by Yemeni republicans brought the first Egyptian troops to Yemen. Saudi Arabia, pressured by Egyptian troops, border tribal considerations and earlier treaties with the Yemeni Imamate, supported the Imam's royalist opposition. The battleground between Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and al-Badr was transformed into an arena for international conflict and diplomacy. The UN mission to Yemen, while portrayed as a symbol of failed and underfunded global peacekeeping at the time, was in fact instrumental in establishing the basis for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Bruce Condé, an American philatelist, brought global attention to the royalist-republican struggle to control the Yemeni postal system. The last remnants of the British Middle East Empire fought with Nasser to maintain a mutually declining level of influence in the region. Israeli intelligence and air force aided royalist forces and served witness to the Egyptian use of chemical weapons, a factor that would impact decision-making prior to the 1967 War. Despite concurrent Cold War tensions, Americans and Soviets appeared on the same side of the Yemeni conflict and acted mutually to confine Nasser to the borders of South Arabia. This internationalized conflict was a pivotal event in Middle East history as it oversaw the formation of a modern Yemeni state, the fall of Egyptian and British regional influence, another Arab-Israeli war, Saudi dominance of the Arabian Peninsula, and shifting power alliances in the Middle East.
In 1703, the chief scribe (reisü'l-küttab) Rami Mehmed Efendi (d. 1708) was appointed as the grand vizier in the Ottoman Empire. In scholarship, Rami Mehmed epitomizes the transition in the political cadres from the people of the sword/seyfiye to the people of the pen/kalemiye as the first chief scribe to be appointed as the grand vizier. While this transition has long been accepted as a crucial aspect of eighteenth-century Ottoman history, the cultural and intellectual formation of "the people of the pen" as a distinct community before this period has not been adequately examined.
The capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman armies of Mehmed II in 1453 was a cataclysmic event that reverberated throughout Renaissance Europe. This event intensified the exodus of Byzantines to Italy and beyond and they brought along with them the heritage of Greek antiquity. Laonikos Chalkokondyles contributed to the Renaissance with his detailed application of Herodotos to the fifteenth century, Apodeixis Historion, and made sense of the rise of the Ottomans with the lens of ancient history. The Apodeixis was printed in Latin, French, and Greek and was widely successful. The historian restored Herodotean categories of ethnicity, political rule, language, and geography to make sense of contemporary events and peoples. This was a thorough study of ancient historiography and Laonikos thus parted ways with previous Byzantine historians. I refer to Laonikos' method as "revolutionary classicizing", to describe the ways in which he abandoned the ideal of lawful imperium and restored the model of oriental tyranny when he described the nascent Ottoman state. What appears to be emulation of the ancient classics was radical revival of political concepts such as city-states as ethnic units, freedom defined as independence from foreign rule, law-giving as fundamental aspect of Hellenic tradition which did not encompass the Christian period. Laonikos has often been studied in the context of proto-nationalist historiography as he had composed a universal history, wherein he had related extensive information on various ethnic and political units in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, such proto-nationalist application does not fully capture Laonikos’ classicizing interests. Laonikos referred to his contemporaries as Hellenes, not because he was a nationalist who defined political identity only by recourse to language and common history. Rather, Laonikos believed that Hellenic identity, both referring to paganism as well as ethnicity, was relevant and not bankrupt. Importantly, we introduce manuscripts that have not yet been utilized to argue that Hellenism as paganism was living reality for Laonikos, his Platonist teacher Plethon, and their circle of intellectuals in the fifteenth century.
This dissertation analyzes everyday talk about livelihoods, or about the challenges of work and getting by, among displaced Kurds in the city of Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey. Over the past two decades, Diyarbakır has grown dramatically with the influx of tens of thousands of displaced and dispossessed rural Kurds uprooted by state policies of forced migration. These policies were designed with two strategic aims in mind: eliminating rural support networks for the Kurdish armed rebellion (the PKK), and concentrating populations in less dispersed and thus theoretically more easily policed spaces. However, it is argued here that while the former ambition has perhaps succeeded, the displacement and dispossession of rural Kurds throughout the 1990s, rather than suppressing dissent, has generated new fields and new forms of political struggle. Based on two years of fieldwork in Diyarbakır, this study explores the ways in which ordinary talk about livelihoods, about how to make a living and pay the bills, is, in this context, about more than ‘the economy’ alone. The interplay of people’s efforts to rebuild life and livelihood and the semiotic interpretation of these efforts is analyzed as a rich and under-appreciated site for the everyday practical generation of the political in Kurdish Turkey. This study contributes to the anthropology of Kurdish Turkey and of the Middle East, as well as to theories of displacement and dispossession, evaluative discourse, and the pragmatics of political stance.
