The Historical Experience of Jabal ‘Amil as Captured in Text

By Pascal Abidor
Submitted to Session P3478 (Digital Humanities in Middle East Studies I: Traditional Sources, Nontraditional Methods, 2013 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Within the intellectual tradition of the Shiites of South Lebanon, the region they have inhabited for centuries has been called “Jabal ‘Amil.” Jabal ‘Amil’s textual existence begins in 1698 with the prosopographic work Amal al-Amil which details the region’s Shiite ‘ulama’. Some scholars have pointed out that the notion of Jabal ‘Amil captured in Amal al-Amil is not entirely accurate since individuals who are not from the region are given the nisba “al-‘Amili.” Such a perspective is teleological and positivistic by taking the correspondence of historical Jabal ‘Amil and modern South Lebanon for granted and assuming the primacy of the nationally-based latter over the former. The implication of such a view is that Jabal ‘Amil’s objective truth is found in its modern, national delineation as South Lebanon.
Rather than engage in an anachronistic critique of Amal al-Amil and its content, this paper demonstrates the potential genealogical significance of the book by engaging it along with two other ‘Amili texts - Jabal ‘Amil fi Qarn, a chronicle spanning the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Khitat Jabal ‘Amil, an early 20th century encyclopedic work on the region’s history – using computational techniques to inform my analysis of each work. Each text is mined for data such as nisbas, place names, and family names, in order to arrive at an understanding of the epistemological basis of Jabal ‘Amil as conceived of by their respective authors. The paper is an attempt at a genealogy of the idea of Jabal ‘Amil as a geographic space and, therefore, the referent for the nisba al-‘Amili and the basis for the forms of community identity that this idea has made possible historically. The paper is, as well, an experiment in the different types of knowledge that one can develop through in-depth analyses of texts by mining their content for, among other things, its epistemological and ontological implications, subtle stylistic devices, and the way information is mapped on social space. My paper is part of a broader research project whose ultimate goal is to understand the differences, transformations, and ruptures in the definition and meaning of Jabal ‘Amil as a basis of identity across time and between different social classes.