[P4854] Materialities of Translation and Circulation: Rethinking Late Ottoman Intellectual History

Created by Casey Primel
Monday, 11/20/17 1:00pm


Intellectual historians of the modern Middle East discarded long ago the Orientalist image of the region as bereft of political and social thought. Writing in the decades of decolonization, scholars fleshed out the lives of some of its key personalities and the schools of thought that vied over how best to refashion their societies in the face of aggressive European expansion. Whether written by nationalist historians in the Arab world or Euro-American scholars, such work framed the period in terms of a rift between reified notions of tradition and modernity, East and West, and Islam and secularism. More recent work in intellectual history has sought to undo these facile yet powerful binaries. In their place, scholars have traced the complex ways ideas and intellectual practices have crossed oceans and borders carried along by the movement of people and texts. This critical turn has helped to rehabilitate the history of the late 19th-century Arab Nahda, in particular, fueling a revision of the tropes of moral decadence and colonial complicity that nationalist historiography had attributed to its protagonists as well as elucidating its Ottoman context. Scholars have demonstrated that intellectuals in the Arabic-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire were part of a global moment in which the nature of society, the state, and the individual's relationship to both were recast along a new historical trajectory of progress.

However, the notions of circulation and translation underpinning this revision risk accepting too easily the universality of concepts, western or otherwise, while paradoxically reifying the very differences they purport to transcend. Moreover, often absent from these accounts is an appreciation for the modes and materialities of circulation and translation. This panel brings together historians working on the history of political and social thought during the Nahda and the projects of social and legal reform that carried its legacies into the 20th century. Rather than focusing on an abstract universality, each paper underlines the political and material character of circulation and translation. How were concepts of liberal political thought transformed in their mobilization as parts of constitutional and legal reform? What were the material practices of translation and how did its practitioners conceptualize it? How did new sites of reading and writing affect the way thought itself was conceived? In addressing these questions, the panel highlights new trajectories for approaching late Ottoman intellectual history.


American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE)





Elizabeth Holt

(Bard College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Discussant;

Jeffrey Culang

(CUNY Graduate Center)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Casey Primel

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Karim Malak

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Nada Khalifa

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;