Cultures of Diversity: Arts and Cultural Life in Arab Societies before Independence
Leader: Dr Anthony Gorman, University of Edinburgh
Research Assistant (Placement: January – July 2015) – Ms Rebecca Wolfe
A key element of political transition in the Arab world during the twentieth century has been the accompanying process of cultural and social transformation. From the end of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War until the present day the individual Arab states that emerged presided over a shift from multiethnic and culturally diverse societies to a more narrowly defined national and community identity. This process, in which arts and culture have been intimately implicated, occurred under the banner of decolonisation and revolution and often involved new formulations and configurations of Arab national identity.
The demands of this national project often adversely impacted both religious and ethnic local communities in addition to well-established resident European and other populations that saw their presence elided, underplayed and excised. The political dimension of this phenomena is best known, perhaps most clearly with the situation of Jews in the decade or so after 1948, but also with the departure of French and Italian populations from North Africa, the Greeks and Armenians from Egypt, and the confessional tensions between Muslim and Christian that have arisen at various times in parts of the Arab world.
Yet while the political impact of this process has been relatively well-studied, the contribution of these diverse groups that were the product of both the Ottoman tradition of pluralist society and the logic of imperial rule has received less attention in popular and elite cultural studies in the critical period leading up to independence, not least because it ran counter to the principles of Arab nationalism.
The cultures of diversity research network will explore the social diversity of the sources of modern Arab culture by examining the interplay between different local traditions and non-indigenous elements during this formative late colonial period. These constituents of cosmopolitan and pluralist societies and venues of multicultural vitality, of artistic, cultural and scientific associations, of cultural entrepreneurs and impresarios, and other loci of popular cultural exchange, offer a rich focus through which to examine the dynamism and interaction that nurtured a great spectrum of cultural and artistic production. Among the many areas that may be explored to illustrate these themes are the development of language and literature, architecture, graphic arts, music, theatre, film, education and science. By interrogating the social, economic and intellectual connections operating between different religious and ethnic communities across the wider society, this network seeks to explore the dynamics of how artistic and other cultural activities operated beyond narrow definitions of national culture and reacted and adapted to the changing political terrain with the onset of independence. In so doing it seeks to attract the attention of not only social and cultural historians, but also scholars of material culture, popular culture, fine arts, the performing arts, and the history of science.
If you are interested in this network, please look at our call for papers
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