I investigate the social history of Egypt under British imperial occupation through the lens of morality in order to understand the contestation of cultural change and authority under empire. Points of cultural cleavage between European and local inhabitants in British-occupied Cairo included two customs, gambling and the consumption of intoxicants, which elicited sustained and dynamic reactions from observers of Egyptian society on the local and international level. I show that the presence of alcohol and gambling in public spaces in Cairo contributed directly to the politicization and selective criminalization of public morality. However, the meanings attributed to social practices relating to leisure were continually under negotiation and challenge as state authorities, British liberals, Egyptian reformers and religious leaders, foreign missionaries, and representatives of international temperance movements vied to impose their visions of morality upon Egyptian society.
This dissertation studies the construction of the marital bond and its dissolution with respect to the normative stipulations of the shari'a, social and moral constructions, and the cultural formations during late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century Istanbul. Through the examination of court cases, estate inventories, and contemporary chronicles, I demonstrate the strategies and practices that perpetrated possible patterns in the matrimonial union. Although Islamic law allowed for and encouraged the spouses to reconcile marriage-related negotiations outside of court, the amount of registered marital disputes indicates the central role of the court for spouses in establishing conciliatory grounds. This study explores in particular the consensual and purposeful use of the shari'a courts by women. The examination of the sicils from three different courts in intra muros Istanbul has shown that women were adamant about formalizing the consequence of marriage, divorce and property related discordances hoping to secure their future interests. The dissertation essentially introduces the largely overlooked issue of the specialization of courts in this period and presents specifically the Dāvud Pasha court’s concentration on marriage and family-related disputes. By focusing on local practices and particularities through a case-by-case methodology, the study delivers a portrayal of Ottoman urban marriage structure within the context of the socio-legal and economic dynamics of the period. Given that the formal registry of marriage contracts and divorce settlements was not legally enforced until the early twentieth century, the extensive practice of registration in court could be interpreted as the preliminary steps to the formalization and codification of the marital union. I offer a likely reading of women’s experiences with respect to marriage and property ownership suggesting that the predominant marriage pattern observed in the segment of the population that used the court was companionate. By analyzing quantitative data and archival material, I demonstrate women’s visibility in the public sphere through their significantly increased use of courts, proactive utilization of social networks, and strategic activities vis-a-vis marriage and divorce to depict a portrayal of the late eighteenth-century Istanbul family.
This dissertation builds a socio-cultural biography of Paris's Gare du Nord, Europe's largest railway station, from its transnational aims to connect Europe in the nineteenth century, to early twentieth century strikes, to twenty-first century immigration and riots. It shows how the formation of subjects, boundaries, and the "dangerous classes" in France were linked to infrastructural development. Through this examination, I argue that official French rhetoric and policies around the so-called "dangerous classes" created ideologies of contact that played out in concrete public space and came to be challenged by subjects and groups represented as dangerously different. Through encounter, overlapping boundaries--beyond the foreigner/citizen divide--became significant in the Gare du Nord, as marginalized subjects created new ways of relating spaces and bodies in this heterogeneous arena. My dissertation examines the connection between four processes that govern the station’s socio-political trajectory: 1) the government’s elaboration of the "dangerous classes" paradigm that led to expanding technologies of policing and surveillance; 2) the development of transportation infrastructure that brought migrants and goods to the capital; 3) the emergence of a railroad labor economy that created a new class of workers; and 4) the arrival and settling of immigrant groups from former colonies. I show how "dangerous" social archetypes, from the nineteenth century provincial migrant, to the early twentieth century railway worker on strike, to the African-Muslim immigrant, were summoned and reconfigured in events at the Gare du Nord and shaped the future configuration of political subjects and their struggles. I focus ethnographically on the trajectories of African immigrants at the station, the contemporary "dangerous classes." I argue that through their trans-regional networks and practices, the Gare du Nord has become a unique site of political contestation as it transforms into a node that connects the station to immigration pathways through sub-Saharan and North Africa. By offering an ethnographic approach to multidisciplinary conversations on transnational cities and postcolonial history, my dissertation builds a framework and methodology to analyze proliferating "theaters of encounter:" sites suffused with conflicting idioms, grounded in structures of human and capital circulation, and traversed by histories of struggle.